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10 Other Illegal Animals on a Plane

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Animal smugglers have some serious baggage.

1. A pet turtle

It's tough leaving your pets behind when you go on a trip. On July 29, a man in Guangzhou, China tried to sneak his beloved turtle on a flight to Beijing by hiding the reptile between two hamburger buns and stowing it in a fast food container. When X-ray screening revealed that the meal had tiny legs, the man played it cool and told security, "There's no turtle in there, just a hamburger."

2. Endangered tortoises

In March, animal traffickers in Thailand nearly pulled off something even more shell-shocking—the smuggling of more than 10 percent of an entire endangered species of tortoise. A man was arrested when he tried to pick up a suitcase containing 54 of the approximately 400 ploughshare tortoises left in Madagascar. The luggage also include 21 endangered radiated tortoises.

3. Dried caterpillars

Snacks on a plane! A British man was forced to hand over 206 pounds of dried caterpillars that he brought back from Africa as a tasty souvenir. His intention wasn't suspect—the same emperor moth larvae are already sold and consumed in the U.K. The Border Force was simply following import restrictions. So much for caterpillars and chips...

4. Otters

Security at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi International Airport discovered 11 baby otters in an abandoned bag in January. The marine mammals were likely destined for the illegal pet trade. Rescued baby otters can't be returned to the wild, so they'll spend the rest of their days in zoos.

5. A charm of hummingbirds

Is that a dozen hummingbirds in your pants, or are you just happy to see me? Customs officials at Rochambeau Airport in French Guiana detained a fidgety Dutch tourist in September 2011. When he was searched, they found not one, not two, but a dozen live hummingbirds swaddled in individual pouches sewn into his pants. A group of hummingbirds is called a charm, but being smuggled out of the country in some tourist's crotch? Not so charming.

6. A crocodile

Ideally, animal smugglers get caught before they get on a plane. But in October 2010, a domestic flight in the Democratic Republic of Congo turned to chaos when a crocodile escaped the duffel bag it was stowed in. Passengers and crew panicked and ran through the cabin. The plane eventually crashed, killing everyone except for a single passenger and the crocodile. Survival of the fittest? Not so much. The crocodile was later killed.

7. A tiger cub

A woman in Thailand failed to earn her stripes when she tried to smuggle a three-month-old tiger cub from Bangkok to Iran. Her strategy: Putting the drugged cub in a suitcase full of stuffed animals. X-ray screening revealed that one of the cuddly cats had a full skeleton. It was also snoring. Oops.

8. Tropical fish

In June 2005, one traveler made a splash when she flew from Singapore to Melbourne, Australia with a veritable aquarium under her skirt. (Some of us can barely manage a carry-on and one personal item!) Customs officials first suspected something fishy when they heard mysterious sloshing noises. A security pat-down revealed an apron with 15 plastic bags containing 51 tropical catfish. The fish were valued at $30,000, while the woman faced a fine of $83,617. Watching the Little Mermaid get busted: priceless.

9. A chameleon

Sometimes the best place to hide your contraband creature is out in the open. In July 2002, a 17-year-old girl managed to fly from Dubai to Manchester, England with her pet chameleon on her headscarf. The color-changing lizard didn't blend in entirely. Airline employees and passengers just assumed it was a plastic hair clip ... until it flicked out its tongue.

10. Birds and rare orchids and slow lorises, oh my!

In 2002, a California man was flying under the radar on his return trip from Thailand ... until a bird of paradise flew out of his suitcase. Customs found three more birds and 50 rare orchids in the luggage. The man then confessed that he had a pair of endangered slow lorises in his underwear. (Uh, that's what she said?) The man claimed he was an environmentalist trying to transport the animals to a wildlife sanctuary. The four birds ultimately died, and the slow lorises were sent to the Los Angeles Zoo.

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Big Questions
Should You Keep Your Pets Indoors During the Solar Eclipse?
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By now, you probably know what you’ll be doing on August 21, when a total solar eclipse makes its way across the continental United States. You’ve had your safety glasses ready since January (and have confirmed that they’ll actually protect your retinas), you’ve picked out the perfect vantage point in your area for the best view, and you’ve memorized Nikon’s tips for how to take pictures of this rare celestial phenomenon. Still, it feels like you’re forgetting something … and it’s probably the thing that's been right under your nose, and sitting on your lap, the whole time: your pets.

Even if you’ve never witnessed a solar eclipse, you undoubtedly know that you’re never supposed to look directly at the sun during one. But what about your four-legged family members? Shouldn’t Fido be fitted with a pair of eclipse glasses before he heads out for his daily walk? Could Princess Kitty be in danger of having her peepers singed if she’s lounging on her favorite windowsill? While, like humans, looking directly at the sun during a solar eclipse does pose the potential of doing harm to a pet’s eyes, it’s unlikely that the thought would even occur to the little ball of fluff.

“It’s no different than any other day,” Angela Speck, co-chair of the AAS National Solar Eclipse Task Force, explained during a NASA briefing in June. “On a normal day, your pets don’t try to look at the sun and therefore don’t damage their eyes, so on this day they’re not going to do it either. It is not a concern, letting them outside. All that’s happened is we’ve blocked out the sun, it’s not more dangerous. So I think that people who have pets want to think about that. I’m not going to worry about my cat.”

Dr. Jessica Vogelsang, a veterinarian, author, and founder of pawcurious, echoed Speck’s statement, but allowed that there’s no such thing as being too cautious. “It’s hard for me to criticize such a well-meaning warning, because there’s really no harm in following the advice to keep pets inside during the eclipse,” Vogelsang told Snopes. “It’s better to be too cautious than not cautious enough. But in the interest of offering a realistic risk assessment, the likelihood of a pet ruining their eyes the same way a human would during an eclipse is much lower—not because the damage would be any less were they to stare at the sun, but because, from a behavior standpoint, dogs and cats just don’t have any interest in doing so. We tend to extrapolate a lot of things from people to pets that just doesn’t bear out, and this is one of them.

“I’ve seen lots of warnings from the astronomy community and the human medical community about the theoretical dangers of pets and eclipses, but I’m not sure if any of them really know animal behavior all that well," Vogelsang continued. "It’s not like there’s a big outcry from the wildlife community to go chase down coyotes and hawks and bears and give them goggles either. While we in the veterinary community absolutely appreciate people being concerned about their pets’ wellbeing, this is a non-issue for us.”

The bigger issue, according to several experts, would be with pets who are already sensitive to Mother Nature. "If you have the sort of pet that's normally sensitive to shifts in the weather, they might be disturbed by just the whole vibe because the temperature will drop and the sky will get dark,” Melanie Monteiro, a pet safety expert and author of The Safe-Dog Handbook: A Complete Guide to Protecting Your Pooch, Indoors and Out, told TODAY.

“If [your pets] have learned some association with it getting darker, they will show that behavior or at a minimum they get confused because the timeframe does not correspond,” Dr. Carlo Siracusa of Penn Vet Hospital told CBS Philly. “You might put the blinds down, but not exactly when the dark is coming but when it is still light.” 

While Monteiro again reasserts that, "Dogs and cats don't normally look up into the sun, so you don't need to get any special eye protection for your pets,” she says that it’s never a bad idea to take some extra precautions. So if you’re headed out to an eclipse viewing party, why not do your pets a favor and leave them at home. They won’t even know what they’re missing.

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Big Questions
Why Can't Dogs Eat Chocolate?
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Even if you don’t have a dog, you probably know that they can’t eat chocolate; it’s one of the most well-known toxic substances for canines (and felines, for that matter). But just what is it about chocolate that is so toxic to dogs? Why can't dogs eat chocolate when we eat it all the time without incident?

It comes down to theobromine, a chemical in chocolate that humans can metabolize easily, but dogs cannot. “They just can’t break it down as fast as humans and so therefore, when they consume it, it can cause illness,” Mike Topper, president of the American Veterinary Medical Association, tells Mental Floss.

The toxic effects of this slow metabolization can range from a mild upset stomach to seizures, heart failure, and even death. If your dog does eat chocolate, they may get thirsty, have diarrhea, and become hyperactive and shaky. If things get really bad, that hyperactivity could turn into seizures, and they could develop an arrhythmia and have a heart attack.

While cats are even more sensitive to theobromine, they’re less likely to eat chocolate in the first place. They’re much more picky eaters, and some research has found that they can’t taste sweetness. Dogs, on the other hand, are much more likely to sit at your feet with those big, mournful eyes begging for a taste of whatever you're eating, including chocolate. (They've also been known to just swipe it off the counter when you’re not looking.)

If your dog gets a hold of your favorite candy bar, it’s best to get them to the vet within two hours. The theobromine is metabolized slowly, “therefore, if we can get it out of the stomach there will be less there to metabolize,” Topper says. Your vet might be able to induce vomiting and give your dog activated charcoal to block the absorption of the theobromine. Intravenous fluids can also help flush it out of your dog’s system before it becomes lethal.

The toxicity varies based on what kind of chocolate it is (milk chocolate has a lower dose of theobromine than dark chocolate, and baking chocolate has an especially concentrated dose), the size of your dog, and whether or not the dog has preexisting health problems, like kidney or heart issues. While any dog is going to get sick, a small, old, or unhealthy dog won't be able to handle the toxic effects as well as a large, young, healthy dog could. “A Great Dane who eats two Hershey’s kisses may not have the same [reaction] that a miniature Chihuahua that eats four Hershey’s kisses has,” Topper explains. The former might only get diarrhea, while the latter probably needs veterinary attention.

Even if you have a big dog, you shouldn’t just play it by ear, though. PetMD has a handy calculator to see just what risk levels your dog faces if he or she eats chocolate, based on the dog’s size and the amount eaten. But if your dog has already ingested chocolate, petMD shouldn’t be your go-to source. Call your vet's office, where they are already familiar with your dog’s size, age, and condition. They can give you the best advice on how toxic the dose might be and how urgent the situation is.

So if your dog eats chocolate, you’re better off paying a few hundred dollars at the vet to make your dog puke than waiting until it’s too late.

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