OvoControl P

Reid spotted this one at LAT: Hollywood turns to birth control to clean up its (pigeons’) act.

Francisco Vara-Orta writes,

“Eager to reduce the neighborhood pigeon population and the mess that comes with it, Hollywood residents appear ready to try a new birth control method on their wild birds.

“Beginning within the next couple of months, a substance called OvoControl P will be placed in kibble in new rooftop feeders, say residents and state and local officials. The substance, which interferes with egg development, generally is viewed as a humane way to lower the birthrate of the birds, which many residents consider a

Not answered in the story is what this substance does to hawks who eat affected pigeons and what it might do to non-target birds who will certainly also ingest the stuff directly.

OvoControl developers say the risk is negligible: “Fortunately, the chemistry of the active ingredient assures that there is an extraordinarily low risk of any effect on a raptor. To have an effect, the bird MUST consume the bait – raptors enjoy fresh meat and fish, not OvoControl bait. Once OvoControl is digested and absorbed, it is no longer biologically available to another bird. There is effectively no risk of secondary toxicity.”

…Except for hawks who eat stomach contents, which they occasionally do. On the other question they say:

“All avians are considered sensitive to the product. OvoControl has therefore been designed to limit non-target exposure to birds. There are five techniques employed:

  1. The bait is relatively large, suitable for a pigeon but not to the average songbird. The bait has low oil content.
  2. The bait is fed on a restricted basis—roughly 5gm/bird, or roughly 15% of the pigeon’s daily dry matter intake—at the crack of dawn, in the general vicinity of the overnighting birds. Experience shows that once the pigeons are habituated to the bait, it is consumed in 15 minutes or less leaving little opportunity for non-target feeding.
  3. Pigeons are flocking birds. Feeders are placed on rooftops where the risk of non-target exposure is limited.
  4. A daily dose is required during the breeding season. It is possible that a non-target receives a dose from time-to-time, but periodic observation by the applicator ensures that OvoControl is reaching the target population.
  5. Raptors will not consume bread based bait.

A lot of variables and qualifiers there. But given the chemical wears off and must be continually used, it is probably mild and not much of a threat except to pigeon family values. However, it sounds like a gold mine for the drug’s producers!

Endless act of transference

Thanks both to Mary and Reid for forwarding this NYT editorial by Verlyn Klinkenborg, Should Most Pet Owners Be Required to Neuter Their Animals? (subtitled: “When it comes to pets, Americans are lost in a seemingly endless act of transference.”)

“…the opponents of mandatory neutering make it sound as though the problem can be solved mainly by teaching owners to spay or neuter their pets voluntarily. That might be true, if we thought more rationally about our pets. But keeping pets isn’t about rationality. When it comes to them, Americans are lost in a seemingly endless act of transference.

“It’s apparent in the obesity of our dogs and cats, and in our increasing spending on veterinary care and gourmet pet food and dietary supplements and everything else that helps us treat them as our superconsumerist equals.

“This transference extends to how we think about the sexuality of our pets, which is, all too often, a projection of our own. “

This piece is basically a lament for the recent flushing of California’s late mandatory spay/neuter bill and a finger-wagging at its opponents. The transference angle is interesting but I think beside the point (and, well, obvious). Of course our pets are representations of ourselves; so are our cars! But that’s not the only reason we own them.

Nonetheless, there are some points in this piece in I fully support. I agree most pet owners are irresponsible, sentimental and short-sighted. And I think it’s a shame so many dogs and cats are killed by local governments at our expense (not to mention their own). A wider culture of pet adoption vs. pet purchase would be a wonderful thing to support. Ditto free workshops and literature teaching responsible pet ownership. We have these programs here in Baton Rouge on a (too) small scale, and I think they’re great. Being sentimental about pets doesn’t preclude the possibility of learning to be sensible about them.

But I don’t support mandatory spay/neuter, which doesn’t solve these problems. Moreover, I am not at all moved by knowing half a million dogs and cats were killed last year by California municipalities. Mind you, I LOVE dogs and cats, at least most of the ones I know personally. But a number by itself is not evidence of anything significant.

Where do these animals come from? They can’t all be secretly disposed, irresponsibly bred Dalmatians set loose in the city park six months after the last Disney movie release. Can they?

Some of them must be feral and presumably breeding on their own, especially the cats; in which case they are (let’s be frank) a pest control problem, and the fact that we choose to house them at great expense for two weeks before killing them is merely sentimental and a waste of money.

Those that are neighborhood pets jumping fences and trotting around may or may not be the product of irresponsible backyard breeders or puppy mills. Maybe they’re just the result of bad fencing. In either case, it’s the owner’s loss and no one else’s fault if the escaped animal is shot or poisoned by an ill tempered or frightened neighbor, or run over by a car, or stolen. On the flip side, these owners might benefit from neighbors who will catch them up and call the number on the tag. My wife and I do this half a dozen times a year, often for the same dogs. I haven’t killed one yet, even though I’ve caught several harassing my hawks (in this case, my own fault for occasionally leaving my yard gate open).

Government intervenes in these cases at a waste of taxpayer money and because neighbors no longer solve their own problems. This is not a problem of having too small and weak a system of animal control agencies, best solved by more government, laws, fines, seizures of private property and jail time for citizens. This is a problem of weak communities and irresponsible and careless people. No amount of government will cure those problems.

My dog doesn’t poop on my neighbors’ yards. She doesn’t run unsupervised in the neighborhood. She has all her shots. She is a danger to no one except the small animals I hunt with her, the killing of which is her job and the meat of which never goes to waste. In short, she is not a menace to society, and so my city should have little or nothing say about how manage her….especially about when and if I chose to cut out her ovaries.

Also, Klinkenborg shouldn’t trouble himself wondering if my dog and I are co-dependent. We are, and we like it that way.

This is not a problem of animal “overpopulation” but is a problem of too much government money (and concern, for that matter) and not enough personal responsibility and neighborly comportment. Of course I could be dead wrong about that. But it won’t change the fact that I would rather deal personally with all the stray animals who happen to find themselves on my property than have some nutty urban politician (who, in the California case, doesn’t even own an animal!) force me to sterilize mine.

Breeding Like Rabbits?

Trivia: China claims to have cloned the first rabbit from fetal cells (evidently the French cloned a rabbit earlier from adult cells). It should be noted that this is NOT the easiest way to breed rabbits.

I was warming up for a tirade on the evils of cloning. My point was not to be that God opposes cloned animals (in fact He makes some from time to time) but that only one thing could explain the tremendous investment universities, corporations and governments make in these technologies: profit. What good are lifeforms you can patent? Ask Monsanto about their hybrid corn.

But before I laid bare my embarrassing leftist agrarianism or libertarian paranoia (or got myself fired) I read this interesting passage by Barbara Kingslover (writing on writing erotica) that puts the issue in another light:

“We live in a strange land where marketers can display teenage models in the receptive lordotic posture (look it up) to sell jeans or liquor, but the basics of human procreation can’t be discussed in a middle-school science class without sparking parental ire. The same is true of evolution, incedentally, and I think the reason is the same: our traditions deny, for all we’re worth, that we’re in any way connected with the rest of life on earth. We don’t come from it, we’re not part of it, we own it.

“It is deeply threatening to our ideology, at the corporate and theological levels, to admit that we’re constrained by the laws of biology. Sex is the ultimate animal neccesity.”

Here’s a toast to every old fashioned thing! Ah hell, I’m going to get in trouble anyway.


The result of a lawsuit brought by an animals rights group against athletic shoe maker Adidas, has been the confirmation by the California Supreme Court of a state law that bans the use of kangaroo hide for shoe manufacture. Kangaroo leather is apparently favored by soccer players for their shoes.

Australians are puzzled by this. Kangaroo populations vary between 15 and 50 million, largely dependent on climate and rainfall variance’ and aren’t in any danger. There is a regular cull to keep them from overeating their range:

“Kangaroos are like rabbits in Australia,” said Kalee StClair, who is from Sydney and has lived here {California} for more than four years. “They’re not protected at all, and it’s actually encouraged to kill them.

“I guess they are really cute. And California is a sucker for a cute animal. Look at how people dress their dogs here.”

The law dates to 1971, when a number of kangaroo species were endangered. The Australian consul is lobbying the legislature in Sacramento to repeal the law.

This shows up in the news just as estimable scientist and author Tim Flannery releases what looks like a very interesting book on kangaroos: Chasing Kangaroos: A Continent, a Scientist, and a Search for the World’s Most Extraordinary Creature.

A Miraculous Birth

Today’s Denver Post tells us of an unusual event that took place on a ranch near Colbran in western Colorado. Kate, a “molly” or female mule, has given birth to a healthy female foal. Mules are officially sterile hybrids from the mating of a female horse and a male donkey. But very rarely they do have offspring.

This case is of special interest in that it is apparently the first time since the mid-1980s that a mule foal will be available for the full gamut of modern genetic testing. Geneticists from the University of Kentucky and the University of California – Davis have already tested samples that definitely prove the mother really is a mule and that the foal really is hers.

In our urbanized society most of us see this as an interesting occurance and look forward to more information on the scientific analysis of the genetics involved. In more traditional societies that are closer to their animals, a mule foal has a whole different meaning. From the article:

” When it reportedly happened in Morocco five years ago, locals feared it signaled the end of the world. In Albania in 1994, it was thought to have unleashed the spawn of the devil on a small village.”


“It’s an event so rare that the Romans had a saying, ‘cum mula peperit,’ meaning ‘when a mule foals’ – the equivalent of ‘when hell freezes over.'”

A mule enthusiast’s magazine is apparently having a contest to name the foal. I look forward to reading some comments from those of you with a stronger background than mine in horses, mules, and genetics.

Brave Dog

The Denver Post tells us that a five-pound Chihuahua in Masonville, Colorado fought off a rattlesnake to keep a one year-old toddler from being bitten. Zoey the Chihuahua sustained bites herself, but survived. What’s that old saying – it’s not the size of the dog in the fight but the size of the fight in the dog.

Some Soviet Planes

I mentioned in an earlier post that for some years I had worked in jobs in aerospace and aviation. In one of those positions I worked at a flight test facility at the Mojave Airport in southern California. My employer manufactured jet engines. Engines that needed to be tested for FAA certification were shipped out to us and we would install them on a Boeing 747 test aircraft and fly them around to conduct the required tests.

Most often engines would be delivered to us by truck, but occasionally they would be air-freighted to us if there was a hurry-up schedule. On one occasion, one of these expedited tests involved the largest engine that we made, a 100,000 pound thrust beast that is used on the Boeing 777. The only aircraft commercially available large enough to carry one of these (the Air Force wouldn’t lend us a C-5 ) was an Antonov An-124, a large Soviet-designed cargo plane that is a relict of the Cold War. This plane was operated by the Russian carrier Volga-Dnepr Heavy Lift, and my employer paid something like $200,000 per trip for them to haul our engines, usually spares from the factory to overseas service depots. Production engines were trucked up to Seattle for installation at Boeing.

On this occasion, back in the mid-1990s, the An-124 was bringing us a spare engine from our service shop in Wales. They loaded the engine at Gatwick and flew non-stop to Houston, where they cleared customs. That plane has legs. They refueled and flew on to Mojave.

Here’s a picture of it after it landed. You can see Volga-Dnepr in Cyrillic on the side of the fuselage.

There was a privately-owned MiG-21 at the airport whose owner kept it parked just off our area of the flight line. I was lucky enough to catch these two old Soviet veterans in one picture.

The crew of 17 was Russian with one exception. When crewmembers left the Antonov, several of them walked right over to the MiG, talking excitedly among themselves. One beaming Russian patted the nose of the MiG affectionately, turned to us and proclaimed, “Is GOOD airplane!”

I’d inspected the MiG closely several times and it intrigued me. On one of those visits I was accompanied by one of our test pilots. He claimed it was the closest he’d been to a MiG-21 since one shot him down in his A-4 over Hanoi. I don’t know where the MiG was built, but all the placards on the hull were in Polish. It was made of high-quality aerospace aluminum, but all the fasteners used on the wings were of carbon steel. This left the shiny surface of the wings spotted with rust dots from the corroded fasteners. It seemed to me emblematic of many of the contradictions of the Soviet system.

Seventeen was an absurdly large crew for the work that needed to be done to operate the Antonov. As we worked on some classified programs at our facility, our security officer was required to review the Russian crew manifest before their arrival. A scan of their names by our security services indicated that 14 of them were known to be working for various Russian intelligence agencies. They obviously weren’t let in to see anything in our shop, and we were told to keep our eyes open for anything unusual.

It is an enormous plane, and we were allowed the run of it – we wanted our $200,000 worth. The ladder goes up to the cockpit.

Here you can see us unloading.

Here’s the inside of the cockpit. Very 1960s looking. It’s the only modern cockpit I can ever recall seeing with a radio operator crew position.

In the time-honored way, we traded patches and stickers with the Russians. I was actually able to find this sticker after all these years.

The Antonov was due to fly out the next morning and we loaded the crew in a couple of vans and took them to a motel in town. Their flight plan called for them to fly from Mojave to Las Vegas to re-fuel (Jet A was expensive at our airport) and clear customs, then non-stop back to Gatwick.

We all came out to the flight line the next morning to watch them take off. As the Antonov took to the air we expected them to head northeast toward Las Vegas. But they didn’t. They circled and headed straight south, flying along the boundary of the “no fly zone” that keeps private and commercial aircraft from flying over Edwards Air Force Base, the Air Force’s main testing facility. This allowed them to see anything that was going on at Edwards. This route took them right over Plant 42 in Palmdale, where Northrup Grumman was then building B-2 bombers, and where the Lockheed Martin Skunk Works is located. We could see them turn east at the southeast corner of the “no fly zone” and they eventually worked their way around three sides of the box before heading to Las Vegas.

This was apparently fully legal under the terms of the Treaty on Open Skies, but also fully obvious. We laughed and laughed.

From Steve

Dear all,

Internets still screwed but:

(1) I am halfway, the worst half, through on the book and if I have a peaceful week– unlikely– I could be all drafted in a week.

(2) As of last night they will pay my way air & in- country to go to Almaty for the Primitive Dog Breeds thing 10 September, and Libby likely has enough frequent flyer mile to go too.

Now all I have to do is secure permissions for 100 illustrations for the book, and get out of jury duty.

In frenzied haste,