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Ruff news for festive feathers

It's been a good week for - clever dogs

Tail-gating has taken on new meaning now that dogs have learned how to drive. An animal welfare group in New Zealand spent just eight weeks coaching three rescue dogs on how to master the rudiments in wooden carts. They then moved up to a modified Mini in which the animals sit on their haunches in the driver's seat with their paws on the wheel. Their feet work extension levers, which are attached to the accelerator and the brake, while one paw rests on the gearstick.

The exercise, by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, is part of a campaign to show the public how intelligent the dogs are and to encourage potential owners to rehome strays. Maybe the prospect of having a resident pooch able to nip to the shops and do the school run is the incentive required for adoption.

Granted, it all sounds a tad barking. But given some of the poor driving skills on show daily on our roads, maybe Rover will be as safe as your average boy racer.

One word of caution, though. Unlike humans, who see three primary colours, dogs only see two – and crucially, the colour they are missing is red. That could get tricky at traffic lights. Perhaps it's best our four-legged friends stick to walkies after all.

It's been a bad week for -. turtle doves

The 12 days of Christmas won't be the same without them, but the sad truth is that the turtle dove faces extinction after a dramatic fall in numbers.

Over a five-year period to 2010, Britain has lost six out of every 10 turtle doves, with just 14,000 pairs now left in Britain. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has estimated that by the middle of the next decade fewer than 1000 pairs may remain.

Also poised to fall off the perch in the worryingly near future is the partridge. The grey partridge population is estimated to have dropped by 30% in the same five-year period. There are now only around 43,000 pairs.

There are no up-to-date figures for calling birds, French hens or swimming swans. As for geese, a-laying or otherwise - well, we'd better not guzzle too many of them this Christmas.

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