Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Southern California Wildlife: Year of the Cat

Cougars are a fact of life here in Southern California. As the pressures of urbanization increase on the foothill and mountain communities, human interactions with mountain lions are bound to increase, often with unpredictable results.

Recently there have been several highly-publicized encounters between the cougar and humans. Some have been fatal for humans. Mountain bikers, runners, and casual hikers are becoming more aware of the cougar's presence in the mountains.

The following talk was delivered at the Quarterly Proceedings of Anthropomorphic Zoology, Spring 2004, by Erasmus Binkster. The symposium was held in the Ayn Rand Asbestosterium, located on the Pyroclastic Community College campus, Puta Vista CA.

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Southern California Wildlife: Year of the Cat

"Hello...Hello...I think my PowerPoint Presentation is having a few problems [tapping sounds]...while we're waiting for the AV techs to work this one out, let's get started...oh! there it is! In Farsi and Punjabi no less! I'll be damned. Must have packed the wrong show."

"I'd originally planned to give a talk entitled "Poison Oak in Kinship Rituals among the Late 20th-Century Trailer Dwellers of Lower San Gabriel Riparian Communities". However, recent events in the San Gabriel Mountains here in Southern California have prompted new examinations of old attitudes and data on human and animal interactions"

"The recent arrival of an errant mountain lion within the boundaries of Griffith Park in metropolitan Los Angeles prompted a flurry of media coverage. Park officials were quick to explain that until the cougar actually killed somebody or something, they were going to put up signs advising the public that there was a mountain lion in residence."

"The attention quickly moved on to other topics. However, the lion remained in the park. Daytimes remained as uneventful as a park of this size in an urban setting can be--just the usual tawdry cruising for sex, indecent exposures, Pampers dumping, headphoned joggers stepping into oncoming traffic; in short--all the workaday events typical of an urban wilderness park."

"By night it was a completely different story. It became clear that as darkness fell, and humans retired for the day, the cougar came alive. From its undisclosed location, it would venture out to forage. Eschewing its natural diet of carrion, berries, birds eggs, and other assorted small animals; it was developing a pronounced affection for fast food, left-over beer, and half-eaten roach-coach burritos. The resulting after-effects of this new diet, as examined by park naturalists, led them to dub the arriviste mountain lion "Chucky, the Cheese-Cutting Cougar". This name was kept secret from the public until recently, as subsequent events unfolded."

"In its travels, Chucky came to favor one location above all others in Griffith Park, which has mystified naturalists. My fellow researchers...Travel Town. Yes, Travel Town. And in particular, the miniature scale locomotive that has pulled a train, metaphorically "sixteen coaches long", for generations of happy children and their parents."

"One night, a remarkable event was recorded by security cameras. Chucky was seen at the controls of the locomotive, highballing the train and coaches at top speed in the first of many laps around the track. Squirrels and raccoons were seen standing expectantly on the platform, waiting for Chucky to slow down. Instead he would actually accelerate, buffeting the furiously chattering and hissing squirrels."

"This was repeated at least ten times. Finally, as the red light of the caboose disappeared in the darkness, the raccoons were seen gathering creosoted fence posts and dragging them onto the track. In the distance a lonely whistle was heard. Then--a blinding light as the locomotive bore down on the station. Chucky had mounted a Maxim gun on the cab. Reprising the role of the doomed Strelnikov in "Dr Zhivago", he held the trigger as the machine-gun emptied the belts. Bullets were flying everywhere, but it was no use. The locomotive hit the posts, the train jumped the track and was swarmed by the raccoons and squirrels. Chucky was pitched from the train and disappeared into the night."

"The next day, park officials were trying to make sense of the catastrophe. The park was suspiciously quiet of raccoons, and squirrels studiously went about their business. They believed that Chucky had decamped. It was a case of underfunded wishful thinking."

"Later that week, events took a sinister turn when a grainy Polaroid showing a quivering poodle, with a bag over its head, hooked up to what appeared to be electrical cords, was slipped under the door of the park supervisor. It had Chucky's unmistakable aroma."

"Calls were then made to a top-secret Dept of Fish, Game & Wildlife Rogue Animal Swat Team [DFG&W-RAST]. Their sole function is to "neutralize" wild animals that overstep the bounds of polite society and get "attitude problems'. Recently they were called in on the Sturtevant Canyon Flying Bear Case, where local bears in ultralights were buzzing expensive homes in Sierra Madre and stealing pork-chops off barbecue grills. But that is another story altogether."

"The decision was made at the highest levels to "take out" Chucky. However, word leaked out to the media. Soon, the parking lot to Travel Town was jammed with shiny SUVs sporting bumperstickers ranging from "I Heart the Planet", "Free Tibet", "Visualize World Peace" to "If You Love Something Set It Free. If It Doesnt Come Back, Hunt It Down And Kill It" along with "Gun Control Means Using Both Hands". It was a complete media-circus that drew from all sides of the debate, leaving the Michael Jackson trial in Santa Maria in the hands of the Shopping Network."

"TV cameras were having to choose between Courtney Love and Charlton Heston, both as fervent partisans for the reclusive cougar. Ms Love wanted to "give peace a f***ing chance!" while Mr Heston was supporting Chucky's Second Amendment rights."

"In the end, Chucky tired of the noise and clamor, slipped away. It is believed he rode out of the park in a stolen car, later found abandoned up on the Angeles Crest Highway, reeking, and littered with burrito wrappers. We can only hope that he wasn't scarred by his near-fatal encounter with modern society, and has rejoined his feline compatriots in the high country, preying on motorcycle roadkill."