The difference between the East and the West





"Official Email Advisory Regarding Wild Animal on Campus"


"On Wednesday February 13, 2008, a student was bitten in the leg by a raccoon in the Metzger Garage. The student was transported to the hospital and has been treated. Campus Police and Animal Control were unsuccessful in their attempts to capture the animal. 


Members of the campus community are urged to exercise every precaution. It is advisable to move away and not approach any wild animal on campus. Individuals are asked to contact Campus Police immediately if the animal is seen."


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"One wonderful aspect of campus life is sharing our space with wildlife. There are numerous vertebrate species that inhabit the campus lands. It is not uncommon to be treated to the sight of a mother gray fox taking her kits out for a midday hunting lesson, a coyote loping through the lower campus meadows, or a bobcat slinking through the tall grass. Some have even had the opportunity to catch a rare glimpse of the elusive mountain lion on campus (seeing a lion is not justification for alarm, but we still want to be called!). Raccoons, skunks and opossums are very common and are usually seen at night. Most of us are thrilled to experience the privilege of sharing this space with the wild inhabitants, and indeed many of us only have to gaze out of our office window or step outside of or offices to enjoy the antics of a stellar jay, or the serenity of a grazing deer."


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My first thought after reading the New Jersey Official Advisory was, "wow, the only wild animals I've ever seen on campus are squirrels and birds." My second thought was that the student wasn't bitten "in" the leg. The student was bitten "on" the leg. My third thought was that, if we exercised "every precaution," then everyone would leave school and not come back.

Having lived and experienced both coasts and the space in between, I've encountered a variety of wild animals in various situations, and they always run away from me if I try to approach them – which I don't recommend. This includes many animals much bigger than I. Raccoons, like most wild animals, will choose flight over fight if they are given a chance. Even raccoons with rabies won't display any outward symptoms of the viral disease, and won't seek you out to bite you. But they will bite you if they feel threatened and cornered. Many people, especially young, testosterone-laden men, are curious about furry little wild animals and approach them – as I often do. I suspect this was the case with the campus garage raccoon bite.

Personally I feel sorry for the raccoon. Like an escaped killer, he (or she) is being hunted while the bureaucrats do their best to instill fear and paranoia in the local population. I can only imagine the chaos that would ensue if one of those California campus wild animals, like a bobcat or coyote, were spotted on a New Jersey campus. If a mountain lion were spotted, I expect the National Guard would be called out.

I recall sitting in a meeting with about 30 people at that same New Jersey campus when someone screamed, "A bat!" Sure enough, high up on a drapery by the window was a bat. A lot of people panicked. I heard the word "rabies" mentioned frequently, and many people fled from the room. I was embarrassed by the behavior of my fellow humans, and if I had not rescued the bat, I'm sure that some idiot would have beaten it to death with a broom or textbook. It was a cool fall day, and I was wearing a sweater, which I removed. I approached the bat, gently put my sweater over it, pulled the bat off of the curtain, and carried it outside, where it flew away.

Perhaps it is my Midwestern, small farm town mentality that gives me a more rational and humane perspective on wild animals. Of course I have had my moments of being less than humane, like the time I caught a wild opossum and put it in my high school homeroom late one night. The next morning, at the start of class, someone noticed the opossum back in the corner. There was no panic - just curiosity. I wrapped my jacket around the opossum and carried it outside. No one called animal control or the police. In fact, I don't think we had Animal Control back then. Our animal control folks were called "farmers."

Personally I'd rather see a lot more wild animals and a lot fewer people. Animals did not cause trouble until people began invading their territory and persecuting them, much like we did with the Native Americans. I've never been cheated, lied to, or wronged by an animal. And as the saying goes, the more people I meet, the more I like my dog.