Friday, 2 March 2012

Mediterranean Scallies

While most climate scientists these days are preoccupied with melting glaciers and the thinning of the permafrost, a small but growing number of global warming experts are currently expressing concern at a more recent but equally alarming phenomenon first observed in the Adriatic port town of Bari: the fattening of the scally.

The species, which is now widespread across Europe, was first identified by explorers in some of the remoter housing estates on Merseyside in the late 1970s. Distinguishable by their glossy coats, scrawny build and stolen footwear, scallies quickly became a focus of attention for zoologists in the North West. Professor Ivor Traynee from the University of Norris Green recalls his first face-to-face encounters with the creatures: “We’d been observing them in the wild for quite some time, of course, but they are elusive animals, adept at disappearing over fences and down side alleyways, and I didn’t get the chance to engage with a specimen at close quarters until mid-1980. One of the local rangers had managed to bring down a wounded 15-year-old with a tranquilliser dart, and the Observation Pen at Bidston Magistrates Court was abuzz with expectation. I can still remember the gasp from the assembled scientists when its Adidas pouch broke open and a flock of knock-off T-shirts flew out.”

In his seminal work, Scallius Erectus – Darwin Was Wrong, Peter Busy, head of Garston’s award-winning wildlife reserve and one of the world’s leading authorities on scally behaviour, describes a typical day in the life of a young male. “The Scallius cub rarely or never emerges from its burrow before dawn, perhaps, some experts surmise, because the early morning dew is notoriously damaging to the fibres of its shell-suit. Morning feeding tends to be a solitary affair: emitting guttural grunts intended to warn off humans bent on civilized discourse, the creature grazes morosely on burning tobacco and slakes its thirst at the nearest lager-hole. After urinating and/or defecating on open land – a deliberately ostentatious territorial gesture – the scally will then emit higher pitched barks as it seeks out fellow pack members. Paradoxically, although surly and aggressive towards mankind, the packs tend to congregate in the areas most frequented by human beings (shopping centres, entrances to railway stations, bus stops, etc). Lean and hungry-looking, the young males snarl and skit, their eyes darting from side to side in search of opportunities for mischief.”

What is worrying the scientists monitoring scally activity in Italy is that rising temperatures appear to be having a dramatic effect on the animal’s physical development, behaviour and survival rate. “Whereas twenty-five years ago the average full-grown scally weighed in at 140 pounds, we have been encountering 12-year-old cubs that are already tipping the scales at over 200,” says Professor Barry Borsa of the Italian Wideboy National Research Centre. “This means that even before puberty many are too porky and slow to be able to effect a successful bag-snatch and make their getaway; we have even come across cases of 'motorised snatchers' (a local subspecies) being so heavy that their scooters buckle under their weight making them easy prey for marauding police squads. All of which obviously has grave implications for the crime chain, not only at a local level, but ultimately throughout Europe and beyond.”

Even more disturbing, the Professor points out, is the effect of what he calls “fat bastard warming”: the concentration of a high number of lard-arsed specimens in one area leads to the sun’s rays being unable to bounce back from the ground and up into the atmosphere. “A remarkable amount of energy becomes trapped just below gut level as the rays encounter a stratum of blubber,” explains Professor Borsa. As a result, average temperatures in the inner city and in the dodgier suburbs have risen by an alarming 3% since 2009, and local environmental groups have been urging both the Italian government and the European Commission to take action. “One of the biggest problems we face is that of ‘fat bastard denial’”, points out the head of Bari’s ‘Save Our Criminals’ association, which, via a series of initiatives in schools and the community, is attempting to improve young scallies’ eating habits. “There are too many vested interests in play here. The Crap Food Consortium, for example, provides illicit subsidies to scientists willing to argue the case against the key role played by fat lads in global warming.”

Back in Norris Green, Professor Traynee issues a sombre warning: “This double whammy of scallies continuing to put on weight and temperatures steadily climbing is going to mean serious trouble in the years to come: the resulting rise in sweat levels will ultimately lead to the submerging and disappearance of many coastal and lowland areas. If we don’t act now, future generations of scallies will run a real risk of getting their gear all wet.”

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