Shortly before last Fourth of July a little girl named Diane Wanamaker, who lives with her mother and father in the town of West Nyack, not far from New York City, looked out the window and said to her mother, "There's a bear in the backyard."
According to the New York World-Telegram, Mrs. Wanamaker, who was cooking dinner, replied, "That's nice, dear."
Now there really was a bear in the backyard of the Wanamakers' suburban home—a 300-pound black bear, Euarctos americanus, a very wily and sagacious creature, and about as wild a beast as it is possible to find in the eastern woods. After vainly trying to interest her father in the bear, Diane became annoyed at being regarded indulgently as an imaginative child, and dropped the subject.
But the next morning Mr. Eugene La Voie, aged 61, who lives in the nearby town of Spring Valley, left his house to go to work and found the bear sitting on his lawn, staring at him. Mr. La Voie did not waste time discussing it with members of his household. He rushed back inside and called the police. The police, apparently, gave the call little more attention than Mrs. Wanamaker had given to Diane. By the time they arrived the bear had wandered away across the New York State Thruway and was last seen heading for Albany. However, there were bear tracks, 8½ inches by 5 inches, all over the terrain.
Imaginative children have been known to delight in scaring other imaginative children by saying, "Maybe it's a bear!" at any strange sound, particularly if the children are alone in the house and hear a scratching noise or a thumping on the porch outside. We should hesitate to dismiss such remarks as childish fantasy. There may be a bear on the porch.
If it is a bear, one need not follow in the fast footsteps of a miner in Burke, Idaho named Dan Stoker. He had long been annoyed by dogs that raided his garbage can at night, tipping it over, making a lot of noise and scattering the refuse. Hearing sounds in his backyard one recent evening, he crept out the back door and saw an animal with its head buried in the can. Mr. Stoker approached stealthily and delivered a resounding kick to its hindquarters with his size 11 D miner's boot. The animal turned out to be a large bear. Mr. Stoker, a man in his 50s, went into barefaced retreat and ran for his house. Since the back door had locked behind him, he decided to waste no time unlocking it, and ran around to the front. The bear, however, had by this time gotten its head out of the garbage can and raced around the house in the opposite direction. Mr. Stoker meanwhile had reached the front door and, a moment later, was annoyed when the bear also appeared. Both were disgusted at the Mack Sennett comedy sequence that had interrupted the great drama of nature. They wheeled and headed in opposite directions, the bear toward the Coeur d'Alene Mountains that loomed in majesty in the east.
Then consider a 67-year-old woman named Mrs. Bella Twin who was walking near her home in the Swan Hills of Alberta, Canada a while back, when the largest grizzly bear known to man suddenly reared up on the trail before her.
Mrs. Twin happened to have her rifle with her. It was a .22. Paying no attention to the common belief that wild animals will not bother you if you do not bother them, Mrs. Twin shot the bear with her .22. In fact, she put seven .22 slugs in a tiny circle in the giant's brain. It fell over dead. She had killed the biggest grizzly bear of which there were authenticated records (since that time three larger specimens have been shot). Mrs. Twin's grizzly had a skull whose dimensions were verified by the Boone and Crockett Club. It measured 16 10/16 by 9 11/16 inches—roughly the size of Dan Stoker's garbage can. Even small grizzly bears have been known to charge people in wild, leaping bounds, covering 10 to 12 feet per jump, so Mrs. Twin was fortunate that she shot the grizzly before it stepped on her.
A careful study of such episodes, however, suggests that civilized man has a poor record in such emergencies. It is not overexcitement but skepticism that hampers him. Modern man does not believe that such things happen. When he comes face to face with some great phenomenon of nature, he thinks it is a gag. If he suddenly confronts anything like a grizzly bear, his first reaction is to call the police. Last spring in Wichita, Kans. a young man named Stanley Brown happened to be passing the office of Charles F. Curry & Company on downtown Kellogg Street after business hours. Looking in, he saw a young stag deer bounding over desks and chairs. Mr. Brown called the police. The officers, hurrying to the scene, tried to capture the deer, but it jumped through a window and skipped town. Portland, Me. reported an even more exciting intrusion. "Worshippers at the Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception were surprised yesterday," said a calm wire service account of this otherwise stimulating event, "when a frightened deer bounded into church. It was subdued by an off-duty policeman."
Occasionally it seems as if animals go out of their way to be sure they deal with the police, BLACK BEAR INVADES JERSEY COMMUNITY, ran a recent headline in The New York Times. "The animal was sighted here about 9:30 last night," said the report from Newton township. "It passed police headquarters on Trinity Street and was spotted on Spring Street, the main shopping section, by Police Sgt. Ralph Carey."
Not long after the bear went window-shopping in Newton, word came from Anchorage, Alaska about the disquieting behavior of a bull moose at the local airport. It seems this moose was lounging around the terminal building while a Boeing 720 jet was being readied for its flight. The moose was causing no trouble, just watching takeoffs and landings, until the passengers boarded the plane and it started to taxi out to the end of the runway. At this point the moose ran toward the jet and butted it between the No. 1 and No. 2 engines. "The bull moose lowered his head, pawed the ground and charged," wrote a newspaperman in some excitement. The plane was shaken but undamaged. "The moose, apparently unhurt and unimpressed," the newspaper account went on, "walked away." What was surprising about this incident, however, was that officials seemed nettled to discover there were no Civil Aeronautics Board regulations governing the procedure for planes attacked by moose. Even more disturbing were the last words casually appended to the newspaper report of the incident.
"Moose have been known to charge parked cars and light planes," it read, "but not a jet." What has been going on here? Has it taken an all-out attack on a jetliner to bring into the open a grave situation affecting parked cars and light planes?
Obviously, people have been reluctant to call attention to such moose assaults from a sort of misplaced politeness, a form of embarrassment. It is more difficult for modern man to say, "Isn't that a moose charging our station wagon?" than it was for his ancestors to hunt them. In the Boston suburb of Norwood, for instance, nobody paid any attention when a 450-pound black bear climbed out of a truck on Route 1 and stretched its legs. The truck driver had pulled off the road and stepped into a diner for a cup of coffee. When the bear came out of the truck, people probably thought it wanted a cup of coffee, too. They may not have known it was a bear. They may have thought it was a wrestler. In fact, the bear was a wrestler. It was named Black Ozzie, and for the past year it had been wrestling regularly in Boston. The Boston wrestling promoter, Tony Santos, had sold the bear to a Columbia, S.C. entrepreneur for $3,000, and Black Ozzie was scheduled to make a television appearance in Columbia two nights later.
Consternation followed when the driver told police that Black Ozzie had walked out on him. Radio alerts cautioned children to keep away from the scene, vicious BEAR LOOSE HERE, ran a headline across the front page of the Boston Record American. Extra police cars cruised the area. After six hours of panic, the bear was seen walking along Route 1, heading south (in other words, in the direction of Columbia). It was brought back to the truck, where Mr. Santos gave it some lumps of sugar, which it probably was seeking for its coffee in the first place.
Even famed international correspondents have taken note of the efforts of animals to gain a bit of recognition in modern society. Drew Middleton in a special dispatch reported that a panther had been captured in an exclusive girls' school near Paris. "The panther roamed the streets and back alleys of St. Denis," Mr. Middleton wrote, "terrifying the inhabitants.... Policemen, firemen and trainers from the circus assembled. A crowd of about 2,000 gathered. A workman trod on the animal as it lurked in the hall of his apartment house, and was bitten on the arm and shoulder." Even when attending girls' schools, panthers do not like to be stepped on.
Raccoon aids golfer, says an animal news dispatch of a different type, this one from Onarga, Ill. It seems that a man named Bill Taylor was playing on the Spring Creek course with two friends. On the last hole his putt rolled up within three inches of the cup and stopped. A raccoon ran out of the woods and nudged the ball into the cup, enabling Mr. Taylor to have a par round. Skeptics might question this—remember, Mrs. Wanamaker did not believe there was a bear in her backyard—but it turned out that there was. a. prankish golf-playing raccoon haunting the Spring Creek course. It was a pet belonging to a family that lived near by, and it often went around the course generously pushing golf balls into holes.
In this past month Harvey J. Proulx, a golfing doctor from Lewiston, Me., received an equally unusual assist. Playing the Cobbosseecontee Colony course, he hit a ball into the woods, where he found it clamped in the jaws of a squirrel. Squirrel and doctor began a chase through the trees, with the squirrel finally abandoning the ball behind a large rock. Suspicious, the doctor moved the rock and was amazed to see 135 other golf balls that had been squirreled away throughout the summer.
One theory to account for all this misplaced animal behavior is that animals are a little confused as to how to act around people. When an animal saw a bearded figure wearing buckskins approaching with a rifle, the animal logically assumed that the man was not taking a census of wildlife in the area. The man was going to kill something, a simple purpose the animal could understand, since it was usually trying to kill something on its own. So it ran, or hid, or, if all else seemed likely to fail, it launched an attack.
But now—in an age when conservationists are doing such things as attaching transmitters to foxes in order to find out where they spend their leisure hours—animals cannot figure out what people are up to. It is even being said that wild animals, far from regarding man as a natural enemy, actually are beginning to like people and enjoy being around them. Books like Born Free, dealing with a peaceful lioness, and Ring of Bright Water, about the companionship provided by otters, not to speak of books about scientists who converse with good-natured porpoises, have marked a change in the literary attitude toward beasts. Only a few years ago a naturalist like Ernest Thompson Seton was ridiculed as a romantic because he attributed so-called human emotions—love, self-sacrifice, family loyalty, courage—to wild creatures in their relations with others of their species; and he was ridiculed even more because he sometimes wrote about wild animals aiding or befriending man.
But now scientists have gone far beyond Seton. That a porpoise will swim alongside to keep an unconscious swimmer above water is only one of the many reported instances of the goodness and intelligence of our wild cousins. In fact, we seem to have completed a cycle in this respect. Animals are now often said to possess what were once thought of as solely human emotions. Human psychology, on the other hand, has come to be interpreted in terms of brute urges and unconscious strivings. It may be, of course, that both animals and people have changed. Noting how well cats, dogs and horses have gotten along with mankind, other more aggressive species may have decided to cultivate good relations in the hope of not becoming extinct—if they're trying to exterminate you, join them.
Or it may be that animals are merely facing a difficult period before they learn how to make the best use of the trappings of civilization. In Lives of Game Animals, Seton, for all his admiration of cougars, admitted feeling uneasy because one of them had discovered the Vancouver zoo. When in need of a good meal, the cougar came into town from the mountains and ate a deer. J. Frank Dobie, in The Voice of the Coyote, pieced together every creditable report he could glean about the cunning intelligence of coyotes and their uncanny skill in getting away from dogs. But even Dobie wrote a little coldly about a coyote that—reportedly—enticed dogs to chase it along a railroad track when a freight was approaching, and then jumped on a flatcar and rode away. Dobie should not have been so suspicious, RABBIT HUNT ENDS IN SHOCK, said a news story last winter from Faversham, England: "Eight beagles chasing a rabbit were electrocuted today when the rabbit led them across the third rail of an electrified rail line near here." The rabbit in this mechanized form of the old Brer Rabbit story got away. Clever, perhaps, but animals using human aids against their historic enemies for some reason seem less admirable animals.
Sir Charles Pigott Piers, in his classic Sport and Life in British Columbia, opened up another disquieting prospect in the growing camaraderie of men and once-wild animals—the possibility of animals taking on human vices instead of human virtues. Sir Charles was governor of British Columbia when it was a favorite refuge of remittance men exiled from London, and in his opinion these remittance men—he called them "neer-do-weels"—taught the beasts bad habits, or at least set them a bad example. One of these famous neer-do-weels was kept by his family on a ranch on Vancouver Island, cared for by a devoted sister, who doled out only a little whisky to him each day. In her loneliness the sister raised a pet bear cub, an affectionate and docile animal that jumped on people's laps, hugged them, played with them and developed all sorts of endearing tricks.
"The neer-do-weel proved the serpent in this Eden," wrote Sir Charles, "for on the sly he taught the little Bear to relish a toddy of whiskey." Before long the bear was following the remittance man around, paying no attention to the sister, and eventually it got to be such a nuisance that it was returned to the woods.
Years passed. "The good woman passed on," wrote Sir Charles. The remittance man, freed of all restraint, gathered a group of other remittance men around him. "So it happened one Christmas when he and his friends were sitting around the fire with a large bowl of steaming toddy, a scratching was heard at the door, which, being opened, gave entrance in a flurry of snow to a fully grown black bear." Sir Charles's literary gifts did not include an ability to describe so complex a social situation. He merely wrote that when the befuddled men finally realized it was the old pet bear cub they made him welcome and gave him all the whisky he wanted, and soon all were singing and dancing together. But the bear tried to revert to the tricks of his cubhood, climbing on people's laps, hugging them in a friendly way and, in the process, breaking down the tables and chairs and spilling the whisky. Angry words were spoken, and the situation was beginning to get ugly, when the bear, having lapped up the liquor on the floor, grew "so groggy on his legs," as Sir Charles recounted it, "he could hardly stand. Besides, he was getting sleepy." However little they knew about bears, the neer-do-weels knew what to do with anyone in this state: each grabbed a leg, and they hauled the bear across the snow to the guest house and put him to bed. Sir Charles does not say what happened in the morning, except that the bear woke up with a terrific headache and, after looking unhappily through the lace curtains for a while, headed for the woods and never came back again.
The point is that there may be two sides to the friendly feeling that is growing between man and other species. Reflect on this terse communication in the letters column of a major London paper, which ran under the headline FOX HUNTS MAN:
"Sir,—During the severe weather it has been reported that foxes have been hunting in packs, and have actually chased two small boys. We eagerly await news that one of these packs has been organized to hunt a man in a pink coat. We shall then be able to hear from his own mouth (if he survives) what an enjoyable experience it was."
There may indeed be hazards in fraternizing with suspiciously friendly wild animals, especially if they have had contact with certain types of people.
A church was visited by a deer which was anxious to join a flock instead of a herd.
An airport was examined by a moose which then found out it had no use for jet travel.
A golf course discovered it had an unpaid assistant pro whose putting was uncanny.
An under-the-table fable had the boys in the back room being joined by a boozy bear.