On this particular Monday morning, Moose and Goose (private investigators and solvers of tricky problems) were sitting in their office, each sipping a cup of Lapsang Souchong (a smoky black tea from China that smells as if someone is repairing a road right next to you), when the phone rang.
Moose answered it, “Hello”.
cue: You might want to imagine this next person as having a French accent…
“Is that Moose and Goose?”
“Yes”, said Moose.
“Yes”, said Moose.
“And Solvers of Difficult Problems?”
“Solvers of Tricky Problems. Yes”, said Moose.
“Ah, of course. You ‘ave been very ‘ighly recommended to us. We ‘ave a diff, ah, tricky problem right now. Are you available?”
“Yes”, said Moose.
“Excellent. My name is Jervais. I am the Maître d’ of the Burj al Camel, the world’s first 8 star ‘otel. It ‘as everything anyone could want in a ‘otel.”
cue: … see? All Maître d’s are French. No-one knows why.
“Unfortunately, it also ‘as ants. Many ants. Ants are everywhere. It is making zis, ze best ‘otel in the world, uninhabitable. Zis is not just a normal infestation of ants. We appear to be an ant magnet. None of ze usual solutions work. Our local pest control experts are at a loss. Can you ‘elp?”
“Yes”, said Moose.
“Excellent. I will email you some plane tickets to Dubai.”
“We should perhaps discuss our fee at zis, I mean this, point”, said Moose.
“You can name your fee if you solve zis problem. We look forward to your arrival.”
“Ok”, said Moose.
“Looks like we should pack our bags for somewhere rather warm”, said Moose.
The next day, after a comfortable flight in 1st class, Moose and Goose arrived in a very hot Dubai, and were whisked to the hotel in a chauffeur–driven limousine (which had leather seats, air conditioning, internet access, and tea).
Jervais greeted them at the main entrance, and waved his arms in all directions. He did not need to say anything. Ants were indeed everywhere: on the curtains, the food, and under every foot.
The two investigators started work straight away. As they explored the hotel, there was nowhere without ants. It was amazing. They did not even notice how grand the hotel was. It was ants on the pillows, ants on the toilet paper, ants in everyone’s pants.
Early next morning, with the sun low in the sky, the air was cool as Moose and Goose wandered around outside, looking carefully at the ants which were also wandering around. The ants seemed to be going in any and all directions, not particularly heading for the hotel.
As the morning heated up though, the ants’ behaviour changed. They began to climb. Trees, bushes, trouser legs, sticks, buildings: they were soon all swarming with ants.
Moose whipped out his thermometer. The ground temperature was now 45’C. Hotter than a hot bath.
The ants that climbed up the hotel walls never came back. The ants on the trees and bushes eventually returned to the ground as the evening cooled down.
Moose and Goose looked for ants nests. There were lots of small holes in the ground, but not very deep. Goose noticed the ground was sandy, and Moose suggested that would prevent the ants from digging too deep, because the tunnels would cave in very easily.
Moose and Goose wandered further afield, looking at other large, neighbouring buildings. They seemed to have some ants in them, but only a few. Nothing like at the Burj al C.
Outside those buildings, the ground was different. It was covered with little hillocks, and goats. Moose called Jervais on his mobile phone about the goats.
“The Burj al Camel ‘as no goats on its grounds, since zat is not what our ‘igh paying guests would be expecting to see as zey eat zeir morning croissants”, he informed them.
Moose and Goose chose a small café, ordered some tea, and sat down to watch the goats. The goats wandered about, nibbling as they went. Did a poo here. Wandered about a bit more, nibbling as they went. Did a poo there.
After several cups of tea, Moose and Goose decided that was all the goats did: wander, nibble, and poo.
Goose noticed something odd, though. The goats’ poo, which was just lots of little black pellets, did not last very long on the ground. It seemed to disappear.
Moose noticed something else. There were more little hillocks than when they first sat down at the café.
It was time to go and have another look. Moose and Goose picked a goat and followed it. The goat wandered about, nibbling as it went, perhaps a bit more nervously than usual because it was being followed by two strangers. It did a poo and wandered about some more, now a bit more relaxed, since Moose and Goose had stopped following it. They were studying the poo.
Nothing happened for a few minutes. Then three of the poo pellets slowly began to move, each in a different direction. Moose and Goose picked the nearest one, and the chase was on. They tracked the pellet as it covered nearly 20cm in a minute. It appeared to be heading towards a nearby hillock.
Sure enough, the pellet bumped right into the hillock, then began to go straight up the side of the hillock and onto the top.
Moose and Goose looked at one another. Poo did not behave like this in England.
They chose another moving pellet. Goose got out his pencil and prodded the pellet, rolling it over. Underneath they saw lots of … ants. This was an “aha” moment. Now they knew what they were looking at, Moose and Goose could see that all of the goat poo pellets were being piled up into lots of little hillocks by ants.
Moose whipped out his thermometer again and stabbed it into the hillock (Goose was rather hopeful that Moose would clean that thermometer afterwards). And, yes, the inside of a hillock was almost 10’C cooler than the ground temperature. That would be much nicer for the ants. They were building somewhere cool to hide from the sun and the heat.
Did this have anything to do with the Burj al C? Ants, goat poo pellets, and hillocks?
At another café, with more tea, Moose and Goose threw a few ideas back and forth.
- Perhaps ants use up all their energy pushing the poo pellets around, so are too tired to climb up buildings.
- Perhaps ants prefer the smell of goat poo to humans.
- Perhaps the poo pellets land on the ants heads and stick to them.
- Perhaps the hillocks are formed because the ants are trying to shake the pellets off their heads.
- Perhaps the ants go into the Burj al C, because they have nothing else to do. No goats, no goat poo pellets.
Ah, that was an idea that both Moose and Goose thought sounded promising. It was time for an experiment. What would happen if there were goat poo pellets lying around on the ground by the Burj al C? Moose and Goose suspected they might find some hillocks appearing.
Borrowing a wheelbarrow, they filled it up with fresh goat poo pellets, and wheeled it back to the side wall of the Burj al C. There they tipped it all out on the ground, and left the pellets overnight. The next morning, they returned to find several neat little hillocks, and not many ants climbing the hotel wall.
This was good news. Moose and Goose went to visit Jervais, Maître d’. “We can describe a solution in one word”, said Goose. “Goats”. He explained what they had seen, and showed Jervais the experiment by the side wall. Jervais was very decisive, and very organised. Straight away, he rang up the local goat market.
“Is zat ze Goat Coordinator?”
” ‘ow many goats do you ‘ave? About 400? Ok, I’d like to buy zem all please”
“Yes, all of zem. Every goat you ‘ave. Right now please.”
” ‘ow about 15 Dirham per goat?”
“Good. Bring zem round to the Burj al Camel. I will pay cash for every goat zat is delivered”
Over at the local market, the Goat Coordinator (who has a very difficult job) stood on a wooden box and shouted to all the goat sellers who were there.
“The manager at the Burj al C has been out in the sun too long, or else he is a madman. He is offering 10 Dirham per goat, which is a very good price” (Any guesses as to why the Goat Coordinator is mentioning a lower price?)
Suddenly all the goat herders thrust their hands up, shouting, trying to be the ones who sold their goats for such a good price.
“I have not finished. He wants all of your goats. Every one. From the scrawniest to the strongest. Perhaps he has a extremely big meal to prepare for his rich and hungry guests?”
“Who is coming? Follow me.”
The Goat Coordinator started walking slowly out of the market towards the Burj al C. The goat herders shouted and kicked and cursed at their goats as they herded them along behind the Goat Coordinator.
Rumours spread quickly. Soon, everyone who had a goat, even as a pet, heard the news, and joined the long straggly column of goats bleating and pooing towards the Burj al C.
As each herd arrived, the hotel officials were ready with cash. The Goat Coordinator grandly counted the goats in the herd, did some sums in his head and demanded some money from the hotel officials. He then counted off some of the money and put it in his jacket pocket, before giving the rest to goat herder.
Very soon, the Goat Coordinator’s jacket was bulging with money. It was obvious he was doing very little to earn that money, and this quickly annoyed those goat herders who had already sold their herds. There was a shout, and then another, and then the Goat Coordinator was sprinting away from the Burj al C, chased by lots of angry goat herders who wanted to have a chat with him about their money.
And still more herds of goats were arriving. The hotel officials paid the herders directly. Each goat, once bought, had a picture of a camel painted on its rump (a polite word for ‘bottom’), and was left to wander around the hotel car park with all the other bewildered goats.
Two hours, and over 1000 goats later, the last goat herder left with a satisfied smile. The car park was full of confused, bleating goats. Some of them were exploring the thin hedge around the car park, and were beginning to eat their way through it. Jervais spotted the problem straight away and made another call.
“Yes, ‘ello, I’d like a goat-proof fence please”
“To keep zem in, not to keep zem out.”
“Where? All around ze Burj al Camel”
“Yes, zat is quite big. I’d estimate about 1km long”
“When? Oh, now please. I will pay twice ze standard rate in cash if it can be finished before night fall.”
Within half an hour, the first fence builders arrived as word went round the construction community like wildfire. Double pay! Cash!
Moose and Goose together hastily marked out a big circle around the hotel for the new fence line. Moose drew on the ground using a line of chalk dust, until he ran out and had to just scrape a stick in the ground. Goose used two twigs tied together to check the angle to the top of the hotel, which meant he kept them the same distance away from the hotel as they drew the big circle.
The goat-proof fence was a magnificent work of construction. The builders competed with each other to build their sections fast but also well. They signed each panel with their names. If they did a good job here, they might get more work in the future.
As dusk fell, the final panel was in place. The fence was complete. The builders were paid in full, in cash, at twice their standard rate, as promised. A good day. They left smiling.
The goats were released from the car park and spread out into the area around the hotel, wandering around, nibbling a bit, pooing a bit. There was not much left of the hedge.
Moose and Goose stayed another night, keen to see if their solution had worked. The next day, it was clear that the goats had done what goats do best: poo everywhere.
Looking closely, Moose and Goose could see that many of the poo pellets were moving. Small hillocks were forming. The hotel staff reported seeing fewer ants in the hotel.
All through the day, the hillocks multiplied and grew. The next day there were lots of goat poo pellet hillocks (try saying that 10 times in a row…) all around the hotel, and very few ants in the hotel. The ‘Goats’ solution was a great success.
However, there was one small problem. In the car park, where a 1000 nervous goats had been held for several hours, there was lots and lots and lots of poo. So much poo, in fact, that the ants had done something different. They had made some enormous, towering, tottering piles of poo. The car park poo piles were so big that cars could not get into (or out of) the car park.
Jervais shrugged. “We will build another car park”, and he then called for a crane to come and rescue the trapped cars. The poo was to stay where it was.
A year later, Moose and Goose received a nice letter from Jervais. The Burj al C was still mostly ant free, and all the rooms were instead full of … biologists.
The biologists were staying in the hotel to study what had become the biggest ant nests in the world. One biologist had said it was like a city of ants. Jervais said he had officially named the old car park ‘Moose and Goose Pooville’.