Lions and tigers and coyotes… oh, my!

GREG BEAN

Ihad to laugh last week when a friend sent me the link to an article that appeared in a local paper out West.

It seems that a guy who lives in Hoback Junction, Wyo., went out to the driveway recently to brush the snow off his boat and saw a big pair of eyes looking out at him from under his car in the garage.

“I went inside (the garage) and peeked around the front end, and I saw a brown hump and a real long tail,” Gil Hawxhurst told the reporter fromthe Casper Star Tribune. “And I told the dog, ‘That’s not your normal house cat.’ ”

Turned out the animal hiding under his car was a full grown female mountain lion, or cougar. Hawxhurst didn’t panic. He called the state game and fish department, which sent some folks out to dart the cat with a tranquilizer and take it back to the wild.

“People shouldn’t be alarmed by this,” said Mark Gocke, a spokesman for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, who nevertheless admitted it was fairly rare to see a full-grown cougar in somebody’s garage.

This wasn’t the first article my friend has sent me in the last few years about mountain lions coming to town. He’s sent stories about mountain lions being sighted near grade schools,mountain lions sunning in somebody’s driveway and a mountain lion that crashed through the kitchen window of a lady’s house in Cody, Wyo., and started smashing her china. She hid in the bathroom until the cat got bored and left. She wasn’t angry about it, though.

“They aren’t out to hurt people,” she told The Associated Press. “They are just doing what comes natural. We’ve invaded their territory. They didn’t invade ours.”

So far, the lions haven’t injured anybody and everyone just goes about their business – after looking under their car in the morning, of course.

I guess people’s reactions to things like this are just a matter of perspective.

Whatmade that article so interesting is that here in New Jersey, we’ve spent the last year in Monmouth and Middlesex counties freaking out because there has been an increase in coyote sightings, and a couple of incidents where coyotes behaved badly.

Now, every time somebody sees something they think might be a coyote the police send the equivalent of a SWAT teamto track the critter down. So far, they haven’t captured many of them because coyotes seem to be smarter than people, at least when it comes to surviving in the wilderness.

Personally, I don’t think the animals we call coyotes around here are really coyotes at all. I think they’re the result of interbreeding between wild coyotes and dogs, and the progeny is an animal that nobody really understands. The New Jersey Division of Fish andWildlife is currently doing a study of the DNA of coyotes from this state to find out, but I predict we’ll discover that what we really have are animals known out West as coy-dogs.

You wouldn’t want a coy-dog as a pet, because they have a tendency to eat the neighbors’ cats and make an infernal racket. Even so, your chances of being attacked by a coy-dog in the parking lot of the local bookstore are about the same as your chances of being attacked by a full-blooded coyote. Which are about the same as being crushed by a toilet that falls off the international space station, burns through Earth’s atmosphere and squashes you flat, like on that television show “Dead Like Me.”

In other words, the chances are pretty good it won’t happen, so there’s not much reason to lose sleep over the possibility.

I think the reason we get so worked up about things like coyote sightings here in New Jersey is that we are so far removed fromour natural environment that we have lost the ability to assess the real risks in that environment. We seldom spend any time in actual wild country, so we fear it as the great unknown. We also fear that wild country’s inhabitants because we know so little about them. Out here,moms and dads go loony if they see a coyote, when they really ought to worry more about the really dangerous denizens of our environment, people too busy yapping on their cell phones to pay attention to the road, for example. Also, politicians.

We don’t have to worry thatmuch about getting attacked by coyotes or other wild animals. Animals usually just want to get along. I know this from experience.

When I was a kid, it was common for wild animals to show up in town, and often on school playgrounds. I don’t think they would have canceled recess because somebody had seen a coyote wandering the neighborhood, because that happened all the time.

I do remember recess being canceled once because the teacher saw a cougar near the jungle gym, and a couple of times when the janitor saw a bear going through the garbage. And once because of a skunk.

One time I looked up from the couch and there was a bear looking atme through the living room window. Seems he had developed a taste for the tarpaper on our well house and didn’t stop coming around until he’d eaten every last bite.

Once we had a bull elk running around the Little League baseball field and once the groundskeeper discovered about a hundred prairie rattlesnakes denning beside the foundation of the high school concession stand. They canceled a Friday night football game on account of that discovery because, even in a state where nobody gets too riled up about a black bear going through the garbage at the grade school, almost everybody is afraid of rattlesnakes.

As I said, it’s all amatter of perspective.

• • •

Man, what’s going on with Gov. Jon Corzine? First he says in East Brunswick on Feb. 10 that the MOM railroad line won’t be going through Middlesex County after all, a statement that made South Brunswick politicians tingle with joy. Then, last week, he says that was all misinterpreted, since he had only been expressing his personal preference for a line calledMO (Monmouth-Ocean) instead of a commuter rail line called MOM (Monmouth Ocean-Middlesex). Lately, the guy can’t seem to tell what day it is, can he? Who’s the hardest-working person in Trenton these days? Well, that would be his spokesperson, Lilo Stainton, who seems to spend most of her time lately cleaning up after Corzine’s flubs.Whatever they’re paying her, it ain’t enough.

Gregory Bean is executive editor of Greater Media Newspapers. You can reach him at gbean@gmnews.com.