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Happy Squirrel Appreciation Day!

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Dori

Frank Page, the cartoonist behind Bob the Squirrel, brought an important subject to my attention.

January 21st is Squirrel Appreciation Day, a "holiday" founded in 2001 by Christy Hargrove, a wildlife rehabilitator at the the Western North Carolina Nature Center. How can we celebrate this auspicious occasion? There are many ways!

Learn About Squirrels

Photograph by Yathin S Krishnappa.

There are over 200 species of squirrel over six of our seven continents. The Indian Giant Squirrel is typically about 14 inches long, not counting its two-foot-long tail! There are 44 species of flying squirrels, which actually glide instead of fly, but can scare the crap out of you if you're not expecting them. It's not hard to find fun facts about squirrels.

Learn the History of Squirrels

The history of squirrels is more interesting than you might have thought. Squirrels are not naturally an urban animal, but every city park in America seems to have them. They were put there deliberately for our amusement. Those Eastern Grey Squirrels aren't so charming in Europe. They were introduced to the continent in 1948, and immediately began displacing the native red squirrels. The American squirrels have since been considered an invasive species.

See a Squirrel Grow Up

You don't see baby squirrels in your backyard, because they are kept hidden in the nest until they quite resemble adult squirrels. But thanks to the internet, we can see what one looks like. Redditor Nadtacular cut open a bag of mulch and found this. Alive. He decided to raise the baby squirrel as a pet, and named it Zip. You can see the rest of the pictures in an album following Zip's first five weeks. 

Meet Famous Squirrels

You can read about famous squirrels in pop culture and in real life. I posted a list of them a few years ago. Pictured here is Scrat, a prehistoric squirrel from the Ice Age movies.

There are more squirrels becoming famous all the time. Jill Harness told us about Winkelhimer The Painting Squirrel

Watch Squirrel Videos

See some cute and funny videos of squirrels in a post from Chris Higgins. Oh, look, here's another one

Make Them Into Memes

DeviantART member Santiago-Perez took one picture of a squirrel in a heroic-looking position and gave him the super hero treatment. See this squirrel in twenty different costumes at his gallery.

Enjoy the Horror

Timur Bekmambetov, who directed Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter, is working on a horror film involving squirrels that seems a bit reminiscent of Hitchcock's The Birds. It's called simply Squirrels. No release date yet, but you can unleash the terror by watching the pre-production trailer.

Mourn Them

Not everyone likes squirrels -in fact, many people consider them a nuisance varmint (while some consider them dinner). This undated item found at Bad Newspaper may make you laugh, but then you'll feel guilty about laughing.

Celebrate Another Squirrel

Photograph by Aaron Silvers.

Now that you know more about squirrels, you'll be ready for the next holiday coming up February second. No, not Super Bowl Sunday, although this year it happens to fall on Groundhog Day. See, groundhogs are a species of the family Sciuridae, which makes them squirrels, too!

Seriously, there are ways to appreciate squirrels in real life as well as on the internet. You can feed the poor things, because they may have forgotten where they hid those nuts by now. And you can make a donation to your favorite wildlife conservation organization. Happy Squirrel Appreciation Day!

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This Just In
Criminal Gangs Are Smuggling Illegal Rhino Horns as Jewelry
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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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Big Questions
Do Cats Fart?
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Certain philosophical questions can invade even the most disciplined of minds. Do aliens exist? Can a soul ever be measured? Do cats fart?

While the latter may not have weighed heavily on some of history’s great brains, it’s certainly no less deserving of an answer. And in contrast to existential queries, there’s a pretty definitive response: Yes, they do. We just don’t really hear it.

According to veterinarians who have realized their job sometimes involves answering inane questions about animals passing gas, cats have all the biological hardware necessary for a fart: a gastrointestinal system and an anus. When excess air builds up as a result of gulping breaths or gut bacteria, a pungent cloud will be released from their rear ends. Smell a kitten’s butt sometime and you’ll walk away convinced that cats fart.

The discretion, or lack of audible farts, is probably due to the fact that cats don’t gulp their food like dogs do, leading to less air accumulating in their digestive tract.

So, yes, cats do fart. But they do it with the same grace and stealth they use to approach everything else. Think about that the next time you blame the dog.

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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