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The Odd Truth, Aug. 20, 2002

The Odd Truth is a collection of strange but factual news stories from around the world compiled by CBSNews.com's Brian Bernbaum. A new collection of stories is published each weekday. On weekends, you can read a week's worth of The Odd Truth.

Escaped Seal Dies After Capture

PRAGUE, Czech Republic - A seal who rode surging flood waters in an escape bid from the Prague Zoo -- and captured a nation's attention during a desperate period -- died Tuesday after being captured in Germany, zoo officials said.

Gaston, a 12-year-old male seal, grabbed the headlines after making a bid for freedom by swimming more than 188 miles north into Germany when the worst flood ever recorded in Prague swelled the waters of his aquarium beyond its walls.

He was finally lured by rescuers and caught in Wittenberg, some 50 miles southwest of Berlin Monday afternoon, but was apparently exhausted and possibly ill, the zoo said.

Gaston died at around 6 a.m. while being taken back to Prague, said zoo spokesman Vit Kahle. The exact cause of the death was not yet known.

"We are very, very sad," Kahle said. "He could have become the hero of the floods."

Gaston and several other Prague seals made a break for the wild when their tank overflowed. Their quest became a cause celebre at home as Czechs, desperate to find something to smile about as floods ravaged their country, urged the truants on "to snack on fresh fish in the North Sea". The others have been captured.

The Prague Zoo has been hit hard by the flooding, suffering many other casualties, including dozens of birds, an elephant, four hippos, a lion, a bear and a gorilla. (Reuters)

"Face-Clawing Monster" Terrifies Indian State

LUCKNOW, India - Reports of a flashing space creature, or maybe a mutant bug that glows at both ends, have created panic in India's most populous state, triggering riots and lynchings that have killed more than a dozen people.

Victims report being scratched by something flashing blue, red or green that strikes only at faces and only at night. The creature has been dubbed "Muhnochwa", or "face-clawing monster".

Some police in Uttar Pradesh state have declared that Muhnochwa is an extra-terrestrial being. Others say it is a "technologically developed special insect" that glows red from the front and blue from its rear, let loose by foreign "anti-national elements" -- a euphemism for Pakistani agents.

And scientists say they have found no evidence that it exists at all.

"I was sleeping on my terrace when around 2:45 a.m. Tuesday I woke up with a start to find a bright red blinking object attacking my face and trying to pull me away," said Asma, who lives in Lucknow's old quarter.

"I screamed, but no sooner than my husband got up, it vanished into the thin air, leaving a couple of scratches on my face." (Reuters)

Complicated Football Maize

LAKE GENEVA, Wis. — There's a new twist on the longest-running rivalry in the NFL — pick your favorite team in corn.

The owners of a Wisconsin farm had two 3-acre helmets — one bearing the logo of the Green Bay Packers, and one the Chicago Bears — etched onto six miles of pathways on which faithful fans can get themselves deliriously lost.

The cornfields also read "Packers vs. Bears," and "Rivals since 1921," and between them is a 1-acre football, all of which is part of the complicated maze.

From the air, it's a feast for football fans' eyes, but on the ground, "it looks like a lot of corn," said Pam Keeler, of Delavan, who visited recently with her children John, 10, and Kasey, 12.

About 1,100 people, mostly Packers and Bears fans, have visited the southern Wisconsin farm since the maze opened at the end of July. (AP)

Lawn Ornament Crime Wave?

CHIPPEWA FALLS, Wisconsin - It's not known if it's the beginning of a crime wave or just a one time merry prankster.

Two residents of Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, were surprised to find a treasured piece of yard art had been replaced with an imposter.

Layann Geissler found a donkey ornament in her yard where a bear had been and Judy Blaeser found a concrete bear where, you guessed it, her donkey once stood.

Local law enforcement was put on the case and it turns out someone had switched the two decorative animals.

All's well that ends well. The women have agreed to a swap that will return the animals to their rightful places. (AP)

Ending Up On Top

FAIRBANKS, Alaska - For nearly 17 months, Stanley Brodaric has been peddling his mountain bike on a non-stop journey that began at the southernmost tip of South America and will end, he hopes, at the northernmost tip of North America.

As he approaches his seventieth birthday he's dreaming of sitting in the "toondra" and sipping champaign.

But if he doesn't make it all the way he'll accept it philosophically. Smiling through a wooly, white beard and mustache he said I'm "blessed" if I can do it, adding, "How many people that are 70 do crazy things like this?" And if he doesn't make it -- he's seen a lot and had quite an adventure. (AP)