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Japanese Railway Company Picks a New Feline Station Master

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Source, Getty Images

Earlier this year, cat lovers, train commuters, and residents of southeastern Japan alike shed a collective tear for the passing of Tama, a feline “stationmaster” at the Kishi train station near Wakayama City. The 16-year-old female calico died from acute heart failure after presiding over the station for nearly eight years, clad in a tiny railway hat and collar.

Following a traditional 50-day mourning period, the president of Wakayama Electric Railway has announced that a new kitty will fill Tama’s illustrious paws. Tama’s successor is named Nitama, reports CNN; she’s a fluffy, 5-year-old calico whose resume includes an education from Cat Stationmaster Training School and a stint as Tama’s assistant.  

To the non-cat lover, a furry stationmaster might sound bizarre. However, a feline presence is good for the Kishi station’s bottom line. According to Kyodo News, Tama attracted thousands of new passengers to the formerly flailing railway line. And ABC News estimated that both Tama’s presence and the resulting cat-inspired merchandise sold by the station helped channel an additional 1.1 billion yen into the region’s economy.

So welcome, Nitama! We hear you don’t mind wearing a hat. Hopefully, you also won’t mind the tourists and cameras that will now interrupt your oh-so-busy schedule of napping and playing with felt mice. 

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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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Animals
Listen to the Impossibly Adorable Sounds of a Baby Sloth
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RODRIGO ARANGUA/AFP/GettyImages

Sometimes baby sloths seem almost too adorable to be real. But the little muppet-faced treasures don't just look cute—turns out they sound cute, too. We know what you're thinking: How could you have gone your whole life without knowing what these precious creatures sound like? Well, fear not: Just in time for International Sloth Day (today), we have some footage of how the tiny mammals express themselves—and it's a lot of squeaking. (Or maybe that's you squealing?)

The sloths featured in the heart-obliterating video below come from the Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica. The institution rescues orphaned sloths, rehabilitates them, and gets them ready to be released back into the wild.

[h/t The Kid Should See This]

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