The Displaced Nation

A home for international creatives

DISPLACED Q’s: In your global travels, which close encounter of the animal kind was the least welcome?

In yesterday’s article My first flirtation with the lawlessness of global travel: 4 painful lessons, our guest blogger Lara Sterling recalls the toe-curling time in Guatemala when she was attacked by a couple of dogs and had to spend a week in hospital queues, waiting for rabies shots to her stomach. It doesn’t bear thinking about. Most of us cringe at the prospect of a trip to the dentist.

Rabies isn’t something you consider where I come from; if you’re bitten by a dog in the UK, in today’s litigious society you’ll probably phone your lawyer rather than your local hospital.

Neither is rabies foremost in your mind if you have bats roosting in your attic – you’re more likely wondering how to evict them without breaching wildlife protection laws, since bats are a protected species in many parts of the world. But around 1% of bats carry rabies, as a friend in the US discovered when she woke up to find a bat flying around her bedroom and had to undergo a course of rabies shots, just to be on the safe side.

This was my first inkling that Connecticut wildlife might consist of more than, say, a few sparrows on the bird table.

Disney cartoons – the best place for rodents

While I haven’t had bats for roommates, I’m now used to seeing certain animals in my American back yard that I’d previously only seen in Bambi or Chip n Dale. Visitors from the UK exclaim over the proliferation of gray squirrels, but I’ve adopted the jaded attitude of a Connecticut native: squirrels are just rats with good PR. If you’ve ever had one fall down the chimney into your basement, where it runs amok and tries to eat the wall insulation, you’ll know what I mean.

Other wildlife guests in our back yard party have included deer, Canada geese, snapper turtles, wild turkeys, raccoons, and, while we were waiting for the school bus one morning, a fisher cat – a member of the weasel family that has been known to attack humans. This one, however, simply gave us a very superior look and shuffled off into the woods, never to appear again. I wish I could say the same for the local mice, who seem to think they have winter squatting rights in the attic.

The skunk in Bambi might be very cute, but until you’ve smelled this animal’s musk, you can’t imagine how foul it is; the odor carries up to a mile, apparently. I’ve never seen a live skunk, although I’ve driven past plenty of roadkill. The operative word there is ‘past’ — you don’t want to drive over a recently killed skunk.

A squirmy moment came one summer when we found a three-foot-long snake in the garage. Fortunately, it was a Black Racer, and therefore not venomous – although it easily could have been. About two miles away is a preservation area affectionately known as Rattlesnake Run. Local police logs in the newspaper often carry reports of callouts to houses because of a rattlesnake sunning itself on someone’s porch.

“Old MacDonald had a…”  Mum, what’s that thing called again?

The flip side of living in what is essentially a forest is that we don’t see many ‘normal’ animals. During our trip to the UK, relatives were amazed when our young children weren’t sure what the white woolly animals in fields were. They’d heard of sheep and seen pictures and Fisher Price plastic sheep…but never sheep in the flesh, as it were. Yet on the same visit, while Auntie was cooing over a stripy squirrel-like thing in a cage and wondering what it was, the kids scoffed. “Chipmunks? They’re all over the place at home. Mum can’t stand them, they dig holes everywhere.”

But definitely the most interesting encounter was when our five-year-old came in the house after playing outside, and told me that there was a dog in the yard. Wondering if our neighbor’s dog had decided to make a break for freedom, I looked out of the window. It was a dog all right, but not one you want your five-year-old to play with. While coyotes rarely attack humans, I’d seen too many episodes of Road Runner to take a chance with the statistics.

Waiting for the Big One

And finally – a few months ago, in the street where we go trick-or-treating at Halloween, police cars swarmed. A black bear had been sighted. Now, every time I’m in the kitchen and looking out at the maples and pine trees behind our house, I look a little farther into the woods, wondering what else is out there.

It can only be a matter of time.

So, tell us: Which wildlife encounter of your own would you rather not have experienced?

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12 responses to “DISPLACED Q’s: In your global travels, which close encounter of the animal kind was the least welcome?

  1. larasterling May 17, 2011 at 4:15 pm

    Oh, I have a really great story! My husband and I were in Tanzania, staying in a large hotel. The staff told us to keep the sliding-glass door in our room shut, but as you’ve already seen, we don’t always follow the rules; it was terribly hot, so we didn’t close the door. In the morning, we were laying together under the mosquito netting on the bed. Suddenly, my husband screamed, “Get out! Get out!” I heard grunts and groans and saw some black hair. There were three baboons in our room! We were trapped under the netting. I thought we would be mauled.

    But the baboons weren’t interested in us — but in our luggage. They grabbed plastic bags that contained precious toiletries and began to drag them out. My husband threw a towel at one, and the baboons retreated, luckily leaving our bags. I got up and closed the door. We breathed a sigh of relief until….

    I saw a little black hand with a distinctly opposable thumb sliding open the door again. The baboons were again dragging out our bags. This time, they got the bags out of our room and down onto the grass.

    Again my husband threw towels and made noise. The baboons were quite tame, but the sight of my 6-2 husband standing upright must have scared them off.

    This time I locked the door!

    I guess we had it coming, but it was terrifying nonetheless. Definitely another lesson learned.


    • Kate Allison May 19, 2011 at 10:01 am

      Another near-catastrophe story from you! You seem a dangerous woman to know 🙂

      I guess the baboons could always get jobs as airport baggage handlers.

  2. ML Awanohara May 17, 2011 at 6:07 pm

    Since I tend to stick to cities, most of my close encounters have been with rats (America wins: DC & NYC) and cockroaches (unbelievable ones in Manila). And don’t get me started on mosquitoes. They were my constant enemy during summers in Tokyo. Is foreign blood sweeter? That’s what some of my Japanese colleagues theorized. In the event, I considered taking out stock in Tiger Balm…

    I also lived for several years in the UK, where I had to deal with birds flying into the house because of the lack of screens, making me feel as though I were in a Hitchcock horror film.

    Now that I’ve repatriated to the U.S., the only time I come across larger four-legged creatures is during summers spent in New Hampshire. I know the natives don’t agree, but I especially enjoy spotting moose, who are so ugly they’re cute!

    • Kate Allison May 19, 2011 at 10:06 am

      Screens on windows – absolutely one of the best things about America. Not just because of birds, but gnats and moths. As air conditioning is virtually unheard of in UK houses, everyone leaves windows open instead, so I don’t know why screens haven’t been adopted.

  3. amblerangel May 17, 2011 at 7:08 pm

    One time my husband and I were lying in bed watching tv and a bat flew from the hallway in to the bedroom. In slow motion. The cat and I dove under the covers and let Spouse manage the details. How and why it came in from the hallway is anybody’s guess.

    Another time, very early in the morning, our house was filled with eu de skunk. Sure it came from the basement, I scoured but found no skunk. About twice a day, our house was filled with skunk spray. Traps were set by exterminators but after two weeks, nary a skunk was caught. By now, we had no friends left as we all smelled like skunk. Then my son happened to look out the basement bathroom window while using the facilities and noticed four dead paws pointed skyward.

    Two male skunks had gotten in a fight and fallen in the window well of our basement window. One eventually killed the other. The remaining one tried to dig his way out. They fought and sprayed each other for two weeks.

    That’s my stinky story.

    • Kate Allison May 19, 2011 at 10:14 am

      I’m not sure which was worse! The skunk story, I think – the smell lingers horribly. Bathing in tomato juice is supposed to help rid the skin of the odor, although I daresay it’s not very good as a laundry additive…

  4. Spinster May 17, 2011 at 7:49 pm

    Big ass roaches. In any country. Add wings to it and color me screaming bloody murder. 😐

    • Kate Allison May 19, 2011 at 10:19 am

      I hear you, Spinster, I hear you. I once worked in an old hospital that used to be a Victorian workhouse, and roaches roamed the admin block at night. One of the night nurses used to collect them to feed her pet tarantula.

  5. Corine Gantz May 18, 2011 at 12:32 am

    I practically pried my cat out of the jaws of a coyote (he survived two punctured lungs), my kid was attacked by a rattlesnake (he was wearing pants thank God) and I periodically go out at night with a flashlight to kill black widows when I have spotted their very recognizable webs during the day. Ah the joys of Southern California! Back in Paris, my idea of wildlife was to spot a bunch of pigeons on a park bench.

    • Kate Allison May 19, 2011 at 10:27 am

      Pigeons might have their own set of disadvantages, as anyone who’s been to Paris or Trafalgar Square knows, but they do make very tasty pies and casseroles. More than I can say for the So Cal wildlife.

  6. Sezin Koehler May 31, 2011 at 5:38 am

    How funny! A few months ago I started a “Zuzu Irwin” series on my blog about my various encounters with animals through the course of my constantly displaced life. I’ll be posting a new one about snakes this week so I’ll be sure to come back and post the link for you all. 🙂

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