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Animals stealing food

Ranty IslamFebruary 23, 2015

Animals stealing food from other animals isn't unusual. But some also gang up on humans.

Image: picture-alliance/Wildlife

When you have spent a lot of energy and time getting your food, you may feel in no mood to part with it again. Anyone trying to swipe it from you will meet with resistance. Well, unless that "anyone" happens to be 18 meters long, weighs 50 tonnes and has no intention of negotiating with you.

That's what Alaskan fishermen have to put up with. Sperm whales regularly gang up on them. They aggregate around the fishing boats. And wait. When the fishermen pull up their catch - mostly cod - the whales snatch it from the fishing lines just below the surface. Thank you. Apparently the animals even recognize the sound of the motor hoist - it's their cue to start diving and harvest the fishing lines that are being pulled back into the boat.

Experts believe it's a skill that individual whales learned as early as the 1970s and subsequently "taught" their fellows - social sharing, so to speak. And the large mammals' appetite for these easy meals served by humans increases every year. The fishermen estimate that up to 90 percent of their catch ends up in whales' stomachs. One such incident has recently been #link:http://www.bbc.com/earth/story/20150204-sperm-whales-target-fishing-boats-for-an-easy-meal:filmed by the BBC#.

There are other animals who literally jump at the easy opportunities presented to them by humans. In South Africa baboons have turned into skilled burglars. A single upstairs window carelessly left open is enough for a whole gang of baboons to enter the house and completely ransack the place, as this video shows.

Whale villains and baboon burglars are special instances of animals adapting to the presence of humans by resorting to kleptoparasitism. Repeat slowly: kleptoparasitism. It's a complicated name for an easy idea: why hunt for food yourself, if you can steal it from others? The principle itself is not new. Animals stealing from other animals - that's happened for ages and has been observed species wide. Hyenas and jackals stealing the kills from lions and other carnivores are among the best known examples.

What is new is that animals increasingly target humans as involuntary suppliers of their dietary needs. It makes sense: Instead of expending lots of energy on long and deep dives to catch giant octopuses, sperm whales now only need to casually stick around a little while until humans have prepared a buffet for them just beneath the sea surface.

But why? Expanding human activity in animal habitats and rapid urbanization both mean that animals across all species are increasingly getting into closer contact with humans and adapt accordingly. Think of #link:http://youtu.be/f6WWyxK_OaU:bears plundering trash bins# in the suburbs or #link:http://youtu.be/Kqy9hxhUxK0:sea gulls turning into shop lifters#.

It's a development that humans are not always averse to. In fact, they have encouraged it for a long time and cared for animals they wanted to use. It's the reason why we have dogs to walk, cows to milk and honeybees to keep.

Tubes and car electronics are not known to be on a marten's traditional diet. But it sinks its teeth into them nevertheless
Image: Fotolia/Horst Schmidt