Posts Tagged 'mammals'


Sciurus carolinensisSquirrels (Sciurus carolinensis).Sciurus carolinensis

Feral Brooklyn

c6I spend a fair amount of time exploring Brooklyn’s edges. These border zones are absolutely agog with feral cats. Here a few recent sightings.c1The standard wild city feline is a black and white job. Tiger-striped numbers probably come second. But there are all types, including the long-hair below, who looked like a slumming debutant.c7A street-side feeding station on 39th St; there’s always some well-meaning, but highly selective “animal lover” who encourages this plague. One or more of these people at Floyd Bennett Field’s Ecology Village has/have left the trash of dozens of empty cat food cans stretched along the edges of woods.c2Some of these cats are pretty cute and adorable looking. But the issue is that Brooklyn’s only part of one of the worst examples of invasive species running amuck.c4c5The damage feral cats do to wildlife is mind-boggling: 20 billion individual birds and mammals killed.c3What a mess! An irresponsible pet industry; idiots who don’t spay/neuter their pets; fools who release their animals when they never should have gotten one in the first place; the rat-feeders (because they are also obviously feeding rats); and, of course, those vocal defenders of such feral cats, unaware and/or unconcerned about their avian and mammalian toll. This is human-made problem. How shall we solve it?

I wrote about the science behind the problem for JSTOR Daily.

Raccoon Remains

Procyon lotorMagic-hour light on road-kill, scavenged, and partially petrified Raccoon (Procyon lotor).Procyon lotorOh, and good morning!

Parkman’s Unending Buffalo

“The country before us was now thronged with buffalo,” wrote the young Bostonian Francis Parkman at the beginning of “The Chase” in The Oregon Trail, his book about his adventures out in the west in 1846. (I was immediately reminded of the similarly titled chapters in Moby-Dick, published five year later; turns out Melville read and praised Parkman’s “true wild-game flavor.”)

Parkman writes that “we waged an unrelenting war” against the bull buffalos. While his small party ate a lot of buffalo meat – dried, it was a major component of their diet on the trail – that was usually from the cows. When they were well-supplied with meat, they would sometimes just take the tongue. For the bulls, it was just the tail, as a trophy. He and his friends were still using muzzle-loading rifles, so the damage they could do was to a certain extent limited. A very skilled hunter could kill “five or six cows in a single chase” loading each shot on horseback, often by holding the rifle balls in his mouth.

“Thousands of them might be slaughtered without causing any detriment to the species,” wrote Parkman, about the male buffalo. Uh-huh. Hasn’t every fisher and hunter said something similar since time immemorial? There’s just too many of ‘em for us to do any damage… they’ll always be here. Didn’t the Canadian cod-fishers say it? And before them, didn’t the people who crossed over Beringia say that about what we now call the extinct megafauna? This stuff’ll last forever, boys! And the peoples who made it to Australia? These animals will never end, mates.

By the 1880s, there were just a few hundred bison left from the millions that had been there two generations earlier.

Winter Sounds

Sciurus carolinensisOver all, the wind in the trees, like an overtone. Cardinals chipping. Blue Jays screeching. Two trees, or perhaps trunks of the same, rubbing together. The tapping of a woodpecker. White-thoated Sparrows scratching in the leaves. The gnawing of a squirrel on a nut.

The Whiteness of the Squirrel

Sciurus carolinensisThis Gray Squirrel obviously isn’t very gray. It has been seen out and about in Prospect Park lately. Several “white” — or ivory — squirrels have been noted in the park and Park Slope in recent years, but they’re not all that common here.Sciurus carolinensisLike the black squirrels also seen, these are all variations on the basic Sciurus carolinensis.


bear1On the liturgical calendar, today is St. Martin’s Day. In the late Middle Ages, “Martin” was often the name given to bears abused and belittled in circuses and other equivalents of side-shows. This is not coincidental, Michel Pastoureau shows in his fascinating The Bear: History of a Fallen King. bear3The Church waged a long war against bears, which in Europe were already being represented in Neanderthal and Cro-Magon painted caves, the very caves bears may have lived in. (These would have been cave bears, now extinct; Pastoureau is most concerned with the brown bear, now pushed to remote parts of Europe and threatened everywhere there.) The Germanic tribes who butted against Roman expansion were bear-worshippers. The Viking Berserkers wore bear shirts, which is what “berserker” means. Kings and other heroes once proved themselves by battling bears man-to-bear. The nurturing she-bear raised various Greek and other mythological heroes. The hyper-sexualized male bear threatened female humans, as did the quasi-bearish Wild Man, whose hairiness was akin to the bear’s. Bärenfähigkeit means the capacity to become a bear. Half-bear/half-human figures populated the old tales.

This all enraged the Church, who promoted the (foreign) lion as the true king of the beasts and painted the bear as a tool of, if not actually, Satan, in its efforts to stamp out old forms of non-Christian worship. St. Martin’s Day was laid over older celebrations of the beginning of bear hibernation, a sure sign of the coming winter.

Rich in cultural references, Pastoureau’s book reminded me of a couple of things. I’ve only dipped into Phillip Pullman’s Golden Compass trilogy, where giant bears play a critical role, an interesting comparison with the Christianology of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, and J.R.R. Tolkien’s character, Beorn, a sort of werebear. The name Beorn — and Bjorn, Bern, Ursula, Arthur, and many others — all come from various languages for “bear.”

Pastoureau has also written three books on the history of colors. I’ve read Blue and Black and and recommend them.

“In killing the bear, his kinsman, his fellow creature, his first god, man long ago killed his own memory and more or less symbolically killed himself.”bear2Bear ceramics at Cortlandt St. R train station by Margie Hughto. “Trade, Treasure and Travel” originally placed in 1997, survived the World Trade Center bombing and was reinstalled in 2011.


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