THERE A VARMINT IN YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD?
August 28, 2011
Mystery Carnivores of North America" is an entertaining mix of exciting,
sometimes scary, always informative facts and fantasy about terrestrial
mammals that kill or scavenge other animals, including an occasional human.
Written by Chad Arment (2010, Coachwhip Publications, Landisville, Pa.;
$29.95), "Varmints" addresses scientific facts, folklore, and
hoaxes surrounding some of the country's most intriguing creatures that
people have encountered, or reportedly encountered, including lions, tigers,
describes the book as "a preliminary cryptozoological investigation
into varmint folklore in North America." He defines cryptozoology
as "the methodological investigation of mystery animals . . . for
which . . . circumstantial evidence" exists of previously unknown
species, ones seen in the wrong place, and those that are reportedly the
wrong color or are bigger or smaller than the norm. Native and introduced
exotic carnivores of the continent are also discussed. Little coverage
is given to Big Foot, Hogzilla, and Lizard Man.
abound of sightings of mountain lions (aka cougars, catamounts, panthers),
but the vast majority in the eastern United States remain unsubstantiated.
In reference to unverified reports of mountain lions, black panthers,
and other big cats seen in unlikely places, Arment says, "[In] far
too many cases [even] where a photograph or video has been taken of the
suspected mystery feline . . . . it is obvious" that the animal is
actually "a large domestic cat." I know a wildlife biologist
in Tennessee who investigated the killing of a "mountain lion."
When he arrived at the scene and examined the carcass, he had to break
the news to the hunter that he had killed a 40-pound house cat! Impressive,
though not really comparable to a cougar. But captive lions, tigers, and
other exotic cats do sometimes escape, so the possibility exists that
one might be seen outside its usual range, and such claims are sometimes
accounts in the book relate to sightings of a dangerous animal that didn't
actually exist. A series of newspaper articles in the 1950s reported that
a black panther had escaped from a carnival in Los Angeles. The subsequent
hysteria resulted in the varmint's being seen at various spots around
town. Several policemen claimed to have seen the 140-pound beast loose
in an alley the first night; numerous citizens fueled the fantasy by reporting
sightings of their own. The news stories are entertaining and demonstrate
how human obsession with mystery animals can become a self-fulfilling
prophecy. People think animals are there, so they see them, or at least
think they do. The final newspaper account tells how the carnival owner
eventually admitted he had "concocted the whole story."
recounts stories of unusual variations of native species. One intriguing
example from the Northwest was the so-called lava bear, supposedly a species
of dwarf grizzly bear that weighed only 25 to 30 pounds as an adult. The
claims were based on citizen reports, not scientific confirmation, and
eventually the little bear was said to have gone extinct. Arment does
not categorically discount the existence or scientific validity of the
dwarf grizzly or other animals discussed in the book. Instead, he suggests
that further scientific inquiry might be needed to confirm or refute the
assertions. Among the other creatures mentioned in the book are red wolves,
Carolina dogs, and great white wolves, all of which are associated with
some level of biological intrigue that the author feels could warrant
further cryptozoological investigation.
to most people, no matter where they live, would be the local coverage
of newspaper articles with headlines such as "Car Is Attacked by
Black Panther in Talladega Co. [Alabama] and "Pelion Area on Look
Out for Tiger [South Carolina]." Alaskans aren't as concerned about
big cats as they are with other large predators, as the headline "Monstrous
Polar Bear Roams Alaskan Coast" attests. A "30-foot-long polar
bear" would indeed be a monster.
book confirms people's fascination with mystery animals, even if the varmint's
existence cannot be validated.
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