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10 Lovable Facts About the Peruvian Inca Orchid

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The Peruvian Inca Orchid dog isn't like other breeds. Thanks to its noticeable lack of hair, it has a tendency to turn heads. Did we mention it's also pretty rare? Here’s what we know about the scarce (but surprisingly cuddly) South American canine.

1. THEY'RE THE NATIONAL DOG OF PERU.

The Peruvian Inca Orchid is an ancient breed. Thanks to clues on Chimu, Chancay, and Incan pottery, experts believe the dog existed as far back as 750 CE. When Spanish conquistadors arrived in Incan territory, they quickly took notice of the bald dogs. Some believe that the invaders bred their sighthounds with the PIO to create slightly larger dogs than the pups depicted on the scraps of pottery. 

Peru is proud of its unusual-looking pet and declared it the national dog in 2001. To date, they are Peru’s only internationally-registered breed.

2. THEY HAVE MANY NAMES. 

The name “Peruvian Inca Orchid” is pretty wordy, and its official Spanish moniker isn't much better: Perro sin pelo de Peru (Peruvian hairless dog). If you want something a little shorter, they’re also called perros flora or “flower dogs.” 

3. AN AMERICAN NAMED THEM. 

According to legend, the dogs were labeled perros flora by the Spanish, who first encountered them hanging out in caves with wild orchids (poetic, huh?). Another, equally lovely, nickname: Moon dogs, because of their aversion to the sun (you'd avoid it too if you had nothing covering your skin). American dog fancier Jack Walklin came across the many-named dog while visiting Peru in 1966. Combining several of its tags together, he settled on "Peruvian Inca Orchid," and brought eight of the dogs back to the U.S. A breeder by the name of Jenny Tall introduced some of the American dogs to Europe, which resulted in Germany also calling the breed by its American name. When referring to the breed, Peruvians prefer to stick with perro sin pelo de Peru. 

4. NOT ALL OF THEM ARE HAIRLESS. 

In the case of the PIO, the odd dogs out are actually the ones who look like, well, dogs. For the most part, these pups are totally hairless, or have little puffs of hair on their heads and tails. Occasionally, some are born with a full coat. These coated dogs look much more like traditional pooches than the hairless variety and sport cute, floppy ears. They also are more likely to have all of their teeth—the hairless gene is linked to missing a tooth or two.

5. THEY’RE RARE. 

If you’re wondering why you haven’t come across any of these pups at the dog park, it’s because they’re incredibly rare. Thanks to their unusual appearance, they haven’t enjoyed the same amount of popularity as other breeds. Peruvian Inca Orchid dogs are not widely bred, and as a result, there are only about 1000 in the world

6. INCANS USED THEM AS BED WARMERS …

The PIO is mainly a companion dog and was essentially bred to serve as a living hot water bottle. Thanks to their lack of fur, they can snuggle up to their owners and generate a good amount of warmth. At one time, they were also said to have mystical powers, and the ability to cure anything from headaches to arthritis. 

7. … BUT THEY WERE ALSO HUNTERS. 

While the PIO is a great lap warmer, they're also useful out in the field. Their sighthound blood makes them great hunters. Similar to greyhounds or whippets, the canines are skilled at coursing, a type of hunting that emphasizes sight over smell. Thanks to their intelligence and agility, the dogs were tasked with both flushing out and catching small game. Their speed helped them nab prey—and also run messages between villages. 

8. THEIR FEET ARE A LOT LIKE BUNNY FEET. 

Peruvian Inca Orchid dogs have thin, flat feet with webbed toes, similar to the Chinese crested. These unusually long feet are known as “hare feet” because they resemble those of a rabbit. 

9. THEY COME IN DIFFERENT SHAPES AND SIZES. 

LWYang, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Along with being either hairless or coated, the Peruvian hairless dogs can also be one of three sizes. The small variety can be as light as 8 pounds while the larger variety can be as heavy as 55. The American Kennel Club recognizes these as the same breed, although Peru categorizes the sizes as two separate breeds entirely. 

The dogs also come in a wide range of colors and coats. Coated hounds can have all different kinds of fur: short and smooth, long and flowing, or long and straight. Coated dogs can be any color, but the hairless dogs tend to be a shade ranging from black to pink. Generally they are born pink or black and later develop freckles, which grow and combine to create the dog’s final coloring.   

10. YOU'LL NEED TO KEEP THEM OUT OF THE SUN.

Since the PIO doesn’t have a thick coat of hair to cover its skin, the sun is as much a threat to it as it is to us. This means that these dogs shouldn’t be left in direct sunlight, or they might get sunburned! A healthy dollop of sunblock can go a long way for both you and your dog. 

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Animals
Why Tiny 'Hedgehog Highways' Are Popping Up Around London
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Hedgehogs as pets have gained popularity in recent years, but in many parts of the world, they're still wild animals. That includes London, where close to a million of the creatures roam streets, parks, and gardens, seeking out wood and vegetation to take refuge in. Now, Atlas Obscura reports that animal activists are transforming the city into a more hospitable environment for hedgehogs.

Barnes Hedgehogs, a group founded by Michel Birkenwald in the London neighborhood of Barnes four years ago, is responsible for drilling tiny "hedgehog highways" through walls around London. The passages are just wide enough for the animals to climb through, making it easier for them to travel from one green space to the next.

London's wild hedgehog population has seen a sharp decline in recent decades. Though it's hard to pin down accurate numbers for the elusive animals, surveys have shown that the British population has dwindled by tens of millions since the 1950s. This is due to factors like human development and habitat destruction by farmers who aren't fond of the unattractive shrubs, hedges, and dead wood that hedgehogs use as their homes.

When such environments are left to grow, they can still be hard for hedgehogs to access. Carving hedgehog highways through the stone partitions and wooden fences bordering parks and gardens is one way Barnes Hedgehogs is making life in the big city a little easier for its most prickly residents.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
New Program Trains Dogs to Sniff Out Art Smugglers
Penn Vet Working Dog Center
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

Soon, the dogs you see sniffing out contraband at airports may not be searching for drugs or smuggled Spanish ham. They might be looking for stolen treasures.

K-9 Artifact Finders, a new collaboration between New Hampshire-based cultural heritage law firm Red Arch and the University of Pennsylvania, is training dogs to root out stolen antiquities looted from archaeological sites and museums. The dogs would be stopping them at borders before the items can be sold elsewhere on the black market.

The illegal antiquities trade nets more than $3 billion per year around the world, and trafficking hits countries dealing with ongoing conflict, like Syria and Iraq today, particularly hard. By one estimate, around half a million artifacts were stolen from museums and archaeological sites throughout Iraq between 2003 and 2005 alone. (Famously, the craft-supply chain Hobby Lobby was fined $3 million in 2017 for buying thousands of ancient artifacts looted from Iraq.) In Syria, the Islamic State has been known to loot and sell ancient artifacts including statues, jewelry, and art to fund its operations.

But the problem spans across the world. Between 2007 and 2016, U.S. Customs and Border Control discovered more than 7800 cultural artifacts in the U.S. looted from 30 different countries.

A yellow Lab sniffs a metal cage designed to train dogs on scent detection.
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

K-9 Artifact Finders is the brainchild of Rick St. Hilaire, the executive director of Red Arch. His non-profit firm researches cultural heritage property law and preservation policy, including studying archaeological site looting and antiquities trafficking. Back in 2015, St. Hilaire was reading an article about a working dog trained to sniff out electronics that was able to find USB drives, SD cards, and other data storage devices. He wondered, if dogs could be trained to identify the scents of inorganic materials that make up electronics, could they be trained to sniff out ancient pottery?

To find out, St. Hilaire tells Mental Floss, he contacted the Penn Vet Working Dog Center, a research and training center for detection dogs. In December 2017, Red Arch, the Working Dog Center, and the Penn Museum (which is providing the artifacts to train the dogs) launched K-9 Artifact Finders, and in late January 2018, the five dogs selected for the project began their training, starting with learning the distinct smell of ancient pottery.

“Our theory is, it is a porous material that’s going to have a lot more odor than, say, a metal,” says Cindy Otto, the executive director of the Penn Vet Working Dog Center and the project’s principal investigator.

As you might imagine, museum curators may not be keen on exposing fragile ancient materials to four Labrador retrievers and a German shepherd, and the Working Dog Center didn’t want to take any risks with the Penn Museum’s priceless artifacts. So instead of letting the dogs have free rein to sniff the materials themselves, the project is using cotton balls. The researchers seal the artifacts (broken shards of Syrian pottery) in airtight bags with a cotton ball for 72 hours, then ask the dogs to find the cotton balls in the lab. They’re being trained to disregard the smell of the cotton ball itself, the smell of the bag it was stored in, and ideally, the smell of modern-day pottery, eventually being able to zero in on the smell that distinguishes ancient pottery specifically.

A dog looks out over the metal "pinhweel" training mechanism.
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

“The dogs are responding well,” Otto tells Mental Floss, explaining that the training program is at the stage of "exposing them to the odor and having them recognize it.”

The dogs involved in the project were chosen for their calm-but-curious demeanors and sensitive noses (one also works as a drug-detection dog when she’s not training on pottery). They had to be motivated enough to want to hunt down the cotton balls, but not aggressive or easily distracted.

Right now, the dogs train three days a week, and will continue to work on their pottery-detection skills for the first stage of the project, which the researchers expect will last for the next nine months. Depending on how the first phase of the training goes, the researchers hope to be able to then take the dogs out into the field to see if they can find the odor of ancient pottery in real-life situations, like in suitcases, rather than in a laboratory setting. Eventually, they also hope to train the dogs on other types of objects, and perhaps even pinpoint the chemical signatures that make artifacts smell distinct.

Pottery-sniffing dogs won’t be showing up at airport customs or on shipping docks soon, but one day, they could be as common as drug-sniffing canines. If dogs can detect low blood sugar or find a tiny USB drive hidden in a house, surely they can figure out if you’re smuggling a sculpture made thousands of years ago in your suitcase.

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