Two ground squirrels at an urban campsite near San Diego, California, have tested positive for plague.
Like many terrible infectious diseases, the plague is transmitted through fleas. Symptoms include high fever, chills and swollen neck glands.
Yuck. Read the full story here: Ground Squirrels Test Positive for Plague in San Diego
Squirrels causing power outages is old news. But a squirrel causing a power outage, a boil water notice and the forced closure of hundreds of businesses? Now that’s worthy of a mention in Squirrels, Squirrels, Squirrels.
A squirrel wandered into a power substation in Fort Worth last week, and “about 25,000 to 30,000 households lost water or experienced low water pressure, city officials said. And after water started flowing again, the water department issued a “boil water notice,” warning people in the affected area to boil their drinking water to ensure that harmful bacteria and other microbes are destroyed.”
Not only that, but “The city’s public health department ordered an estimated 380 affected businesses — mostly food service establishments — to close, said Amy Casas, a department spokeswoman.”
Complaining “callers blamed the problem on such things as a truck running into a power pole to a possible terrorist attack. No one… mentioned a squirrel.”
Local BBQ restaurant owner Craig Payne summed it up well:
“Darn squirrel,” Payne said. “That just goes to show you, doesn’t matter how small you are, you can make a difference.”
I’ve been a journalist for close to 10 years, so it pains me to read this Badger Herald article on a University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh professor who trapped ground squirrels and began breeding them for eye research. Apparently the eyes of ground squirrels are similar to humans, making them useful for opthamology (eye disease) research. But the article makes no mention of animal rights issues.
The National Eye Institute “will be investigating the mechanisms of neuroprotection and how the tissue of squirrel’s eye protects itself from damage.” Reading between the lines, this means that the squirrels’ eyes will have to be damaged in order to study the protective factors.
Sounds a bit like torture to me.
But the article fails to mention any sort of ethical issues here, leading me to only hope that the assumption is that of course they will treat the squirrels humanely and take steps to make sure the squirrels are given adequate pain control and do not suffer.
Note: While I am a huge animal lover (I have a squirrel blog, for gosh’s sake), I do recognize that human diseases would not be cured without the benefit of animal research. But it’s important that everyone — especially journalists, including college-aged journalists — make sure the tough questions are asked.
Just because it’s a person with a doctoral degree conducting the research, and just because it’s affiliated with a trustworthy organization like the National Eye Institute does not mean you can assume that the squirrels are safe from harm. Just as we would not want a smarter species landing on our planet and shipping us off for painful medical experiments, the ground squirrels do not want to be a part of this research. At the very least, we should make sure they don’t suffer.