On slow days — the ones with no political scandals, salacious affairs, or bloody coups to report on — “human interest” stories [sometimes] come to dominate the news cycle and, in turn, my newsfeed.
Today proved that this can occasionally happen on fast days, as well.
On a day when over 600 people died in clashes with the Egyptian military, additional details about the NSA spying program leaked, and MLB finally decided to [somewhat] extend instant reply, the two most frequently-posted items I came across on social media were, coincidentally, both about zoos.
I’ll start off with the one from China, because I’m still not entirely sure whether the Onion managed to pull a fast one on the entire world media, Chinese zoo substitutes lion for dog:
With the sun shining and kids at home for the school holidays, many families in the eastern Chinese city of Luohe decided to pay a visit to the city’s zoo this week.
But those hoping to be thrilled by the zoo’s fearsome beasts were left disappointed by a rather tamer set of substitutes.
“One family surnamed Liu took their six-year-old son to the zoo in People’s Park,” reported the local Dahe Daily newspaper.
“On the way, Mrs Liu was teaching her son all the sounds that the different animals make. But when they arrived, her son said the lion was barking like a dog.”
Turns out, that’s no lion — that’s a space station. You can read the whole article above (if you [somehow] aren’t already familiar with the story), but the main takeaway is this: people were outraged — and the Luohe Zoo became the subject of worldwide ridicule — because of a mislabeled animal in a zoo exhibit.
Meanwhile, the second story I’ve seen shared all day comes from this very hemisphere, and concerns an astonishing story of scientific discovery, Adorable new mammal species found ‘in plain sight’: a raccoon-sized critter with teddy bear looks:
Imagine a raccoon with a teddy bear face that is so cute it’s hard to resist, let alone overlook. But somehow science did — until now.
Researchers announced Thursday a rare discovery of a new species of mammal called the olinguito. It belongs to a grouping of large creatures that include dogs, cats and bears.
The raccoon-sized critter leaps through the trees of mountainous forests of Ecuador and Colombia at night, according to a Smithsonian researcher who has spent the past decade tracking them.
But the adorable olinguito (oh-lihn-GEE’-toe) shouldn’t have been too hard to find. One of them lived in the Smithsonian-run National Zoo in Washington for a year in a case of mistaken identity.
“It’s been kind of hiding in plain sight for a long time” despite its extraordinary beauty, said Kristofer Helgen, the Smithsonian’s curator of mammals.
The zoo’s little critter, named Ringerl, was mistaken for a sister species, the olingo. Ringerl was shipped from zoo to zoo from 1967 to 1976: Louisville, Ky., Tucson, Ariz., Salt Lake City, Washington and New York City to try to get it to breed with other olingos.
“It turns out she wasn’t fussy,” Helgen said. “She wasn’t the right species.”
Turns out, that’s no olingo. You can read the whole article above (if you [somehow] aren’t already familiar with the story), but the main takeaway is this: people were delighted — and the Smithsonian got a free pass — despite housing a mislabeled animal in a zoo exhibit.
You may have noted from the excerpts that the tone of olingo/olinguito mixup coverage was decidedly different from that of the lion/dog mixup, belying the fundamental similarity between the two incidents. On the one hand, it’s easy to ridicule people for failing to distinguish between a lion and a dog. Everybody knows the difference between lions and dogs!
On the other, it’s not like Tibetan mastiffs are the best-known or most-popular breed (Luohe is nowhere near the Tibetan Plateau), nor does the lion get a Chinese year to call its own [as do the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and pig]. Maybe the difference is not necessarily so obvious to every single person on this planet. What transpired could have plausibly been a perfectly-innocuous mix-up; as conveniently demonstrated by the keepers at the National Zoo, animals get mislabeled all the time.
In summary — just like in the case of the olinguito — an animal in China was hiding ‘in plain sight’. End of story. That the media has taken the story and run with it is seemingly unfair to the poor curators of the Luohe Zoo. Rather than ridiculing the Chinese, news headlines might have more accurately gone something like this: Holy crap, there’s a dog that looks just like a lion and no one could tell the difference until it barked! That’s amazing!
That sounds about right to me.