Are they trying to tell us something?

Published 3:21 pm Thursday, July 5, 2007

I’m still not convinced about this whole global warming thing — there is just too much that we don’t know — but a few snippets from the Animal Kingdom have appeared lately that make you wonder if they sense big changes are brewing in the world. I have always held animals in fairly high regard, whether I was hunting them, admiring them, avoiding them or consuming them. Don’t hunt them much anymore, mostly because I’ve gotten lazier with age — preferring to let someone with more energy and skill do that. Don’t get me wrong; I’ll take advantage of a meal of edible game if offered, but don’t ask me to catch and prepare it.

I have a healthy respect for critters in the wild and try to stay clear of varmints if at all possible. There is a difference between a critter and varmint, you know. As Snuffy Smith told his nephew Jughaid, any animal is a critter till it bites you — then it becomes a varmint. Nowadays, the only critters I really keep an eagle eye out for are the long slithery ones as they can be found most anywhere, even around the house. Gina discovered this a few weeks ago when she was talking to a fellow we had for a couple of days cutting into the jungle that had been Miss Lurline’s garden.

As he was finishing up on the first day she asked him if he had come across any snakes. He said “no” until he glanced behind her at the corner of the house. There was a three-foot varmint (in her way of thinking a snake is a varmint, whether it happens to bite you or not) apparently trying to escape to safety through a screened ventilation grate at the base of the house. He dispatched the offending snake, probably a harmless Garter or Rat snake, whose only offense was being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Said snake probably had been disturbed by the yard work and was trying to find a safe haven so the bulge in his body (possibly a hapless field mouse) could digest.

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The cousins to that poor rodent apparently left last week because we had one of those new forestry mowers in to give the old garden jungle a good trim and mulching. Chris, the operator, said he didn’t see any snakes but that there was a group of large field mice headed north off the property. Guess that shows the old adage holds true — if you don’t corner them most wild critters will try to go the other way when confronted or startled by us humans. At least that’s what I’ve always been told. Tame animals usually don’t run, but they have their indicators. Our cat Pudges lets you know when to back off. If I have crossed the time limit with my affectionate petting Pudge will chomp on my hand with her sharp teeth, and she gets downright cranky if her tail is messed with, which is frequent this time of year as the sticky little seed burrs are out in force.

Now though, there may be indications a change is in the wind as far as the wild animals are concerned.

A 6-year-old, boating in Florida with her family in a 20-foot boat on the Suwannee River, was badly injured when a three-foot sturgeon leaped out of the water, striking the child who received several cuts and bruises in addition to a broken leg. An aunt was also injured in the incident. Now this is not a new occurrence as there had already been three such events this year and 10 last year, but it does make you pause. Then, wildlife officials removed a bear from a tree in a suburban shopping center in Sanford, Florida. Also, a golfer was attacked and pulled into a lake by an eleven foot, eleven-inch, one-eyed alligator when the golfer went to retrieve a golf ball. In South Florida, gardeners are complaining that hordes of iguanas are literally eating them out of house and home, devouring ornamental flowers and vegetables.

Again, all of these may be no more than us humans being in the wrong place at the wrong time — and there are more of us Home Sapiens around to do that — rather than some animal sense of big habitat changes on the way, but you never know. What I do know is we are encroaching more and more on areas that once only saw animals. “Accidents” are bound to happen. And, sometimes they turn tragic, as a family camping out West discovered only recently when without warning a sleeping child was taken out of a tent by a bear.

Whatever the cause, just be careful when you get in a situation that might have an animal involved. This day and age, that could be anywhere.