Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Equine Spotlight: Pony

So, what is a pony? Is it a special breed of horse or just some fancy name for a tiny horse? Maybe, it is what you call a young horse. As I always try to do with my spotlights, I shall try and make things a bit clearer. It's all apart of the experience. I mean... I can't just come on here and rave about a children's show before I get the detail work done. I'm sure you understand.

Pony's are, in fact, horses that have been bred so that they are smaller than standard ones. Originally the name referred to a baby horse, but the modern word for this is actually foal. If you happen upon a tiny horse that looks decently old enough to be considered an adult, you may call it a pony with a clear conscience.

Size-wise, a pony MUST be less than 58 inches high at it's withers. I know you probably have no idea what their withers are. An equine's withers refers to a ridge between its shoulder blades. The height of the equine's head never counts for anything officially. In contrast to horses, ponies tend to have thicker necks and fur, and they also have a heavier bone structure. If you ever heard someone talking about a "fat pony," there may actually be a precedent to that. They do tend to come out a bit chunkier than normal horses, and that can sometimes be part of the appeal.

Ponies have many uses. They can be used for riding, driving, and pulling small carts. They can also be bread for showing. There are some ponies that are made up to be excessively fluffy and flowery so that they catch the eye. There are also miniature breeds of ponies that are usually groomed for show. These tiny things are usually no taller than 38 inches. Children usually enjoy riding them, but they can often be seen groomed up in especially frilly ways to delight the hearts of little girls.

Speaking of girls, did you know that girls like ponies? It's true! I am so glad that I can finally reveal this little bit of top secret information. Yes, indeed, I can clearly say now that girls love ponies. I'm sure it will be all over the news tomorrow. Hopefully obvious sarcasm aside, ponies have been the big animal fantasy of little girls since people first brought them into the spotlight--not this spotlight, mind you.

In 1981, Hasbro brought out a new set of pony dolls under the name "My Pretty Pony." They were incredibly popular with girls... and perhaps... maybe, 3 weird boys that had to share their sister's toys. Either way, it was a hit, and it was followed up in 1982 with a new series called "My Little Pony," and they have been called that unto this very day. The actual TV show did not occur until 1986, and it only lasted one year; however, the toy line never ceased in its sales.

Over time, the My Little Pony franchise had been reproduced in no less than 4 very different generations. Each generation had its own television and/or movie adaptation. Up until 2010, My Little Pony had been exclusively for little girls, but then... something... weird happened. A new TV show developed by "Powerpuff Girls" animator Lauren Faust was brought forth into our humble world. It was entitled "My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic." The show was still intended for little girls and their love for everything pony, but somehow, a lot of boys... and even grown men... fell in love with the show. It became such a phenomenon that it seemed that Hasbro did not really know what to do about it for a while.

To give you an idea how popular this show was, there has been a number of annual conventions held in honor of this show. Conventions like this are more known to happen for comic book and scifi fans, but there have been many My Little Pony conventions around the world since that show has come out. The developers of the show have since come to understand their unexpected demographic and have done wonderful things to promote it. They have even gone so far as to allow them to create their own My Little Pony merchandise and make a profit off of it. Such a thing is more or less unheard of in this world.

I personally love the show. I have always been amazed at how much the show respects their viewership. While the main characters are quite well-developed, there are a number of background characters and extras that have been developed with much love by the fans, and the developers have embraced their vision. I know this may sound ridiculous on the surface, but I actually consider "My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic" to be one of the greatest creations brought into our world, and it all happened because the people in charge actually decided to relax and let the people who love it express themselves. Indeed, the whole reason I even wanted to write this spotlight was to tell you this story, and I hope you see past the goofiness of it and understand the truly great thing that has happened here.

When it comes down to it, ponies are just small horses, but the animal was made into something wonderful by a crew of people who cared enough to support their fans. You would be surprised by how many companies cannot grasp this very simple and productive way of thinking. Because of what they did, they not only inspired masses of people to create and even sometimes make a meager living off of it, but their own franchise has the potential to last for a very long time--if not forever.

Thank you for reading this blog! If you enjoyed it, you can comment below, or you can email me at tooie@tooiekangaroo.com. Neigh.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Equine Spotlight: Donkey

Here we have an animal that gets a lot of bad press, but I really hope I can help dissuade some of those feelings in this fun, little spotlight. The donkey or ass is an animal we all should be familiar with if you have been on this planet sometime within the last 5000 years. As a member of the family known as Equidae, they are related to horses; however, there are distinct differences that I will try and address.

Donkeys can be from 2.5 to 5 feet in height and can weigh from 180 to 1,060 pounds. The size and weight vary so much because not all donkeys are well-cared for. This factor affects a number of its attributes such as their lifespan. Donkeys found in poor countries that do nothing but work for their living generally tend to not last much longer than 15 years; however, a well-pampered donkey of one of the more prosperous nations can live as long as 50 years! So, we certainly cannot blame them for dying too fast.

Donkeys are also known for having very large ears. There are a couple of reasons for this. The first and most obvious reason would be for adept hearing. Donkeys like to keep in contact with their friends, and since many of them are usually too busy working, they make a loud call--called a bray--to contact other donkeys in the area. Their ears can pick up distant sounds which helps with the communication. Whether or not they are saying anything meaningful leaves me with a lot of doubts; however, it is still fun to think of them catching up on how heavy today's cart pull may have been.

The second reason their ears are so big is to keep them cool. Remember that donkeys are commonly used in desert lands where it is very hot. Having big receptacles to catch wind in is a great idea. It's not really so much an air conditioning thing as much as it is to cool their blood. Who wants hot donkey blood anyhow? I sure don't.

There is misconception that donkeys are stubborn, lazy, and stupid animals. A lot of this comes from people not understanding the difference between horses and donkeys. Horses are strong loyal animals who have formed a trust between themselves and man. Donkeys have more of a prey mentality. They do not trust anyone--including a man--unless there is a very good reason for it. When someone treats them poorly, their reaction is to freeze up in cowardice.

Donkey's do not deal with negative reinforcement well. Some people think that hitting a donkey is a good way to teach it to do what they want. In truth, it kills any interest they have in helping at all. This reaction is ironically based on self-preservation. "To help the man giving me beatings will only invite more beatings," is a good way to look at it. In truth, a well-treated donkey is very giving and eager to learn. They tend to want to please a man who gives them treats and provides them with a comfortable living. Positive reinforcement is the way to go. In this environment, we learn that donkeys are not only intelligent but also very playful and loyal companions.

Fiction has so many donkeys that I cannot be expected to list every one of them, but I am going to give you a bunch. Likely the most famous donkey ever has to be Eeyore from the 1926 book "Winnie the Pooh" and following series by A. A. Milne. You may have also seen him in the Disney cartoons. Here is one heck of a depressed donkey that pretty much mopes about everything. I sometimes get the impression that Eeyore is a sleeper favorite among fans. People might say they are Tigger fans, but in secret, they are cheering on their favorite donkey. My personal favorite moment with him was when Pooh and Piglet gave him the world's crappiest birthday present--an empty jar and a popped balloon--and because he was accustomed to being ignored, the tokens pleased him more than anything else could have.

Way back in 1605, a Spanish fellow named Migel de Cervantes wrote a book called "Don Quixote" about a crazy fellow who acted like he was a knight of old in a modern era. Lucky for him, he still got to ride a horse, but his sidekick Sancho had to make do with a donkey named Dapple. I think the name is cute. There was a very good children's movie called "Donkey Xote" (2007) which tells the donkey's story; although, in this film, the donkey was named Rucio. The film really did not follow the book at all, but it was surprisingly relevant in narrative.

Who could forget the character simply called Donkey from the 2001 movie Shrek? Eddie Murphy really brought a lot to this character. I mean really... this is exactly what it would be like if Eddie was a donkey. Donkeys are usually known for being something like horses with no class. If you put a donkey in a situation where they are mere vagabonds in need of a home and food, you have accomplished this trope, and I see no problem with this. Donkey was a lot of fun, and I always looked forward to seeing what he would do and say in the sequels.

My favorite donkey film is "A Small One," a 1978 Disney short film. The donkey in the film was actually called The Small One, and he had grown very old and had become a burden to his owners. The main unnamed boy of the movie was tasked with selling him to a tanner, but the boy loved the donkey and could not send The Small One to his death. I will stop hear as to not spoil the ending, but it is one of the most moving films I have seen.

The comment about no class horses from the previous paragraph is probably one of the reasons I love the donkey. They are stuck in lower class, and life becomes more and more ironic to them as they pass the days by. Where it is true that I could make a more realistic depiction of donkeys as characters based on their intelligence and loyalty, I am fonder of the established bias. I like a stubborn donkey. I like donkeys to be jealous of their horsey betters. Donkeys have been used in old fables to show the difference between the workers and the beggars. I think this lesson should remain at the forefront of donkey lore.

What can I say?! I think donkeys are cute! I like the big ears and funny personalities. I am inspired by characters made of them in fiction. I even like the false tropes created in fables of old. However, I do hope next time you see a donkey, you will look upon him a little better. He's only doing the best he can. All he wants is a carrot to eat once in a while.

Thank you for reading my blog! If you enjoyed it, you can comment below, or you can email me at tooie@tooiekangaroo.com. Eeehaaawww!


Dapple and Sancho

Rucio on far right (Donkey Xote)

Donkey (Shrek)

The Small One

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Procyonid Spotlight: Kinkajou

Goodbye Australia, and welcome back to South America! So, you may be asking, "What in the world is a procyonid?" That is family name for all the relatives of the raccoon. But we are not here to talk about the raccoon. I want to introduce you to one of its cousins--the kinkajou. [Pronounced kink-ah-joo.]

The kinkajou really does not look anything like a raccoon. It looks something like a monkey crossed with a ferret. They have these big eyes, protruding ears, and a tail that can curl up, yet they are long and slinky like a mustelid. I think they are rather cute.

Their body length can be as long as 24 inches with a tail length that can be just as long as its body. They are very limber and are extremely adapted to living in trees. They have specialized little fingers and toes that can manipulate things which is similar to primates. I also found it interesting that they are able to rotate their ankles by a half-turn. The latter quality makes it easier to run backwards or climb down trees head first. Additionally, the curly tail also assists in the climb as might have been expected.

Kinkajous are omnivorous, but they prefer fruit--mainly figs. Their specialized claws come in handy in this case. They hold the fruit at any angle they need and just push their tongue into it--scooping out all the pulp into their mouths. It is believed that the kinkajou serves a vital role in the distribution of seeds for these fruits--as they are quite the messy eaters.

Kinkajous are very socially oriented. They will section out their territory and help one another with little tasks such as personal grooming. Generally, they prefer to forage for food on their own; however, they can sometimes go out in groups. It really depends on the situation. They find a way to work things out either way.

I do not know of any kinkajous in fiction; however, I do have something of a weird mention of them in the Oz universe. In the Ruth Plumy Thomson book "The Royal Book of Oz," the kinkajou was mentioned in a very peculiar way. This was actually the first Oz book after L. Frank Baum's death, so he really had nothing to do with this. As it turns out, the Scarecrow had taken up swearing in this new book, but since it was a children's book, he had to replace the naughty word with something ridiculous. An example of this new bad habit of his was when he said, "I don't care a Kinkajou for being Emperor,..." It is quite strange that he chose this animal to be his swear word and I really have no idea the reason why Ruth chose it, but there it is. He used the word in a similar manner a few times throughout the book.

Personally, I see the kinkajou as playful within their independent communities. They really seem to get along with one another well. They would be wise in things of nature and agile enough to take care of their own in the wild world. He may be a good guide to have when traversing the forest. That is my take on the animal.

The truth is that I would not have known about this animal unless the Scarecrow had not picked up a bad habit. As soon as I looked them up, I knew that I would one day write about them. I am happy to bring this obscure creature into the spotlight. Enjoy!

Thank you for reading this blog! If you enjoyed it, you can comment below, or you can email me at tooie@tooiekangaroo.com. Eek.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Monotreme Spotlight: Echidna

In parts of Australia and New Guinea, there is a another monotreme of some interest called an echidna. (Pronounced eh-kid-nah.) Although they are related to the platypus, they are extremely different in appearance. For one thing, they look something like a cross between a porcupine and an anteater. They are even often referred to as spiny anteaters.

The snout is actually for rummaging around anthills. They even have a long, sticky tongue for picking up their tiny food. Oddly, they have no teeth. Whatever food they get into their mouths are grinded down between the bottom of their mouths and their tongues.

The echidna has very sharp claws and is an excellent and efficient digger. Digging is important because they do not do well in extremely hot environments. They often need a place to retreat to, but if there is a nearby cave, they will likely take that instead. There is another reason why their digging comes in handy, but I will get into that a bit later.

Echidnas are mammals, and like the platypus, they do lay eggs. The main difference here is that they do not lay eggs in a nest. The echidna has a rear-facing pouch on its body where the eggs remain until they hatch. The hatching process generally takes about 10 days, and the children remain in there for up to 55 days suckling milk from patches of skin where it seeps through. To explain it in another way, the children are giving their mother "hickies" to get at the milk. Once the children ate too old for the pouch, they are deposited into a burrowed nursery and taken care of for seven months.

So, about their personality: Echidnas are remarkably timid. They really do not like to be near any creature bigger than they are. The spines of this animal are it's main defense, but just having them is not good enough. As it turns out, they are quite easy to flip over. Because of this, when the echidna feels threatened, they will do one of two things. In a pinch, they can curl up into a ball and hope that whatever is assailing them will have a hard time trying to pry them open. Otherwise, they will quickly use their claws to dig a depression into the ground and bury themselves so that only the spines stick out. I watched a video of one doing this, and I thought it was super cute.

There are a few echidnas in fiction, but there is only really one that stands out on top. In the "Sonic the Hedgehog" franchise of video games, TV shows, and comic books, there is a rather notable echidna known as Knuckles. Knuckles is known for being very strong but also very naive. He is not really allied with anybody--not really. He tends to change sides purely only to suite his interests, but he is not--I repeat, not--a bad guy. He has a solemn duty to protect his homeland, and he will do anything and everything to make that happen. The problem is that he often falls in with bad crowds because of his gullibility.

I do have a beef with this character. He does not really in any way represent the original animal. Naivete and timidity are not one in the same. Knuckles prefers to fight with his fists and he is not afraid of anybody. Real echidnas are not strong and prefer to hunker down when trouble comes their way. They are passive creatures. Although I like the character, I don't think it was a good interpretation of the creature he was based on.

Personally, I see echidnas living in super closed-in communities. They want to feel safe and live normal lives without having to deal with the threats of the world around them. They are very polite and courteous to one another. I cannot see any of them ever quarreling.

The echidna is another strange creature to come out of Australia. The land is filled with weird and wonderful animals like this. I hope you have enjoyed our romp through the country, but as always, it has to come to an end sooner or later. I wonder what we will be dealing with next week.

Thank you for reading my blog! If you enjoyed it, you can comment below, or you can email me at tooie@tooiekangaroo.com. Thanks!

Knuckles the Echidna