Heard Around the West
by Jonathan Thompson
Just two decades ago, pink coyotes were ubiquitous in downtown Santa Fe. They howled at oil-painted moons, or were sculpted from metal, or were accompanied by acrylic neon landscapes. To some high-minded folks, the fad was much worse than a particularly bad moment in Southwestern-style kitsch; it seemed to signal the imminent demise of civilization itself. Nevertheless, by the skin of its dentures, civilization has held on, more or less. And these days, even Santa Fe is making a comeback as a cosmopolitan center with internationally renowned food and art venues (enough to inspire a recent multi-page story in the New York Times travel section). The New Mexico city has also moved up in the wildlife world. The pink coyotes have long since been evicted to languish in garages across the nation. Nature, however, abhors a vacuum: The coyotes have been replaced by a mountain lion with an apparent hankering for some serious bling.
Around midnight on a recent Friday, the Santa Fe police received reports that a big cat was prowling around downtown and banging on business doors, reports the Santa Fe New Mexican. After finding a hole in the glass door of a jewelry store, the cops slowly entered, found the cat, and fired a shotgun at it. Two hours later, a wildlife officer showed up and located the cat in a toilet stall - rumor has it it was reading the aforementioned Times article - where the officer pegged the feline with a tranquilizer. To its chagrin, the cougar was relocated north of Santa Fe to decidedly less chic Chama.
It looked like it might take a tranquilizer gun to get rid of a much smaller cat that had settled into a rental property in Wheat Ridge, Colo., and wouldn't leave. Tonya Payne tried to coax the cat out of its little back-of-the-bathtub hideaway with smelly fish; she tried to get it out by stomping on the tub; she burned cayenne peppers to smoke him out; and she even advertised on Craigslist for a female cat in heat in hopes of providing a sexual lure. But nothing worked. "I'm really open to suggestions," Payne told the Rocky Mountain News, which, apparently lacking more important news to report on, ran three stories on the topic. "I would love to have an animal communicator come over."
Payne received plenty of free advice on cat-removal techniques, ranging from playing Yoko Ono tunes for an hour to bringing someone with a cat allergy into the house (because they always attract felines). After nearly two weeks, a neighbor finally caught the cat with a trap and adopted it.
Cat ladies - perhaps a sexist term, but then whoever heard of a cat man? - are fixtures in many a community. They tend to pathologically collect cats like other women sometimes collect shoes. But it's not only felines: There are bunny ladies out there, too. An Oregon woman - who had been arrested last year for having 250 rabbits, including 88 dead ones - was tossed back in the hutch for three days recently for violating probation by owning a rabbit. According to Eugene's Register-Guard, the bunny lady wouldn't open the door to her probation officer and repeatedly canceled court-ordered counseling sessions. Finally, neighbors photographed a rabbit inside the woman's house. The woman served three days in jail and now must stay at least 100 yards away from any rabbit - a bunny restraining order.
We all know about headless chickens running around the farmyard, but what about bodiless snakes chomping down on someone's finger? After central Washington farmer Danny Anderson decapitated a rattler with a shovel, he reached down to pick up the disembodied head. But the head "did a backflip almost and bit my finger," Anderson told the Tri-City Herald. It's not the first time: Scientific American reports that snakes' chompers remain potentially active for 20 to 60 minutes after death, and that at least five people have been bitten by dead snakes.
Figure this one out: A bird researcher on an island off New Zealand cuts open a baby seabird's stomach and, along with all the other junk that shows up there, finds a tiny electronic monitoring tag. The tag was originally planted in a steelhead on the Columbia River in the Pacific Northwest, long before the bird was born. So how did it get all the way to New Zealand?
The prevailing theory, according to the Seattle Times, is that the baby bird's mom - a sooty shearwater known to migrate for thousands of miles - was in the Northwest a while back, ate the steelhead, carried it in its stomach, then regurgitated it into her chick's mouth two years later. Of course, there's another theory, postulated by a seabird expert interviewed for the article: Space aliens may have abducted the steelhead or its tag and transported it to New Zealand.
The author is the paper's associate editor and is filling in for Betsy Marston, who's had it up to here with zany news from the region.© High Country News