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Britain’s “Big Cat” Conundrum

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Thinking of the wild English countryside might conjure up images of manor houses, green fields, and secret gardens; lions, tigers, and bears are from a different kind of story—but that's not actually so, according to a recent discovery by a team of researchers. The team analyzed the skeleton and mounted skin of a previously unidentified animal in the basement of the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery and have found it to be a Canadian lynx, a cousin to housecats and cheetahs and tigers—oh my.

A previous curator of the Bristol Museum had mislabeled the specimen as a Eurasian lynx, a close-but-not-quite-right identifier for the species of “big cat.” The records also indicated that the museum had acquired the animal’s body in the early 1900s, after a Devonshire landowner shot the creature for having killed two of his dogs—a surprisingly domestic end for an animal more likely to be found roaming in dense forests under the cover of deep snow.

The Canadian lynx obviously isn’t a species native to Britain, so how did it get there if not by boat or plane? British big cats are something of an anomaly to begin with: Reports come in every so often of one having been sighted in the wild, despite the impossibility of any natural animal migration to the island, but the Bristol Museum’s long-dead specimen is one of the only definitive cases subjected to scientific scrutiny. One hypothesis traces the surge in non-native species like various big cats to the time of the Dangerous Wild Animals Act of 1976, passed when the worrying trend of imported exotic pets threatened to infringe on public safety. That is, traveling by boat or plane may be exactly how Canadian lynxes got to England. Spooked by the threat of regulation and hefty fines, owners then irresponsibly released foreign creatures into the British wild.

The museum’s lynx acquisition, however, dates from 1903—proof that big cats have roamed English soil for over a century, long before the 1976 law might have convinced tiger-owners to set their pets free. The origins of Britain’s big cats, and Bristol’s one Canadian lynx, remain a mystery.

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Animals
Dogs Rescued After Hurricane Maria Are Available to Adopt in New York
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Dozens of dogs displaced by Hurricane Maria last month are now closer to having happy endings to their stories. As Mashable reports, 53 dogs flown out of Puerto Rico by The Sato Project have been put up for adoption in shelters around the U.S., with 28 of the rescues now available through a shelter in New York City.

The new batch of dogs looking for forever homes is in addition to the 60 dogs retrieved by The Sato Project earlier this month. According to the local animal rescue group, Puerto Rico was home to about 500,000 stray dogs before the historic storm made landfall in September. The animals being shuttled from the devastated island and into the U.S. via charter plane are a mix of feral dogs, abandoned dogs, and dogs that were surrendered to local shelters by families unable to care for them post-Maria.

The Sato Project, which worked to tackle Puerto Rico's stray dog problem before the disaster, wrote that in light of the storm they would be "mobilizing to provide supplies and support to our team on the ground in Puerto Rico, and to transport as many dogs as we can to safety in the coming days and weeks."

Aspiring pet owners looking to take in a four-legged survivor will have the best luck at the no-kill shelter Animal Haven in Manhattan's Lower East Side. There, dozens of dogs who made the trip from the U.S. territory are anxiously waiting to meet their new families. And if you don't live in the New York City area, you can check out The Sato Project's list of adoptable pets around the country.

Looking for ways to help Puerto Rico that don't involve adding a new member to the family? Here are some organizations doing recovery work on the island and ways you can support them.

[h/t Mashable]

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Big Questions
Why Do Cats Freak Out After Pooping?
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Cats often exhibit some very peculiar behavior, from getting into deadly combat situations with their own tail to pouncing on unsuspecting humans. Among their most curious habits: running from their litter box like a greyhound after moving their bowels. Are they running from their own fecal matter? Has waste elimination prompted a sense of euphoria?

Experts—if anyone is said to qualify as an expert in post-poop moods—aren’t exactly sure, but they’ve presented a number of entertaining theories. From a biological standpoint, some animal behaviorists suspect that a cat bolting after a deposit might stem from fears that a predator could track them based on the smell of their waste. But researchers are quick to note that they haven’t observed cats run from their BMs in the wild.

Biology also has a little bit to do with another theory, which postulates that cats used to getting their rear ends licked by their mother after defecating as kittens are showing off their independence by sprinting away, their butts having taken on self-cleaning properties in adulthood.

Not convinced? You might find another idea more plausible: Both humans and cats have a vagus nerve running from their brain stem. In both species, the nerve can be stimulated by defecation, leading to a pleasurable sensation and what some have labeled “poo-phoria,” or post-poop elation. In running, the cat may simply be working off excess energy brought on by stimulation of the nerve.

Less interesting is the notion that notoriously hygienic cats may simply want to shake off excess litter or fecal matter by running a 100-meter dash, or that a digestive problem has led to some discomfort they’re attempting to flee from. The fact is, so little research has been done in the field of pooping cat mania that there’s no universally accepted answer. Like so much of what makes cats tick, a definitive motivation will have to remain a mystery.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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