January 0002


The Big Snooze, More Glaciers, and Free Sweets.

FACTOID: THE WORLD’S SLEEPIEST ANIMAL.

The Guiness Book of Records has this quite wrong. The world’s sleepiest animal is in fact the pygmy humped sloth from Paraguay. This is awake for only 10 minutes a week, to feed. It doesn’t need to eat much, as it uses so little energy. Not much is known about it, but it probably wakes a little more for mating. The reason why it is so little known are (1) That it is so small – it weighs only 15 grammes- and (2) That it hides under the leaves of the muerteverde tree, which is highly toxic to all other animals, including people. This tree can reach over sixty meters in height, and the pygmy humped sloth lives right in the centre of the foliage, near the top, so it is very difficult to observe. The secret of this animal’s immunity is unknown, but when it wakes, it eats a small mouthful of leaf. When it’s finished the entire leaf, which usually takes a few weeks, if moves some centimeters to the next one. On these days it is awake for as much as fifteen or twenty minutes.

Thank you to the Cambridge Institute of Natural History for this information. We later received thiscommunication from Symington Strangeways of the International Zoological Society.

Dear Dr. Scharf.

I was very pleased to see your article about the pygmy humped sloth. I am the only man ever to have captured one. In 1983, I was part of an expedition which was sent to Paraguay to investigate the life associated with the muerteverde tree, and we found the only way we could inspect it was with a radio controlled model plane which had a miniature TV camera mounted on it. You can imagine our excitement when we saw the pygmy humped sloth for the first time! We wanted to catch one for examination, but this proved difficult, as we could not approach it, the tree being so dangerous, this little animal did not appear susceptible to any bait. In any case, even if we had found a suitable lure, it moves so slowly that the plane would have run out of fuel long before it had reached it. Fortunately the team's mechanic was a Meccano ™ enthusiast, and he was able to construct a grab for us, which we could mount on the model aircraft, and use to catch our specimen. Unfortunately, it could not survive long away from the Muerteverde tree, and it would be impossible to feed in a zoo, so the only example we have is our little friend, pickled in a glass bottle.

 

MORE GLACIERS

Dear Dr. Scharf. I was fascinated to read about the Museum of Glaciers in Punta Begonia, Chile. I had been completely unaware of it, despite having worked as a Glaciologist for the last thirty years, and will make a point of seeing it on my next visit to Chile. You may be interested to know that glacier collecting has quite a long history. I suppose it really became possible with the industrial revolution, when powerful engines became available. These were necessary to move the things. Just imagine how many horses it would have taken to tow even a small glacier! However, it was almost a hundred years before anyone thought of this fascinating hobby.

Among the pioneers was my own great great grandfather, McMurdo Taggart. He was of course Taggart of Taggart, the chief of Clan Taggart, and as such owned Castle Taggart and Glen Taggart. Since he’d been brought up in the era of Capability Brown, with it’s obsession with improving landscapes, he was very conscious of the need to better his glen. Unfortunately, the only things that would grow there were alpine plants, and these were frankly too small to make any difference. He tried draining Loch Taggart, but was unimpressed  with the result, so he reinstated it. Inspiration finally struck him when he read an early book on palanteaology, and, thinking of ice ages, realized the difference a glacier with its “thund’rous, brooding majesty”, as he put it, would make. As a member of the Explorer’s Society, and as a very rich man, through his West Indian plantations, it was no problem for him to get a list of all the then-known glaciers in the world. His first purchase was a small Swiss glacier, the Fallerstrom. He wanted a small one as he intended to use this as an experiment to evolve a practical method of moving glaciers. He succeeded beyond his wildest dreams. The secret of his success was to float it down the river Loire in winter. Modern collectors use essentially the same technique, but with enhanced refrigeration, which results in less lossy transport. His only real problems came with the need to slide the glacier through the streets of Geneva, which proved unpopular with the locals, but his good relations with the commander of the militia appear to have smoothed over these little difficulties. It was, as I mentioned, a very small glacier, being less than one hundred yards wide at its greatest extent.

After this triumph, which received favorable notice in The Times, and which was replicated in model form in The Great Exhibition, he turned his attention to the Himalayas. His reasons for this were two. Firstly, really big glaciers could be found there. Secondly, India was a British colony at the time, and there would therefore be no need to pay anyone for it, and those irritating difficulties caused by obscurantist peasants in the path of the glacier would arise to a much smaller extent, and be much more soluble. Within a decade he had successfully transported half a dozen major glaciers back to Glen Taggart.  He was about to acquire a small set of Andean glaciers, when Hamish Taggart, one of his ghillies, raised an insuperable objection. Although large, the glen was full. There was not a square inch left to put even the smallest glacier! Sadly my ancestor prepared to content himself with perfecting his collection – perhaps moving this glacier by a few yards, so it would reflect the morning sun better, and possibly polishing that one to bring out the glimmering cold fire in its depths. But then disaster struck! The summer of his 76th year was an unusually hot one. Within six weeks, his entire collection had melted! All that remained of his collection were a few scattered cairns of stones, which can still be inspected by visitors. Heartbroken, he decided he was too old to start again. He died shortly afterwards in the Peebles Home for Bewildered Gentlefolk, but even the catastrophic loss of his collection had its use, for it established the most important principle of Glacier Collecting: You need a really, really cold place to keep your collection, and Scotland is not cold enough. His memory lives on in the internationally recognized Taggart scale of climate measurement, where 1 is the point at which a climate is cold enough for glacier collecting, and 0 the point at which it is so cold glaciers stick firmly to their mountains, and cannot be moved.

May I take this opportunity to congratulate Wonderful World on the quality of its research.

Yours sincerely, Hamish Dougall Taggart, Belize.

What a sad story. Thank you for sending it to us, and for your kind comments. R.S.

 

FACTOID: A NEW HOME FOR SANTA.

Hugo Chavez, the maverick President of Venezuela, has decided that it is an intolerable affront to the dignity of developing countries that Santa Claus is monopolized by the rich Nordic countries. He has awarded himVenezuelan citizenship, and decreed that in future, he lives near Puerto Ordaz, and that any children writing to Father Christmas there or in Caracas will be sent some sweets by the Venezuelan Post Office. We tried this, and are pleased to be able to say that they are just as good as the ones you get if you write to him in Greenland.

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