Page 6 - Animal Facts

Yawning is contagious among humans, dogs and primates, but not tortoises. What makes tortoises different?


Yawning is very contagious in the human species. Some people will yawn just because they are reading about yawning! Every time you yawn and is observed by another person while you are doing it, 40-60% of the time that person will yawn too.

This is not only a human behavior. Dogs can ‘share’ yawns with each other and with humans, and so can primates. Yawning is a fixed action pattern, which means that it can not be stopped once it has started happening.

To discover whether yawning is an empathetic behavior, scientists had to test the theory using animals that live together socially, but don’t really have ‘feelings’ for other animals of their species. For this experiment, red-footed tortoises were ideal.

They trained one to yawn when it saw a red dot. This took six months to accomplish! They had other tortoises observe the trained tortoise to see if they respond to a yawn by also yawning. It did not matter how they approached the experiment, they got negative results. Tortoises really don’t care at all whether a fellow of their species yawns or not!

The results could mean that contagious social yawning requires a social sense or sense of empathy resulting from complex social interactions.

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The Toledo Zoo was founded when someone donated a baby bear. Unfortunately, that bear was actially an adult woodchuck


In 1900, a resident of Toledo, Ohio donated a baby brown bear to serve as the first resident of the new zoo. Unfortunately, that brown bear turned out to be a fully grown male woodchuck.

The zoo took this fact in stride, and was founded as the Toledo Zoological Gardens. Plans were made in the early 1900s to move the zoo and expand it's holdings to make it the "third largest zoo in the United States". Dream big, guys. Unfortunately, those plans were never carried out.

In 1982, the ownership and management of the zoo was transferred away from the City of Toledo's Parks Board to the newly founded Toledo Zoological Society. Since this change, it has undergone rapid expansion both in grounds and in exhibits.

Perhaps the most famous and controversial of these new exhibits was a pair of giant pandas on loan from China for the summer of 1988. While the Pandas were a huge success, leading to over 1 Million visitors that year, the World Wildlife Foundation sued the zoo over their short term exhibition and "exploitation" of the bears.

The zoo and the WWF settled out of court, and it is assumed that the media controversy made the panda exhibit even more popular than it would have been otherwise.

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Studies have now found that there is no such a thing as an 'alpha-wolf.' So what are the rules in a wolf pack?


Research studies have now busted the myth that wolves are dominated by an “Alpha Wolf.” Scientists studied wolves in their natural habitat and found that, contrary to popular thinking, wolf packs are organizedvery much like human families.

There is very little aggression and no fights for dominance among wolves. The entire pack depends on each other to survive in the wild and therefore aggressive behaviors toward each other would inhibit the pack's ability to survive and flourish.

Just like in human families, social hierarchies do exist, but they are not related to aggression like so commonly and incorrectly portrayed in popular culture. Senior Research Scientist and wolf biologist L. David Mech recently wrote, after his many years of study of wolves, we should "once and for all end the outmoded view of the wolf pack as an aggressive assortment of wolves consistently competing with each other to take over the pack."

In 1998 Mech wrote that wolves generally avoid humans because of the fear humans instilled by their cruel behavior toward these animals. Mech also noted that humans' upright posture is unlike wolves' natural prey, and similar to some postures of bears, which wolves usually avoid.

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Some awesome lists!

African elephants can instinctively understand human gestures, even if they have never been trained to do so!


African elephants can understand human hand gestures without being trained to do so. In an experiment scientists used 11 elephants that were trained to understand basic human voice commands, but not gestures.

Two identical buckets were placed in front of each African elephant and a researcher would point to the bucket that contained a treat. The elephants were unable to see the contents of the buckets. The elephant, by means of indicating with its trunk, chose the bucket the researcher indicated and containing the treat 67.5% of the time. Human babies can do so 70% of the time.

This makes elephants the only non-human animals that can understand the meaning of gestures without any training. Elephants also have other human-like abilities like weeping for their dead and recognizing themselves in mirrors.

This research could help us understand why it is possible to train such huge, dangerous and generally unmanageable animals. If it can be proven that elephant trunk movements are also gestures and not just a means of sniffing the breeze, then we could be much closer to understanding how elephants communicate with each other in the wild.

One of the intriguing facts about elephants is that some of their vocalizations are infrasonic, and are therefore inaudible to humans.

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Elephants have been trained to use film equipment!


Of course not all elephants have been trained, but a few of them have. The reason for this is that BBC was looking to film a documentary on tigers, and get a better understanding of how they live and hunt. The only problem was that tigers are very secretive animals that live in such dense jungles that it’s hard for a human film crew to get close. The reason that elephants were chosen to be the new film crew is because tigers were familiar with the elephants being around, thus they were able to get closer to the tigers than humans ever could!

The elephants were trained to use three different types of cameras! The first camera was picked up by an elephant and put its trunk when they were moving around. The second was a camera that was placed in the elephants tusks, and was easier to carry. The third and final cameras disguised as scenery that were put in place by the elephants, and were turned on by motion sensors. The elephants were so good at operating cameras that they were able to gather enough footage that researchers were able to see baby tigers’ progress into adulthood!

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