2007 in review: Mossback hunts down the wildest animal stories of the year

Giant swimming rats, seducing Sasquatch, and bear-hunting at the Vancouver Olympics.
Crosscut archive image.

The increasingly encountered black bear. (Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife)

Giant swimming rats, seducing Sasquatch, and bear-hunting at the Vancouver Olympics.
It's time for one of my periodic updates of animal doings in the wild country of the Great Nearby, and beyond. When I last wrote in October, I focussed on Bigfoot and the bitch-slapping bear. There's more bear and Bigfoot news, but first to larger critters. Save the swimming rat-pig-dogs!

It's been a rough year for whales hereabouts. Members of the Makah Indian tribe have been charged by their tribe and the feds with an illegal whale hunt in September. They're due to be tried early next year.

But perhaps worse news for protecting the whales was reported this month: it turns out there's scientific evidence that whales are descended from a creature that looks like a cross between a deer and a long-legged rat (not the new giant rat species just found in Indonesia, however).

According to anatomy professor Hans Thewissen writing in the journal Nature, the missing link in whale evolution may be the Indohyus, a prehistoric creature about the size of a raccoon. Previously, whales were thought to be descendants of hippos. "The earliest whales didn't look like whales at all," Thewissen told the Associated Press. "It looked like a cross between a pig and a dog."

This poses serious problems for environmentalists. Not only is "Save the Descendants of Prehistoric Swimming Rat-Pig-Deer-Racoon-Dogs" confusing and unappealing, it doesn't fit on bumper-stickers.

Perhaps there is no cause for concern: According to watchers in Oregon, this year there have been record sightings of swimming rat-pig-dogs..er, whales along the coast. The best time to watch is between Christmas and New Year--mid-latitude cyclones permitting.

Bears threaten Vancouver Olympics!

Meanwhile, as autumn ends, it's time to reflect back on the season as it is marked in the West. "Every fall, along with the steaming piles of bear poop on the sidewalks, come the almost daily articles in our local paper about wildlife-human strife," says a writer in Boulder, Colorado who goes on to document a region filled with newbies who are easily terrorized by hungry squirrels and moose wandering through their yuppie neighbs.

This clash is no better exemplified than in Whistler, British Columbia. The New York Times published a story called "The Bears Among Us," that looks at the challenges of holding the Olympics in a place populated by many, many bears. What's the mood? Think Fort Apache surrounded by hungry, furry creatures:

Even the most progressive mountain resort, however, functions as a kind of fortress in the wilderness, a zoo turned inside out: instead of taking nature to the people, it takes the people out to nature, where more than one animal has the impulse and wherewithal to run the show.

As one persons describes the challenge, "Black bears are ruled by fear and food, with fear at the top of the list," Rogers says. "They don't want conflict. But they will overcome fear to eat." No wonder the Olympic mascot is armed!

A big part of the problem is the temptation to feed the bears, which tends to give them the idea that homes are simply wooden containers for tasty treats. They are trying to teach the do-not-feed ethic in Oregon, where the citizens of Florence have been beset by bears expecting handouts. Protocol is that pesky bears get the death penalty. As one wildlife official implored the citizens of Florence:

"This is absolutely terrible that this bear had to be shot, but it learned these behaviors from people feeding it and treating it like a pet. With the school in the area and the dangerous habituation that this animal displayed, the last course of action for the trooper was to shoot the bear. For the sake of the animals as well as local residents, please stop feeding the bears!"

But all is not bad news for bears. Occasionally, they go to trial and win. When was the last time you heard of a bear beating a murder rap? Such was the case in a Canadian courtroom where an Alaskan expert helped convince a jury that a man found dead in the wilds was not killed by a bear. He was--and I can hear your sighs of relief--merely the first documented case of a healthy man being torn apart alive by non-rabid wild wolves. If the fang marks don't fit, you must acquit!

Say cheese?

Bears often get the blame for stealing food off your back porch, but a woman in Seaside, Oregon claims a mountain lion came up to her house and stole a...loaf of bread. Yes, the big kitty ate bread and it left a trail of crumbs. Those from Washington State know why. It needed something to go with its Cougar Gold.

Bigfoot bait: the Swedish Bikini Team?

I'm not up on the latest crazy conspiracy theories (I don't get cable so I can't watch FOX News) but the History Channel has a show called MonsterQuest where people go out and try to scare up a cryptozoological enigma. It has two featuring bigfoot. One, strangely, is titled "Bigfoot," and is described this way:

Bigfoot has been sighted in Washington State more than any other place on earth. Join an all-female expedition as they try to lure a Bigfoot within range of their cameras.

Just how is this "all-female" expedition attempting to lure the big hairy guy out of hiding? Tune in Dec. 25.

The show also has an episode called "Sasquatch Attack" which documents an expedition in Canada during which the MonsterQuesters purportedly played catch with Sasquatch--and later recovered mysterious DNA samples from a trap. Yes, I know, sounds like a bad weekend on an NFL road trip. But the program broadcasts again on Jan. 5, so decide for yourself.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Knute Berger

Knute Berger

Knute “Mossback” Berger is Crosscut's Editor-at-Large.