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Know the West

Sloppy scavengers; dashing javelina; moose trappings

Mishaps and mayhem from around the region.


Sienna Gonzales/High Country News

Benjamin Franklin did not admire the bald eagle: “He is a bird of bad moral character (and) does not get his living honestly.” The Seattle Times agrees that the noble-looking birds, despite symbolizing liberty, can be sloppy scavengers. Around 200 of them hunt for juicy pickings at King County’s only landfill, where 2,500 tons of garbage are stacked every day on a “trash mountain the size of 700 football fields.” After feasting, the birds fly off, but sometimes “their reach exceeds their grasp,” and rotting garbage slips through their talons and lands in neighbors’ yards. Noisy devices like “Screamer Sirens” and “Bird Bangers” are often used to scare away gulls, starlings and crows, but bald eagles, which made a remarkable recovery after DDT was banned, are a protected species, so fireworks can’t be used on them. Still, the county hopes the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service will allow it to start harassing the messy eagles.

As Tucson’s KOLD News 13 put it, “Spend time in the Southwest and you are bound to run into a pack of javelina.” We’ve never had such a run-in ourselves, though we do know that a javelina is neither a pig nor a boar, but rather a husky collared peccary that eats cactus, fruits and seeds. Thanks to Damion Alexander’s video, we’ve also learned that a javelina can run like a large rodent revved up on speed. On his video, Alexander urges the javelina to “Keep on going, buddy,” and that’s exactly what the animal does, dashing through town and across streets, never once pausing for traffic. Javelinas communicate with their fellows using “a scent gland located on the top of their rump,” meaning you’re likely to smell them before you see them. Think skunks moving at the speed of light — and get out of the way.

All it took to shut down Sacramento Executive Airport recently was a coyote sprawled on a runway, reports the Sacramento Bee. A police helicopter finally roused the comfortable canid, which slipped into a nearby drainage pipe, where it no doubt finished its nap. Another local coyote made news earlier in February when it was spotted in midtown chasing a cat. An even bolder animal was reported “biting a dog off its leash,” though no people have been bitten. So far.

In other wildlife news, a moose in south Anchorage saw a man carrying garbage to a shed and decided to follow. The bull moose, sporting just one antler, tried to “gently” push his way inside while Curtis Phelps called his wife, Amy, to explain that he was stuck in the shed for a while. The animal finally wandered off. The visit was not the couple’s first close encounter, reports the Associated Press: Two years ago, a moose gave birth to a calf in their backyard. Since then, a young moose has regularly returned, once clambering onto the porch to eat a delicious Christmas wreath.

The next time your beloved cat purrs in your arms or sleeps on your stomach — its toothy mouth just inches away — you might want to think about the surprising research published by Melissa Connor of Colorado Mesa University. A forensic anthropologist, Connor works at a “body farm” in rural Whitewater, studying how human bodies decay. A recent video feed startled her: Skunks, as scavengers, are frequent visitors, but this time they were accompanied by two feral cats. Because cats are predators who prefer live prey, their scavenger behavior was unusual, Connor said. That explains why her paper attracted media attention: Newspapers wrote excitedly about feral cats eating dead people, and NPR’s quiz show, Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me, asked a contestant to guess the last line: “My dumb cat never comes up to greet me. He just glares at my chair to unseat me. And if I should die not long would I lie. For that jerk would just come up and … eat me.” The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel’s headline about Connor’s research was beautifully direct: “Whatsamatter, cat got your tongue?”

San Francisco International Airport is one of 50 in the country that can brag about its welcoming “Wag Brigade”: 22 dogs and one fashionista pig called LiLou. A 5-year-old Juliana pig with a captain’s hat and bright red hooves, she always attracts attention when she plays a toy piano. “She’s like an A-list celebrity,” says Jennifer Kazarian, the airport’s guest services manager. The brigade’s goal, reports the Washington Post, is to “de-stress” travelers, who are surprised and usually delighted by the petable therapists.  

Tips and photos of Western oddities are appreciated and often shared in this column. Write [email protected] or tag photos #heardaroundthewest on Instagram.