Living dinosaurs found in Asia are usually arrested

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I hate bugs. When I was a kid I heard a radio news report about “the 100-metre butterfly” and spent years avoiding parks. Only when I reached my teens did I learn it was the name of a swimming race.

Weird creatures unnerve me. A reader just sent me a news report which said witnesses claimed that “a huge, live dinosaur” leapt out of a truck in Taiwan the other day. They called police. I wonder what they said. A triceratops is off the leash.

Police raced (“ambled”) to the spot to find that a man had been taking his hippopotamus for a drive, as one does, when the creature leapt to freedom. The really weird thing, according to the local press, was that the hippo was a famous actor, having been in the cast of “a popular television soap opera”. I am not making this up. But now I know why Taiwanese TV dramas never make the world stage. Drop the hippos, guys.

The truth is living dinosaurs are regularly found in Asia. (And not just in The Great Hall of the People.) Our normal Asian response to finding a “living fossil” is to have it arrested. This is for the crime of “existing when not supposed to”, which we consider Very Naughty.

Case in point: When the townsfolk of Viramgam in Western India were unnerved by “a baby dinosaur” invading their town, they summoned police inspector J.M. Desai to take it into custody. A zoologist identified it as a pangolin, described as “a hard-skinned mammal which curls up into a tight ball on the ground when distressed”. (Fascinating. Many of my bosses have been pangolins, and I never realized it.)

Anyway, I wouldn’t want anyone to think Asians are stupid. We don’t always have living fossils arrested. Sometimes we eat them. My files contain a report from the Philippines, where an odd-looking bird was photographed on its way to the market, where it was sold as food. An expert saw the photo and identified it as an extinct quail. Well, it was even more extinct by dinner time that day, I can tell you.

Then there was the case of the newly-weds on holiday in Sulawesi, Indonesia, who snapped a picture of a big ugly fish at the food market. They put the creature on their honeymoon website and got an email from an expert saying that it was an Indonesian ceolocanth, a dinosaur fish unknown to science. But by that time it too had been eaten with rice and X.O sauce.

This sort of thing happens often. At least once a week my office canteen serves a mysterious meatal substance that neither diners nor chef can identify.

I know what you are thinking, and I am thinking the same thing. What’s for dinner tonight, and what are the chances of selling it to international scientists for a massive fee? Sadly for me, we’re having fish fingers, which are going to be a tough sell as “living fossils”. Even if they are well past their “sell by” date.

But seriously, the next time you find a living dinosaur, do not eat it or have it arrested. Be nice to it. It could be a former boss.

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