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5 Pets Who Helped Solve Their Owners' Murders

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While it’s widely acknowledged pets can offer comfort, companionship, and fuzzy tummies for rubbing, it can also be reassuring to know your furry pals may one day provide the necessary information to find your killer. That could be the case for the late Martin Duram, whose pet parrot Bud has taken to vocalizing his owner's possible last words after a fatal shooting in May 2015: "Don't [expletive] shoot!"

Bud also likes to replicate what sounds like an argument between a man and woman, leading Duram's family to believe it may have been a domestic incident gone awry. (According to Michigan NBC affiliate WOODTV, his wife, Glenna, is a suspect.)

It's not yet known whether Bud's chirpy testimony will ever be admissible in court. Until then, here are five animals that made sure justice was served.

1. BIRD THE COCKATOO

Texas native Kevin Butler was such a fan of NBA great Larry Bird that he ignored the potential redundancy and named his pet cockatoo after him. Friends said Bird was very devoted to Butler, and when Butler’s home was broken into in 2001, Bird tried to fend off his owner's murderers before he was mortally wounded himself. One of them, Daniel Torres, denied involvement until prosecutors presented evidence linking the DNA recovered from Bird’s beak to Torres. He received life in prison. Bird, just 18 inches tall, was heralded as “valiant” during the trial.

2. CHIEF THE PITBULL-LAB MIX

A Seattle, Washington couple and their dog were found slain in 1998, the apparent victims of a home invasion. While standing trial, suspects Ken Leuluaialii and George Tuilefano were surprised to learn that prosecutors planned a landmark entry of evidence: Chief’s DNA. Dog blood had been found on the defendants’ clothing during the investigation, and forensic analysis was able to match it to the deceased pit bull-Labrador mix. In his opening argument, prosecutor Tim Bradshaw stated that “the irony will be that the witness who could never speak, even when he was alive, will present the most eloquent of evidence."

3. TWO CATS

When pet shop owner Lori Auker disappeared in May 1989, her family thought the worst. Unfortunately, their suspicions were correct: After almost three weeks of searching, Lori’s body was discovered near a dirt road in Pennsylvania. Police focused on her estranged husband, Robert Auker, who had been following her in the weeks leading up to her death. Surveillance footage placed a car resembling his 1984 Chevrolet Celebrity in the vicinity, and his parents reported Auker had been meticulously scrubbing the interior before selling it.

Despite his efforts, forensic workers found several cat hairs that later proved to be an identical match to the victim’s two felines. The fur was also stuck to a splint Auker had been wearing on his hand the day Lori disappeared. He was given the death penalty.

4. HIRA THE PARROT

Hira was the only witness to Neelam Sharma’s murder in February 2014; the attacker had also dispatched of the family dog, who had been barking during the struggle. Widower Vijay Sharma, editor of a Hindi daily newspaper, was unable to think of any solid leads to help police until his brother-in-law noticed Hira would become highly agitated whenever his nephew, Ashutosh, visited—or even when his name was mentioned in conversation. Vijay says he informed police and Ashutosh confessed to the robbery-turned-murder. "He accepted his crime and informed us that he was accompanied by an accomplice," officer Shalabh Mathur said. "They had entered the house with the intention of taking away cash and other valuables." Afraid his aunt would recognize him, he killed her.

Police later downplayed the bird’s participation, saying it was an unexplained bite mark on Ashutosh that made him their primary focus. Whatever the case, local news media initially reported Hira’s name as Hercule the Parrot, a rather morbid attempt at humor.  

5. AN UNNAMED GRASSHOPPER

While not quite a pet, one insect found itself dying for a noble cause. According to “forensic entomologist” M. Lee Goff, a 1985 homicide in Texas resulted in precious little physical evidence—save for a grasshopper that had been found on the victim’s clothing that was missing a limb. Further investigation of one suspect revealed that he happened to have a severed insect leg stuck in the cuff of his pants. When Goff re-assembled the bug, he found it to be a perfect match, and the suspect was convicted. Goff went on to be a consultant for the CSI television franchise and continues to use entomology to help determine time, location, and cause of death.

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Whale Sharks Can Live for More Than a Century, Study Finds
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Some whale sharks alive today have been swimming around since the Gilded Age. The animals—the largest fish in the ocean—can live as long as 130 years, according to a new study in the journal Marine and Freshwater Research. To give you an idea of how long that is, in 1888, Grover Cleveland was finishing up his first presidential term, Thomas Edison had just started selling his first light bulbs, and the U.S. only had 38 states.

To determine whale sharks' longevity, researchers from the Nova Southeastern University in Florida and the Maldives Whale Shark Research Program tracked male sharks around South Ari Atoll in the Maldives over the course of 10 years, calculating their sizes as they came back to the area over and over again. The scientists identified sharks that returned to the atoll every few years by their distinctive spot patterns, estimating their body lengths with lasers, tape, and visually to try to get the most accurate idea of their sizes.

Using these measurements and data on whale shark growth patterns, the researchers were able to determine that male whale sharks tend to reach maturity around 25 years old and live until they’re about 130 years old. During those decades, they reach an average length of 61.7 feet—about as long as a bowling lane.

While whale sharks are known as gentle giants, they’re difficult to study, and scientists still don’t know a ton about them. They’re considered endangered, making any information we can gather about them important. And this is the first time scientists have been able to accurately measure live, swimming whale sharks.

“Up to now, such aging and growth research has required obtaining vertebrae from dead whale sharks and counting growth rings, analogous to counting tree rings, to determine age,” first author Cameron Perry said in a press statement. ”Our work shows that we can obtain age and growth information without relying on dead sharks captured in fisheries. That is a big deal.”

Though whale sharks appear to be quite long-lived, their lifespan is short compared to the Greenland shark's—in 2016, researchers reported they may live for 400 years. 

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Animal Welfare Groups Are Building a Database of Every Cat in Washington, D.C.
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There are a lot of cats in Washington, D.C. They live in parks, backyards, side streets, and people's homes. Exactly how many there are is the question a new conservation project wants to answer. DC Cat Count, a collaboration between Humane Rescue Alliance, the Humane Society, PetSmart Charities, and the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, aims to tally every cat in the city—even house pets, The New York Times reports.

Cities tend to support thriving feral cat populations, and that's a problem for animal conservationists. If a feline is born and grows up without human contact, it will never be a suitable house cat. The only options animal control officials have are to euthanize strays or trap and sterilize them, and release them back where they were found. If neither action is taken, it's the smaller animals that belong in the wild who suffer. Cats are invasive predators, and each year they kill billions of birds in the U.S. alone.

Before animal welfare experts and wildlife scientists can tackle this problem, they need to understand how big it is. Over the next three years, DC Cat Count will use various methods to track D.C.'s cats and build a feline database for the city. Sixty outdoor camera traps will capture images of passing cats, relying on infrared technology to sense them most of the time.

Citizens are being asked to help as well. An app is currently being developed that will allow users to snap photos of any cats they see, including their own pets. The team also plans to study the different ways these cats interact with their environments, like how much time pets spend indoors versus outdoors, for example. The initiative has a $1.5 million budget to spend on collecting data.

By the end of the project, the team hopes to have the tools both conservationists and animal welfare groups need to better control the local cat population.

Lisa LaFontaine, president and CEO of the Humane Rescue Alliance, said in a statement, “The reality is that those in the fields of welfare, ecology, conservation, and sheltering have a common long-term goal of fewer free-roaming cats on the landscape. This joint effort will provide scientific management programs to help achieve that goal, locally and nationally."

[h/t The New York Times]

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