Notes and shorts from around the world


Rats learn to drive small cars
Rats are famous for their cunning – and now, to add to their skills, they have learnt to drive. A team, at the University of Richmond in Virginia, constructed a “rat-operated vehicle” (ROV) from a plastic jar mounted on wheels, with an aluminium plate across the floor and three copper “steering” bars across the “windscreen”. To drive the car, the rodents were taught, using a system of rewards, to sit on the plate and then touch the copper wire, so completing the circuit and propelling the car forwards. They could then steer using the bars.
Two sets of rats were involved in the research process – one housed in an “enriched” environment with toys and exercise facilities, the other in normal lab cages. The “enriched” rats learnt to drive far more quickly than the rest, indicating that stimulation in early life is beneficial to rodents, as it is to humans. The team also analysed stress hormones in the rats’ faeces, and found that the animals started to relax as they mastered the new skill, suggesting they found
it satisfying.
Piggy at home
Six firemen were needed to remove a pig from a first floor flat in Yorkshire. Twiglet had been bought two years ago as a “micro-pig” by Elaine Edwards, who fed her on Chinese takeaways, chocolate and porridge, and let her sleep on a mattress surrounded by soft toys. She ballooned to 30 stone (190 kg), and when Edwards died in August last year, relatives found that they could not get Twiglet downstairs unaided. She is now being cared for at a rehabilitation centre, where she has lost one and a half stone (9.5kg). “She had a fantastic life and ruled the roost,” said a trustee of the centre. “But it wasn’t really the right environment for her.”
Death deferred
Chinese businessman Tan Youhui thought he had made a straightforward deal when he hired a hitman to dispose of one of his rivals for a $422,000 fee, but, rather than carry out the killing, Xi Guangan decided to pass the task to another criminal – who sub-contracted it to a third. The pattern continued, with each hitman in the chain taking a cut, until a fifth was offered just $21,300 to do the deed – and felt so hard done by he contacted the intended victim and suggested that he fake his own death. All five hitmen and Tan himself have now been convicted of attempted murder.
Bons mots
“The further a society drifts from the truth, the more it will hate those that speak it.” – George Orwell, British author and journalist


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