Thursday, December 24, 2009
Keep Your Carrots Indoors in 2010!
Michigan has its share of predators: bears, wolves (in the U.P), fox and coyotes all roam our Great Lake State. And in the closing months of 2009 the Michigan DNR confirmed what the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been saying for some time; cougars, call them mountain lions or pumas or panther if you wish; its all the same creature, but this secretive big cat is found in Michigan. (Warning signs are posted at our Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore ) Perhaps they have been here all along, perhaps not: that matter is in dispute and not relevant to the cougar that ran the media - or at least one TV station crew (Fox 2 News) in Orion Township a few weeks ago. I have absolutly no idea what the original spotter saw that evening when she looked out and saw a mountain lion. I wasn't there. But the next night the TV crew breathlessly shared the really big mountain lion tracks in her suburban back yard. The evidence was a straight line of four big "toe marks" with several feet between each "foot print". But there was a huge problem that raised the eyebrows of naturalists and produced chuckles. There were no pad prints in the fluffy snow and even if a cougar could walk in a perfectly straight line like a drunk successfully straight-lining it for a police officer, it can not walk on its tip toes. Yet the news crew and neighboorhood continued with predator hype and the internet came alive with cougar tales in suburbia. A close examination of the tracks exposed the obvious-- and you better start keeping your carrots indooors at night folks! A nature wise second grader would spill the beans, "Those are tracks of a bunny rabbit hopping." And yes they were. When rabbits hop, the rear feet land a bit in front of the front feet creating that pattern of toe marks. With the hot air balloon of that cryptic cougar sighting deflated as quickly as the infamous balloon boy saga, I thought back to a great quote from sociobiologist E. O. Wilson: "We're not just afraid of predators. We're transfixed by them, prone to weave stories and fables and chatter endlessly about them, because fascination creates prepardness and preparedness, survival. In a deeply tribal sense, we love our monsters." We love them so much that in suburbia a line of rabbit tracks in backyard snow can morph into cougar "evidence", a monster in our mind --- and it runs on the evening news. As for cougars, they have the freedom of will to wander where their spirit leads them while trying their best to avoid us, but Lake Orion is not their home turf.