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6 Professional Painters from the Animal Kingdom

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Note: This article was originally published in 2009. We're knee deep in server migration this week, so forgive us for reposting a few oldies/goodies.

Humans are not the only species to create art. You can argue all day about what is art and what isn't, but some animals are selling their creations, which puts them a notch closer to being true artists than most of us! Here are six different species of professional artists.

1. Koopa the Turtle

Koopa is a turtle belonging to artist Kira Ayn Varszegi. Kira taught Koopa many tricks over the years, such as standing on his hind legs and painting. Watch a video of Koopa in action. During a 5-year painting career, Koopa produced 827 paintings, which you have to admit is fast work for a turtle! He is retired now due to some health issues, although some of his paintings are still for sale. You can keep up with Koopa through his MySpace page or through Kira's blog.

2. Stewie the Tamandua

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Stewie the tamandua was what most of us would call an anteater. Stewie and his companion Pua (also a trained tamandua) appeared in one of the Dr. Dolittle sequels. In addition to acting, Stewie had a talent for painting. Watch Stewie learn to paint in this video. Unfortunately, Stewie died of an autoimmune problem in February of 2008. But he lives on in photos and artwork.

3. Cheeta the Chimpanzee

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It's no surprise that many apes, our nearest relatives, create art. Probably the most famous simian painter is Cheeta, the retired star of many Tarzan movies. Cheeta, now 76 years old, lives at the C.H.E.E.T.A. Primate Sanctuary in Palm Springs, California, and his main hobby now is painting. You can buy one of Cheeta's masterpieces for $125 plus shipping costs, which will help support the sanctuary.

4. Smithfield the Pig

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Smithfield the Vietnamese potbellied pig always showed an aptitude for learning new things. A resident of Richmond, Virginia, he paints pictures by holding a brush in his mouth. In addition to painting, Smithfield makes personal appearances for groups and on TV, where he performs his repertoire of tricks like posing for pictures and playing musical instruments. He has survived two bouts of cancer, which left him with a hole on the top of his snout. You can buy Smithfield's paintings through his website.

5. Cholla the Horse

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Cholla is a mustang-quarter horse mix who displays an unusual talent for painting -for a horse, that is. Cholla was 19 years old before he took a brush in his mouth. He was distrustful of humans for many years until his owner Renee won him over and he began to follow here everywhere, even watching her as she painted the fence. When Renee gave him paintbrushes and a heavy-duty easel, his art career took off. The sales of Cholla's artwork benefits an entire list of charities.

6. Hong the Elephant

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Hong is one of many elephants involved with the Asian Elephant Art & Conservation Project. Rescued from an abusive owner, she lives at the Maetaman Elephant Camp in Thailand, where a total of nine elephants have learned to paint. Unlike other animal artists, the elephants produce representative paintings instead of abstract art!

Originally, Khun Anchalee Kalmapijit, the Operations Director, learned elephant painting from the Elephant Conservation Center in Lampang.  Khun Anchalee initiated elephant artists learning to paint for the first time ever in Chiang Mai in 2000.  At the beginning, she and the mahouts trained the elephants to hold the brush by putting it into their trunk.  For a while, the elephants refused to hold the brush, they were uncomfortable with the strange brushes placed in their trunks and let them fall to the ground.  It took some time for them to accept it because elephants naturally pick up things by rolling their trunk and holding.  After the elephants could hold the brush by their trunk, they were given brushes with color.  Then, the elephants chose to draw lines up, down or put dots on the paper.  Their practice compares to how a human first learns to write "“ practice, practice, practice.  The elephants keep doing these until they have the skill to draw a proper line.  This step takes many months depending on how often they practice.  Some time later, when the mahouts want the elephants to paint a portrait or flowers, they put the lines that elephants can do together and train them to remember with lots of practice, bananas and sugar cane.

Watch Hong create one of her paintings in this video. When you buy an elephant painting, you help support the elephants and their sanctuaries.

I wonder how my house cats and hermit crabs would do with a set of watercolors...

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Sylke Rohrlach, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0
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Animals
Scientists Discover 'Octlantis,' a Bustling Octopus City
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Sylke Rohrlach, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0

Octopuses are insanely talented: They’ve been observed building forts, playing games, and even walking on dry land. But one area where the cephalopods come up short is in the social department. At least that’s what marine biologists used to believe. Now a newly discovered underwater community, dubbed Octlantis, is prompting scientists to call their characterization of octopuses as loners into question.

As Quartz reports, the so-called octopus city is located in Jervis Bay off Australia’s east coast. The patch of seafloor is populated by as many as 15 gloomy octopuses, a.k.a. common Sydney octopuses (octopus tetricus). Previous observations of the creatures led scientists to think they were strictly solitary, not counting their yearly mating rituals. But in Octlantis, octopuses communicate by changing colors, evict each other from dens, and live side by side. In addition to interacting with their neighbors, the gloomy octopuses have helped build the infrastructure of the city itself. On top of the rock formation they call home, they’ve stored mounds of clam and scallop shells and shaped them into shelters.

There is one other known gloomy octopus community similar to this one, and it may help scientists understand how and why they form. The original site, called Octopolis, was discovered in the same bay in 2009. Unlike Octlantis, Octopolis was centered around a manmade object that had sunk to the seabed and provided dens for up to 16 octopuses at a time. The researchers studying it had assumed it was a freak occurrence. But this new city, built around a natural habitat, shows that gloomy octopuses in the area may be evolving to be more social.

If that's the case, it's unclear why such octo-cities are so uncommon. "Relative to the more typical solitary life, the costs and benefits of living in aggregations and investing in interactions remain to be documented," the researchers who discovered the group wrote in a paper published in Marine and Freshwater Behavior and Physiology [PDF].

It’s also possible that for the first time in history humans have the resources to see octopus villages that perhaps have always been bustling beneath the sea surface.

[h/t Quartz]

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Criminal Gangs Are Smuggling Illegal Rhino Horns as Jewelry
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iStock

Valuable jewelry isn't always made from precious metals or gems. Wildlife smugglers in Africa are increasingly evading the law by disguising illegally harvested rhinoceros horns as wearable baubles and trinkets, according to a new study conducted by wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC.

As BBC News reports, TRAFFIC analyzed 456 wildlife seizure records—recorded between 2010 and June 2017—to trace illegal rhino horn trade routes and identify smuggling methods. In a report, the organization noted that criminals have disguised rhino horns in the past using all kinds of creative methods, including covering the parts with aluminum foil, coating them in wax, or smearing them with toothpaste or shampoo to mask the scent of decay. But as recent seizures in South Africa suggest, Chinese trafficking networks within the nation are now concealing the coveted product by shaping horns into beads, disks, bangles, necklaces, and other objects, like bowls and cups. The protrusions are also ground into powder and stored in bags along with horn bits and shavings.

"It's very worrying," Julian Rademeyer, a project leader with TRAFFIC, told BBC News. "Because if someone's walking through the airport wearing a necklace made of rhino horn, who is going to stop them? Police are looking for a piece of horn and whole horns."

Rhino horn is a hot commodity in Asia. The keratin parts have traditionally been ground up and used to make medicines for illnesses like rheumatism or cancer, although there's no scientific evidence that these treatments work. And in recent years, horn objects have become status symbols among wealthy men in countries like Vietnam.

"A large number of people prefer the powder, but there are those who use it for lucky charms,” Melville Saayman, a professor at South Africa's North-West University who studies the rhino horn trade, told ABC News. “So they would like a piece of the horn."

According to TRAFFIC, at least 1249 rhino horns—together weighing more than five tons—were seized globally between 2010 and June 2017. The majority of these rhino horn shipments originated in southern Africa, with the greatest demand coming from Vietnam and China. The product is mostly smuggled by air, but routes change and shift depending on border controls and law enforcement resources.

Conservationists warn that this booming illegal trade has led to a precipitous decline in Africa's rhinoceros population: At least 7100 of the nation's rhinos have been killed over the past decade, according to one estimate, and only around 25,000 remain today. Meanwhile, Save the Rhino International, a UK-based conservation charity, told BBC News that if current poaching trends continue, rhinos could go extinct in the wild within the next 10 years.

[h/t BBC News]

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