Archive for October, 2008

A day after his release, Osama Bin Squirrel came back to my window sill.
He poked around the nuts, then left when I opened the window. I figured that meant he was full and doing fine.
I left the room to make a call and when I came back he was not only inside, but sitting on the cage, looking down at the other squirrels.
I got squirrel dinner ready and offered him a syringe full of formula. He frantically drank it, so he was really hungry.
Figuring he would be terrified to be caught, I propped open the top cage door and left the room
You guessed it, the other three squirrels came out.
I rounded them up pretty quickly.
Osama hid in and behind the bookcase. I left the room, turned off the light. He came back on the cage and I caught him and put him in the cage.
All slept cuddled together. I guess he needs another week or two.
Of all the squirrels I’ve released, he is the one I would have figured least likely to return.

How does that expression go?
If you are kind of tired of being growled at and bitten by someone, set them free
If they don’t come back, they were never really yours
If they do, it means they were really hungry

Where to Go To See Special Squirrels

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I just released Osama Bin Squirrel, the angry little squirrel boy I had been rehabilitating for a couple weeks. My super found Osama in the courtyard of our building. He had a bloody nose and trouble breathing and a bad attitude. The nose and breathing cleared up, but his attitude barely mellowed.

He was the most hostile squirrel I’ve ever met.

Osama would go into spastic fits, screaming, growling, kicking, throwing himself around, lurching and, yes, biting. Sometimes he would paused to take his milk. Sometimes he wouldn’t.
I had six squirrels. He would bluff charge and growl at them, but I didn’t see him bite them. They would huddle together when he had a fit. Funny thing, since he’s gone, they are twice as active. I think they didn’t much like him either. Though, the sweet, gentle Martha would sometimes sit with him in his angry corner. I think she comforted him.
Now I have five squirrels left:

Mary Todd, found on Staten Island, and to be released there soon, back to the family that found her. Mary Tood is friendly and kind of pig. She wants to be first to be fed. And then she wants seconds.

Pointy/Martha is from Washington Square. She has light, pointy muzzle and is gentle.

Peter is a little black boy with an injured left front paw. He’s from Stuyvesant town. He’s mellow enough to just sit on my lap while I feed the others. But he’s not above biting my fingers if I annoy him.

Ulysses is a shaggy boy about Peter’s size, which is maybe seven weeks. He’s gentle and likes to sit in the bowl of feed and eat.

Billie is friendly and has a shaggy coat. She licks her paws after she drinks her milk. She’s yet another squirrel with a feminized boy’s name. Girl squirrels are often mistaken for boys by their finders unless there’s a boy there for comparison.

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I finally got to see wild bears on a trip last month to New Brunswick, Canada. Acadian Richard Goguen built a bear-viewing tower and an increasingly succesful business on his family land, Little, Big Bear Safari.

Back in 2000 Richard got tired of guiding hunters to kill animals they weren’t going to eat. (He’s not anti-hunting; he still hunts for food.) He had more fun taking people out to take pictures of the bears, says his multi-lingual wife, Vivianne.

Richard first built a tower for six people in 1998, but he’s had to expand. His current tower (his third) fits about 50 people, has two covered staircases, a wood stove and lots of open windows to see bears.

The experience starts back at the Goguen house in Acadieville, which is about 150 miles from Maine. The Goguens pass around pictures, tell stories and all the bear tourists meet up. The night I went there was a German couple, another European couple, and a few locals who were friends of Richard. They’re forest rangers and sometimes fill in for Richard, who also works as a school bus driver. One brought his father, a bear hunter.

If this were in America, I’m sure there would’ve been tons of t-shirts, shot glasses and bear junk available. (And I probably would’ve bought some.) They just have a few key chains and some paintings. We all signed legal waivers. In the U.S. I’m sure they would’ve been more than the one page. Actually, I’m pretty sure this wouldn’t happen at all–both because of liability and prohibitions against feeding bears unless you’re hunting them.

Which is what makes this a great place for Americans to visit. It’s only 150 miles from Maine, near Kouchibouguac National Park on the coast of the Northumberland Straight.

Vivianne drives us out to the bear tower in a little white bus. In the back are bushels of apples, which Richard dispenses with piles of meat and nuts. Then, she’ll drive back to the house. The bears would climb on if they left the van there, Richard explains. (But if anyone gets spooked, they’ll come pick them up.)

Along the way Richard explains that he has known three generations of this group of bears. One bear–now the grandmother–used to follow him around. Then her daughter did. And now the daughter has shown her two youngsters to do the same. But, he says, he doesn’t know all the bears. Some bears are regulars and some come and go. Last night there were 13–putting to rest my fears that there wouldn’t be any.

When we pull up to the bear tower, none are in sight. But by the time Richard delivers the food, four come out of nowhere. We hustle up the wood stairs (covered by metal gates) and onto the viewing platform. Richard leaves the food on different sides so there’s plenty of room to see the bears from the windows on two sides of the tower. Richard tells us to keep our voices low, but that flashes don’t bother the bears. The sound of metal–like change jingling–does though, he says.

Within minutes all of the bear viewers are giddy and awestruck. We get to see the bears interacting. Some are family. Two juveniles eat, but cautiously. One gets chased up a tree by an adult. Later one adult chases another down the dirt road. One big bear hogs the meat. Others just lounge by the apples, swooping up the fruit with their paws. Still others wander between feeding stations, like shoppers always worried someone else is getting something better.

Richard says that since I’m a journalist, he’ll let me go down to the open viewing platform below the main one. Here’s it’s just an outdoor wood staircase, like a Chicago fire escape. I’m about 15 feet up and can see and hear the bears walk under the platform. Some look up at me. When I see the young bear climb a tree, I am reminded that they could climb up to where I am in seconds. I’m tempted to go back inside. But I’m too fascinated to leave.

Blue jays and red squirrels come by. They seem to know the feeding schedule, too. The bears half-heartedly swat them away.

Towards the end of our 90 minute visit, Richard goes out and feeds some of the bears by hand. Then I feel ridiculous for being afraid that these bears, who have a feast in front of them, after all, would contemplate eating me. Richard insists that he knows the bears he’s feeding. His wife says that he never approaches a bear, he waits for the bear to come to him. He jokes that neighbors tell him that some day he will end up in a bear’s tummy.

Still, the whole hand feeding thing makes me nervous. As I film it, I feel like I’m watching the beginning of a horrible youtube clip. I think about Timothy Treadwell, who also thought he had a special relationship with bears and who was killed by an aggressive bear he didn’t know. (But those were the more aggressive grizzlies.) Also, it makes the bears seem less wild.

On the drive back I talk with one of the forest rangers. He’s happy to see a New Yorker like me–or anyone from far away–coming to enjoy the New Brunswick bears. And he should be proud of it. What the Goguens have built is a really smart animal tourism attraction, unique in the world, one that takes provides a regular income to locals off wildlife without killing the bears. There are bear-viewing places out west, but they rely on grizzlies eating salmon. Here they’ve created their own food source (which wouldn’t work in a populated area and I’m sure would raise objections to people worried about bears becoming habituated to humans and human food). Richard hopes to I’d recommend the experience to anyone and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it copied.

Where to Go See Bear
Where to See Wildlife in Canada

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International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) announced its new Red List today, showing that mammals on earth are in real trouble. We now have 5,487 mammal species. That’s down 76 (or 1.3%) since 1500.
But we know that 1,141 mammal species are officially endangered and at risk of becoming extinct. That’s more than 20% of our mammals. But there’s another problem: we can’t even find enough another 836 mammals to figure out their status. They’re listed as “data deficient.”
“The reality is that the number of threatened mammals could be as high as 36 percent,” says Jan Schipper, of Conservation International who wrote about the findings in the magazine Science.
About 3.4% of mammal species fall into the worst category, Critically Endangered.
They’re not all charismatic megafauna. A lot of the animals in trouble are bats and mice.
But one critically endangered is the Iberian Lynx (Lynx pardinus). There’s less than 200 left because it eats the European Rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus), which is also disappearing.

Best Places to See Wild Cats
Where to See Animals in Europe

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Kate Murphy had a fun story in the New York Times Sunday on the thousand-some orphaned baby squirrels that have been taken to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Houston after Hurricane Ike. Kate described with great care and accuracy the process of raising baby squirrels. I thought it was great how hundreds of Texans cared enough about their baby squirrels to bring them to safety.

I’m a (novice) licensed wildlife rehabilitator in New York, sitting next to a cage with five orphaned baby squirrels right now. I’m impressed that Texas has a big facility to take in wildlife. In New York it’s a bunch of volunteers, taking in however many squirrels we can manage on our own. I know some really dedicated squirrel rehabbers who have had dozens at a time. Five is the most I’ve had and it’s a lot–mainly because one that I call Osama Bin Squirrel, who is the most belligerent squirrel I’ve ever met.

That means either Texas is way ahead of New York in terms of wildlife care. Or there are even more squirrels out there in Texas in private homes.

Where to Go to See Special Squirrels
Where to See Animals Down South

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