Dispatches > Quick Takes
Associated Press/Photo by Lucy King

Quick Takes

Issue: "Face-off," Aug. 13, 2011

Farmyard guards

For Kenyan farmers struggling to protect their crops, scientists are offering a near-perfect solution: bees. With elephant populations rising in Kenya over the past 20 years, farmers have increasingly found their crops decimated as the hungry animals break through barriers to feast on tomatoes, potatoes, and maize. In 2009, a team of University of Oxford researchers investigated whether a boundary dotted with beehives could prevent elephants, which are naturally afraid of the insects, from crossing over. In the test, only one bull elephant in 32 attempted raids penetrated the beeline. The scientists, who only recently published their findings in the African Journal of Ecology, claim that beehives suspended from a wire fence every 100 yards or so should not only be sufficient to prevent almost all elephant raids, but would also provide African farmers with additional income when they sell the honey.

Condiment caper

Police in Austria may do well to search for a semi-truck trailer bandit at a hot dog stand. That's because when the bandit (or bandits) made off with a trailer northwest of Vienna on July 13, he also captured its cargo: 21 tons of mustard and ketchup. Local police say they can't imagine the thief was in it for the condiments, but noted that the trailer was worth just over $21,000.

End of the road

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With his scheme running on fumes, authorities finally caught up with the so-called "Bentley Bandit" in Sulpher, La., on July 15. U.S. Marshals had been tracking 22-year-old Justin William Durbin for months after the Oklahoma native had gained a reputation for stealing luxury cars from auto dealerships and then vanishing. Marshals investigating Durbin explained that the Oklahoma car thief would go into car dealerships driving an expensive car, then test drive an even more expensive car and never return. When authorities traced Durbin to southwest Louisiana, he was driving a 2007 Bentley stolen from a dealership in Florida. After a chase ended with Durbin crashing the Bentley in Sulpher, La., the 22-year-old fled on foot only to be captured several hours later. Neither local authorities nor marshals would say how many cars Durbin had stolen, but they did indicate he was wanted in at least seven states.

House rules

Who says you can't find affordable housing? A North Texas man, armed with knowledge of obscure parts of Texas property law, has apparently taken ownership of a $300,000 suburban Dallas home for just $16. Neighbors in a Flower Mound, Texas, community said the home's original owners walked away from their mortgage and left their house more than a year ago. Then, in the midst of foreclosure procedures, the mortgage company went out of business. After brushing up on a legal concept known as adverse possession, Kenneth Robinson filed $16 of paperwork with Denton County and moved into the abandoned home on June 17. The original owners could boot him out, but not before paying off the entire mortgage. The bank could send him packing too, but not without a complicated and drawn-out lawsuit. And if Robinson manages to squat at the house for three years without legal challenge, he can file an outright ownership claim.

Punctual pigeon

Some pigeons fly across the Hudson River. Tony the pigeon takes the ferry. Crew members aboard the Thomas Jefferson ferry from Manhattan to Weehawken, N.J., say one special pigeon has, for the past three years, boarded their ferry in Manhattan, ridden all the way to New Jersey, and made sure to get on board for the return trip too. "Three years ago, this pigeon shows up and starts going through the cabin and eating crumbs," a senior deck hand told the New York Daily News. "Next thing you know, he's here every day at the exact same time. And he does more work cleaning than my partner."

Long way down

A 20-story fall was not enough to harm one New York City kitty. Cat owner and Upper West Side resident Barry Myers reported that his cat, a 16-year-old named Gloucester, slipped out of a crack in a window of his 20th-floor apartment in Manhattan and fell to the street below while Myers was vacationing in Cape Cod. Myers' cat sitter discovered Gloucester at street level unconscious and rushed him to a veterinary hospital. But after examining the cat, vets said the elderly feline had survived the extreme fall without broken bones, internal injuries or even any scrapes. The height of the fall might have actually saved Gloucester: A 1987 study of New York cat falls found that cats falling from seven stories and below suffered worse injuries than cats falling from above seven stories.

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