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Know the West

A punchy cougar; wildlife comms; COVID-safe hugs

Mishaps and mayhem from around the region.


Cougars have often been spotted by state wildlife officers around Millcreek Canyon near Salt Lake City, but having a big cat punch its way through a plate-glass window was a first for one local homeowner. KUTV reported that wildlife officials think the cougar was attacking its own reflection, but after briefly confronting an even more startled human resident inside the house, it turned around and padded back outside over the shattered glass. “This was a large, thick glass window,” said the homeowner, “so these animals are crazy, impressively strong!” No one has seen the lion since, said wildlife officials, perhaps because it didn’t like the look of the tough cat it saw in the window.

If you prefer quiet to hosting freeloading animals in your backyard, you probably shouldn’t move to Teton County’s Solitude Subdivision, south of Grand Teton National Park. A homeowner there has become the doyenne of an informal wildlife cafeteria. In 2018, the state’s annual wildlife survey took an aerial photograph of 10 moose on her lawn, while last winter a dozen of the ungulates dropped by for brunch. But this year’s dinner guests took the cake, served in the form of molasses-enriched grain pellets, when celebrity Grizzly 399 showed up with her four cubs. The homeowners’ association filed complaints last year with Wyoming’s Game and Fish agency, and several (human) neighbors have also complained to federal officials. Finally, when Wyoming warden Brian DeBolt and federal agent Steve Stoinski investigated, they found the bears happily noshing away, while their “very excited” hostess stood outside talking on her cellphone, reports the Jackson Hole News & Guide. When the agents warned her not to approach the bears, she replied: “Oh come on! You people are a bunch of (wimps).” She later told officers that she communicated with wildlife through “an aura,” and that even if the bears attacked, she was “OK with being killed.” According to the report, “she does anything the animals ask of her,” including picking ticks off moose and giving them (the moose, not the ticks) massages. Besides, she explained, the food was intended for moose, not bears, so it’s not like she was intentionally feeding them. Surprisingly, this explanation got the woman off the hook, because in Wyoming, feeding moose is legal, and, according to state attorneys, convicting anyone would be “difficult.” In 2016, Republican lawmakers concerned about private property rights blocked a state law that would have banned wildlife feeding. Under federal law, feeding wildlife could be considered illegal harassment, but no charges were brought in this case, which is why the woman has not been identified. Meanwhile, the presence of so many grizzlies in the neighborhood has become dangerous to both grizzlies and humans. Last summer, Grizzly 802, one of the woman’s frequent visitors, was killed after becoming a nuisance. And last fall, a Solitude Subdivision family had to make “a mad dash” to avoid a grizzly on the trail. The sow became agitated after she was separated from her cub, which had climbed a nearby tree. This encounter ended well, as the hiker said later: “We prayed for help, and the bear stopped chasing us.”

Los Angeles Times writer Sammy Roth isn’t often upbeat, but he’s always pithy. In his newsletter, Boiling Point, he recently noted three items worth thinking, or rather worrying, about: Ingesting wildfire smoke is even more hazardous than previously thought, with new research showing that the smoke carries fungi and bacteria. Meanwhile, last year in Arizona, extreme heat killed at least 494 people, while in California, research indicates that the mysterious cancer killing sea lions is likely caused by the toxic chemicals DDT and PCBs, plus a previously unknown herpes virus.

The arrival of COVID-19 vaccines has transformed the formerly grim clinics of the pandemic into “gratitude factories,” reports the Washington Post. Christina O’Connell, a clinic director at the University of New Mexico, who has been busily jabbing people’s arms with needles, said, “I don’t think I’ve ever had an experience in my career that has felt so promising and so fulfilling.”

And in Denver, the Associated Press described a long-sought, bittersweet reunion between Lynda Hartman and her 77-year-old husband, Len, who lives at a care center for dementia. The couple had not been able to hug for close to a year, but thanks to an ingenious plastic “hug tent,” they finally got to embrace. “It really meant a lot to me,” the 75-year-old woman said. “It’s been a long, long time.”   

Tips of Western oddities are appreciated and often shared in this column. Write [email protected], or submit a letter to the editor