Venkman the Cat via Twitter
Venkman the Cat via Twitter

10 Highly Unconventional Guard Animals

Venkman the Cat via Twitter
Venkman the Cat via Twitter

When people think of guard animals, they tend to imagine triangle-eared Dobermans trained to target the major arteries of home invaders. But not all sentries are that formidable. Check out 10 unlikely animals that have been recruited for some unique monitoring duties.

1. THE GEESE THAT GUARDED WHISKEY

From 1959 to 2012, Ballantine's whisky distillery in Dumbarton, Scotland used a flock of geese to guard their liquor inventory. Owner Hiram Walker believed that anyone trespassing on the grounds would never be able to avoid the geese from starting a noisy ruckus and alerting residents nearby to the disturbance. When new owners took over the property, they decided to let the remaining watch-geese enter into an early retirement at a Glasgow animal sanctuary, reasoning that they were "no longer required for security purposes."

“Police geese” are also used in China’s Xinjiang province, where their shrieking can alert both homeowners and police stations to suspicious activity.

2. THE DUCKS OF WRATH

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A vineyard in the Western Cape in South Africa keeps its grapes from being ruined by pests by allowing a veritable army of ducks to march in waves and devour bugs. Because they act as a natural pesticide, the vineyard has been able to reduce chemical applications; their poop is also welcomed as a fertilizer. In honor of their service, the winery markets some of their products under the Runner Duck brand.

3. THE KING COBRA THAT WATCHED OVER A ZOO

In 1978, the Skansen Zoo in Stockholm was having a major problem with burglaries. To remedy the situation, zookeepers allowed a king cobra to wander outside of its enclosure and slither across zoo grounds overnight. A spokesperson made sure to tell media that the 14-foot-long reptile was so venomous that its bite would kill an intruder within 15 minutes. There were no more break-ins following the announcement.

4. THE CATS LOOKING OUT FOR A BREWERY

Venkman the Cat via Twitter

While cats have their charms, respect for property is not usually listed among them. But a brewery in Chicago has managed to channel their inherent attraction to rats to help keep their beverage area pest-free. Empirical Brewing had a rodent problem so serious that foot-long invaders, waiting to nibble on grain bags and spread pestilence, could be spotted before employees closed for the night. To solve the issue, the company adopted four mousers to act as their night watch: Egon, Venkman (who has his own Twitter feed), Raymond, and Gozer. The foursome has kept the floor rat-free ever since.

5. THE LLAMAS THAT PROTECT SHEEP

For years, coyotes have been denied a delicious sheep dinner by the charging, wailing llama, a pack animal that farmers have been incorporating into their land to ward off predators. A 2003 survey conducted by Iowa State University found that half of llama-wrangled flocks had a 100 percent reduction in attacks since the animals went on patrol. It’s believed that the larger family of camelids that llamas belong to were once stalked by dogs, prompting an aggressive response toward predators. Llamas will stand taller, cry, and charge a looming coyote—even killing it if things escalate. They can also protect poultry and cattle. One caveat: Most farmers opt for a single llama, as having two means they might ignore the sheep in order to hang out with each other.

6. NAVAL DOLPHINS AND SEA LIONS

Ittook approximately 30 years for the U.S. Navy to disclose one of their secret weapons in the protection of the United States: dolphins. With unparalleled sonar detection, the mammals can easily retrieve lost equipment, find explosive devices, and alert their human supervisors to unauthorized swimmers in their territory. The same program also uses sea lions that have been trained to swim while biting down on a clamp; they can attach it to an object or person that the military wants to track.

7. MR. TEETH, THE DRUG-GUARDING ALLIGATOR

As any drug kingpin will tell you, making sure your stash of illegal narcotics isn’t knocked off by the competition is key to maintaining profit margins. That’s why a marijuana dealer in Castro Valley, California, kept an alligator named Mr. Teeth within a few feet of his 34 pounds of inventory. The reptile was discovered by police during a probation check. ("We get guard dogs all of the time when we search for grow houses and people stashing away all types of dope. But alligators? You just don't see that every day," Alameda County sergeant JD Nelson told the Associated Press.) In addition to legal troubles relating to the cannabis, Mr. Teeth’s owner was also in danger of being charged with keeping an exotic pet without a license.

8. PEPE THE GUARD SKUNK

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A radiator manufacturer in Fort Wayne, Indiana, found an effective deterrent for anyone considering a break-in at their warehouse: Pepe, a guard skunk who was allowed to roam the building at night. Manager Tim Kelley told the Associated Press in 1983 that the mere sight of Pepe was enough to dissuade anyone from coming in, although his comments to the media may have impacted the skunk’s reputation: Kelley said the animal had been de-fumed.

9. THE BEARS THAT PATROLLED A MARIJUANA FIELD

Marijuana growers are highly imaginative when it comes to finding new and exotic ways to protect their crops. A couple near Vancouver was busted in 2010 after police discovered a field containing more than 2300 plants and roughly 14 black bears. Authorities surmised that the two had left dog food on the property in order to attract the bears, which are common in that part of Canada. Unfortunately, it’s not likely they would have repelled a human-led heist. When confronted by cops, the bears continued to nap; one settled in on top of a police car. "They were tame ... They weren't aggressive," Sergeant Fred Mansveld told The Telegraph. “But it soon became apparent they were habituated to the (drugs) operation.”

10. THE WOLF AT THE DOOR

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While wolves are usually what people want protection from, the villagers of Kazakhstan believe the predator can be tamed enough to switch sides. The BBC reported in 2014 that residents have taken up the practice of purchasing wolves to act as guard animals for their property. One owner, Nurseit Zhylkyshybay, said he takes his wolf for walks and that there’s been no problem with neighbors; a wolf expert cautioned that the animals are a “ticking time bomb” that could turn on their masters at any moment. If you'd prefer not to risk being attacked by your protector, consider using the ducks.

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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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