Animals. They're everywhere. When not playing the romantic leads in hit TV shows (Friends' Marcel the monkey) or being released from confinement in chart-topping songs (the charismatic but poorly-behaved titular canines of Who Let the Dogs Out), they're lurking in foliage (an earwig, frog or robin) and leaving little summer death-smears on car windscreens (insects presumably... it's always too late to tell).
Whilst it's still frowned upon to bring them to church, sit them at a table in a fancy restaurant or get off with them most anywhere, animals have become a near-ubiquitous part of our lives. It's hard for any of us to recall a childhood memory which doesn't directly involve or at least occur in the approximate vicinity of an animal, suggesting they've been around in some form for at least as long as anyone shaking their head at this editor-infuriating excuse for an article (ed.)
Experts in fact believe we can trace them as far back as the late 19th century. It seems rather than mere creations of a brilliant imagination, the creatures of Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book may have been based on actual species in existence at the time. If correct, this implies both a laziness on the part of Kipling AND that tigers, snakes, bears and monkeys roamed the earth at least as early as 1894, a time we previously thought dominated solely by steam trains, penny farthings and funny moustaches.
Despite their apparent longevity, animals can't claim to share the social nuance or cerebral complexity of humans. If they could, it would come out as a bark or hiss or some bubbles, thus undermining their claim and further reinforcing their inferiority.
As such, we've long been able to classify all critters into just three main categories:
1) Is it nice to stroke?
2) Will it try to eat me? (subcategories: can I fight it? / can I outrun it?)
3) Will I try to eat it? (subcategories: mint sauce, cranberry or horseradish?)
Well, at the risk of being hailed this generation's Attenborough (I'll take it), I suggest it's high time we expand our understanding of our non-human companions and add a fourth...
4) Does it like to get pissed up?
That's right; it's not just people who enjoy a tipple. Perhaps to alleviate the stress of their rapidly diminishing natural habitats, subjugation and wholesale eradication by humans or maybe just to give them more confidence for dancing, several animal species are well documented as intentionally seeking out booze. In this incisive piece of journalism, which itself may or may not (the first one) have been borne of alcohol, I'll run down my top five blotto beasties.
Where British chimps enjoy a nice cup of PG tips, Caribbean Vervet monkeys long ago developed a liking for the ethanol-rich fermented sugar present in cane plantations. A study discovered 20% prefer the taste (or its effects) to stupid, boring old water and about 5% of the simian population are actually alcoholics, though they probably don't admit to having a problem. It also showed it's teenage monkeys who consume the most alcohol, but didn't elaborate as to whether they could actually hold it down or made complete tits of themselves like their adolescent human counterparts.
Two raccoons in Milton, West Virginia earned themselves incarceration after embarking on a neighbourhood-bothering rampage consisting mostly of “staggering” and “disoriented swaying”. Concerned citizens who feared they were rabid called police who, to their credit, rightly surmised they were in fact paralytic on fermented crab apples. Although they appeared black when approached from behind, it's assumed the fruit-brandishing racoons were spared being immediately shot to death because whilst unholstering, America's finest noted they in fact had white faces.
Every autumn in Sweden, scores of incidents occur involving moose who, like those two racoons and the entire population of Somerset know there 'aint no party like a fermented apple party. Blundering into homes, falling into swimming pools, scaring schoolkids and generally giving elk-kind a bad name, half-cut highlights include reports of a drunken moose threesome, the destruction and subsequent 800ft dragging of a child's swing set and one particularly sozzled individual who got stuck in the very tree he was scrumping from. In what appears to be the equivalent of an enforced lock-in with no soft drinks available, by the time the tree was felled and the exhausted moose freed, it couldn't even be arsed to stagger home, choosing to sleep it off on the spot while onlookers, camera crews and bemused rescue workers packed up around it.
A 2012 scientific study into the romantic lives of fruit flies found that males who hadn't managed to pull turned, like so many of us, to alcohol (contained in certain foods), whilst their recently coupled, apparently blissfully content male friends took the high road and abstained... give the smug bastards a year. Or about 10 hours in fruit fly terms.
For centuries humankind believed what we now refer to as wasps to be boozed up, belligerent bees. And then the great squash-stall massacre at the Bartons Primary School 1972 summer fete saw a single striped individual sting four adults, three children and a Cocker Spaniel named Claude before Mrs. Noose the drama teacher was able to bravely dispatch it with a badminton racket. As the shocked community rallied in support of the victims amid near-delirious condemnation of bee-kind, a reporter for the Bognor Regis Observer shelved his investigation into why people kept being found asleep at the local garden centre and jumped onto what appeared to be a career-making story. Sure enough, eye-witness testimony and the subsequent examination of the badminton racket revealed the mangled perpetrator still had its stinger and appeared to be stone-cold sober at the time of death. Instead of a drunk bee flown amok, the journalist whose name nobody knows because his career never did go anywhere ascertained we were dealing with a hitherto undiscovered species. 1972 entered the history books as The Year of the Wasp …. “Wasp” is Latin for prick.
Their reputation finally untarnished, bees continued on their righteous path, producing honey, pollinating flora and generally having buzzy little wings and furry bodies and stuff. And then a few years back some scientists went and placed the burden of humanity's survival on their tiny non-shoulders. With numbers on a steady decline mainly due to our own use of pesticides, experts warned that without bees working to pollinate vast swathes of our planet, ecological collapse, crop failure, desertification, knock-on extinctions and widespread famine would ensue - so no pressure guys. How could they not turn to drink??
Researchers have found honeybees will happily feed on pure ethanol, consuming the equivalent of a human necking 10 litres of wine. That's not to say it doesn't affect them. Drunk bees exhibit similar traits as drunk people, forgetting where they live, colliding in flight and generally being a nuisance. In the wild, where fermenting nectar and discarded alcohol provide a welcome release from the responsibilities of the colony, bee societies experience alcoholism at a similar incidence rate as our own. We all like a drink but when a bee's boozing gets in the way of work and it becomes a liability to the hive, its colleagues stage a rather extreme intervention – they mob it en masse and bite off all its legs, resulting in its certain death.
In the bee world, get legless and you'll end up just so. At least then you can stop worrying about the end of the world.
That lazy moose didn't know how good he had it.
Ian Greenland www.iangreenland.uk