Zookeepers give up on a panda, a chimp fights for his rights, and people have bizarre fetishes.

In the Moment of the Heat
Oh, Chuang Chuang. What are we ever going to do with you? The whole world asked you for one favor only: Bone up and get it on with that cute panda babe, Lin Hui. But alas, Chuang Chuang, you have failed us. This week, zookeepers artificially inseminated Lin Hui before her annual three day fertile period came to a close. A last ditch effort to show Chuang Chuang “panda porn” in hopes that he would be inspired failed miserably, and a frustrated Lin Hui got no action from her childish partner. “We let them stay together last night, but Chuang Chuang was having fun teasing his partner, while Lin Hui was sexually ready,” said Sophon Dumnui, the head of the state body that supervises the zoo. He added that Chuang Chuang is still a little young to breed—pandas reach maturity around age seven and he’s still six—and threw in the totally mortifying tidbit that the panda’s “sex organ is too small and short.” Ouch. It will be three months before we know whether the insemination was successful and Chuang Chuang will be a young biological father. And if it fails, perhaps next year Chuang Chuang will become a man. A panda man.

More Than Kin
26-year-old Hiasl is in court fighting from his life. If he loses, he faces certain death. If he wins, Austria’s legal system is going to look very different, very soon. For Hiasl is not a criminial; he’s a chimpanzee. Smuggled from Sierra Leone in childhood, Hiasl was destined for a vivisection laboratory near Vienna, when customs officials caught him and sent him to an animal sanctuary. The sanctuary is going bankrupt, and Hiasl could be sent for vivisection. So the court must decide whether this chimp is worthy of “human rights.” Only if he can be legally classified as human can Hiasl have a legal guardian to collect donations for him and keep him away from the knife. Primatologists and other experts are testifying on Hiasl’s behalf, noting that the percentage difference in DNA between a chimpanzee and a human is less than that between a donkey and a horse. The experts will also bring behavioral evidence into play, citing warlike and peaceful interactions within groups of wild apes and Hiasl’s own ability to recognize his reflection and enjoy games like hide-and-seek. Evolutionary anthropologists say that there is no clear-cut criteria for dividing humans and our closest relatives. And if Hiasl gets a new lease on life, what will his first action as a legal human be? If Association Against Animal Factories head Martin Balluch gets his way, it will be a very human action, indeed: Hiasl will sue the vivisection laboratory.

The Idle Rich
Change is good, but it’s better when you have less money to begin with. A recent study published in the journal Neuron found that the wealthier a person is, the slower he or she will be to associate a stimulus with a financial reward. The authors say their work is compatible the economic principle that marginal utility of money decreases with increasing wealth. Researchers trained subjects to associate a reward-predicting image with a reward image of a coin. When subjects saw a reward-predicting image (as opposed to some other image) they were to press a button. The researchers also monitored subjects’ brain activity using fMRI. They found an inverse relationship between wealth, as measured by assets and income, and how quickly they learned the association. They also found an inverse relationship between wealth and brain response in reward areas. Yup, wealthy people are actually “spoiled” in the sense that they can’t get as much of a kick out of small rewards. Cue ennui.

Come Follow the Band
Tacky is wearing a pouffy, hot-pink ‘80s prom dress to a wedding. Tasteless is wearing it to a funeral. Jaw-droppingly offensive is stealing a wedding ring off of an astronaut who died in the 2003 Columbia disaster. But apparently someone has done just that, and astronaut Laurel Clark’s wedding band remains at large. Clark wore her band on a chain around her neck, and she can be seen with the ring in videos from the Columbia mission. After the crash, the astronauts’ bodies were recovered, and for the sake of the families, little information was revealed about the recovery process. But newly reviewed documents reveal an effort to cover up NASA’s search for the wedding ring, ABC News reports. It appears that the ring was found on Clark’s body but suddenly disappeared, and when Clark’s husband Jonathan asked for the ring to be found, he was told that news of a stolen ring would be bad PR for NASA, the ABC report says. The documents were reviewed as part of a larger investigation into NASA inspector general Robert Cobb. If some NASA officials were actually preventing a search for Clark’s ring, shame! If someone actually stole the ring, much more shame!

The Bigger O
“O, how we need you!” read a card I received from the Red Cross after donating a pint. Apparently, even though I’m in the plurality as a type O+, I’m super-special. But my desirability may be short-lived: New research reported in the journal Nature Biotechnology shows that blood group antigens can be removed from blood to turn any sample into type O. The researchers thus far can’t do anything about the Rhesus factor, so only Rh negative blood could be converted to the universal donor. The new technique employs enzymes from two bacteria—Elizabethkingia meningosepticum and Bacterioides fragilis—to cut A and B antigens from the surface of red blood cells. The technique isn’t yet ready for use in hospitals, but perhaps after a few trials, I’ll be getting cards from the Red Cross saying, “O, get back in line.”

Feet First
Every week, Dan Savage gets letters from people who really, really like amputees or straightjackets or the common cold. And often these people wonder, “Am I really unusual?” Well, yes. According to a study recently published in the International Journal of Impotence Research, feet and the objects associated with them are the most common fetishes out there. Of people with fetishes, 33 percent preferred a specific body part, and 30 percent liked objects or features often associated with a body part. The researchers looked at 381 online discussion groups and targeted at least 5000 users to get their large sample of fetishists. While the well-known foot fetish was indeed the most common, the researchers uncovered tons of users with more obscure interests such as hearing aids (150 people), coats (nine percent of the body-related-object category), and navels (three percent of the body part category). So if you have a fetish you think is totally bizarre, you’re probably right. But science indicates there are plenty of people just as wacky.

Originally published April 9, 2007


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