Wednesday, November 9, 2011


Says here in the paper they've got a boot camp for black-footed ferrets, and there isn't a day so fine that it can't be improved by news like that. I can see them now, all those ferrets lined up doing push-ups, like furry piano keys. The black-footed ferret is a carnivorous, tubular mammal of the American midwest, or at least it was. Now, after a brief period of extinction, it is a tubular mammal of a tiny den in Wyoming. After the discovery of that den, it was estimated that the total world population was 24, and concerned people immediately set about to improve the numbers. There was a sperm collection drive, which was probably good for their spirits, and the output was frozen for future use. Essentially, they collected iced ferret seeds to see if they would sprout. And they did. They're in the thousands now.

Murr, age nine, when there were still prairie dogs
The ferrets are sent to Black-footed Ferret Boot Camp to toughen up for reintroduction into the wild. Without training in obstacle courses, they are likely to sit and stare up at circling hawks while waiting for macerated prairie dog pellets to drop into their faces. The boot camp has been a successful operation, and hard to object to. But cattlemen do have a problem with it. Ecology and economy are intertwined. Ferrets eat, primarily, prairie dogs. In fact, 91% of the black-footed ferret's diet is prairie dog, rounded out with Prairie Dog Helper and parsley. And prairie dogs mess up pasture that cattlemen like to claim for their hamburger. So you'd think that the cattlemen would like to produce more ferrets, but you'd be wrong. See, they already mostly got rid of the prairie dogs--they poisoned them right up, which is why the ferrets that eat them got in so much trouble, and now that their status has improved from extinct to endangered, the ranchers are afraid some of their hamburger-growing land will get set aside for prairie dogs again, and they're right. That's just what will happen.

Leftovers. Why couldn't I sell the one in the middle?
What's out of balance is the cattle population, of course, but you're not likely to get someone to say that whose living depends on running cattle. I get that. Long ago, I made a meager living as a scrimshander. I engraved intricate art on elephant ivory and sold it in a local open-air market. I didn't feel too good about buying the elephant ivory, which was legal at the time, but in those days what was considered much worse was using whale ivory. This didn't stand up under scrutiny. Even then, although using whale teeth did make a dead whale infinitesimally more valuable than a live one, no whale was ever killed for its ivory. Whereas that's precisely what the elephants were being killed for. But whales were a big focus then, and folks wanted to save them. The proper thing to do was to use mastodon ivory, which was also more or less available, but harder to engrave. Mastodon  ivory would have been a more ethical choice, because they had already been extinkerated by people who were not, precisely, us.

There is a similarly dire number of Siberian tigers left in the world, their habitat reduced by human encroachment. I will here state without equivocation that a Siberian tiger is worth more than a human--I might even say a billion humans. Many will disagree, citing the sacredness of the  human soul, even though the human soul is not magnificent and stripey. I do not understand what in particular is so special about a human soul, which presumably outlasts its container, according to people up on that sort of thing, nor do I understand why the human soul is any less well off being sprung free by a pouncing tiger rather than a wasting disease. But I will not argue the point. To me, the worth of the tiger is only obvious, and those who disagree with me are not liable to agree with me on much else, either.

Murr, age 24, when there were still mailmen
There are those who would say it's all well and good for me to favor the Siberian tiger, since I'm not in any danger of being toothed by one, and that is true. Tigers don't go in for humans much anyway, but to state the same point more relevantly, I feel the same way about grizzly bears, and I haven't camped out in Glacier Park for the last time. And I do have a plan in mind should I be pounced upon by a grizzly bear. I plan to scream, wet my pants, make with a flurry of ineffective little fist-pummelings, and faint dead away just before I am julienned by a swipe of the bear's paw. I have no plans for my soul after that, but should it survive my personal extinction, I plan to haunt people with it who would go after the grizzly bear in my honor.

So I cheer the ferret sperm wranglers and hope someone has frozen some Siberian tiger jizz. Whoever is in charge of obtaining some of that is a hero. Also? Grossly underpaid.

As to my own earlier ethical dilemma, it was resolved when I quit making scrimshaw and signed on as a mailman. And now mailmen are nearly extinct, although I believe I can state it was not because of anything I've done.


  1. Are you sure about that? I'm seeing what appears to be money in your sock. Did you make people pay you for their mail? That could give post persons a bad name.

  2. You've certainly led an interesting life. Why not add the honorable job of milking tiger semen to your resume?

  3. That picture of you with money sticking out of your clothes is very intriguing. You have indeed lived an interesting life, Murr, and now you write this most excellent blog!

  4. Ferrets doing pushups like furry piano keys - I love that. Wonder how they train the little fellers to hunt? Retired lab rats in prairie dog coats? Commercially bred "feeder" prairie dogs?

    Can scrimshanders (wonderful word!) work in bone as well as in ivory? If so, you can have the bones from my chuck steaks and roasts.

    The problem with trading a human for a tiger - life for life, is that there are some humans I wouldn't trade for any other living creature, ideal or belief. My husband or a tiger? Snuff that kitty. Some starving beggar in New Dehli for a tiger? I vote for the tiger, but that starving beggar's wife might not. Humans are reluctant to sacrifice their own, particular personal beloveds for the good of any damn thing. Shoot the grizzly or let it disembowel your husband? That's what the question always comes down to. Send the kids to college, or turn over the north forty to a bunch of fucking little weasels? Some people need to think long and hard over that decision.

    Why do you have money sticking out of your clothes?

  5. What Roxie asked. The answer begs a new blog post.

    And what are you asking for that middle piece of scrimshaw? I might seriously be interested.

  6. I'm afraid that if Dick Cheney, Rick Santorum, George W., and John Boehner (for starters) all went grizzly bear hunting together, there's a real possibility I'd be rooting for the bear. I might even set up a nonprofit and pray for it's resounding success.

    (Did I say that out loud?)

    "So I cheer the ferret sperm wranglers and hope someone has frozen some Siberian tiger jizz. Whoever is in charge of obtaining some of that is a hero. Also? Grossly underpaid."

    That would be my guess. In any event I hope it's good for everyone involved. Now please excuse me while I clean coffee off my computer.

  7. What's out of balance is the cattle population, of course,

    Arguably the root problem is an invasive primate species of East African origin, but that's a whole other issue.

    So I cheer the ferret sperm wranglers and hope someone has frozen some Siberian tiger jizz.

    They need to be really careful not to get those mixed up, though. The last thing we need is giant hybrid Siberian ferrets running around Wyoming devouring people. Well, unless they confine themselves to Dick Cheney.

  8. I'm rooting for the Black-footed Ferret Clan of Wyoming, hoping there is Siberian tiger jizz in somebody significantly important's freezer, and buying tix to see the Grizzlies take on the Smarmy Teabaggers of America in the Survival of the Fittest Contest, also known as the "Soul or No Soul" Tourney. The Universe is telling me that best odds are on the Grizzlies.

  9. Mybaby and Djan, I'll admit the money picture looks a little suspicious now. But back then I had just come off a two-year stint in a lab making $5900/year, a period of unemployment, and a period of self-employment that was hard to distinguish from unemployment, and I thought I had struck oil.

    Roxie, you bet. The billion people I'd sacrifice for a tiger are all people I haven't personally met. Plus one or two I have.

    Infidel, I have a mental picture now of giant ferrets spitting out Dick Cheney. He still alive? (Why?)

  10. Regarding the middle scrimshaw: makes me think the saying should be changed to a face only a kitty could love. I love the way you nailed the kitty lean on the leg.

  11. I'm with you Brewster. Just about the least valuable thing on this planet at the moment is a human life, unless of course, it's mine. But I'm still with you. As I commented on Beach Bum's blog recently, it ain't war that's going to do humans in, it's fornication. A billion or two fewer people to leave room for the rest of God's creatures has a lot of merit, as well as survival of the species.

  12. Um. I was going to say something about that last photo, but -- maybe I'll just try to stay out of trouble instead.

  13. "Humans reluctant to sacrifice their own..." Hmmm,,,suicide bombers might give the lie to that.

    And the middle scrimshaw? It has an R.M. Nixon nose. Is it him?

    And if you're selling I might be in for the owl.

  14. Not just the Siberian tiger, but all tigers. Anywhere. Also whales. And polar bears. Much more valuable than the vast majority of oxygen thieves in human clothing.

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  16. "it ain't war that's going to do humans in, it's fornication" Somebody should tell the Duggars. They think God "gives" them all those children. Surely one of their teenagers can explain to them where babies really come from? Murr, please do everything you can to avoid being et by a b'ar. Replacing you would be harder than breaking in a new gynecologist.

  17. Better to break in a new gynecologist than have a new gynecologist break in.

    "Oxygen thieves--" as soon as I forget who said that, I'll steal it.

  18. We're the consarndest bunch of interfering messer uppers. The apposable thumb and forefinger thing was a big mistake. Not to mention not having a shutoff valve on the fornicator components. (Don't get me started on the Duggars, Linda.) Vive les ferrets, les Siberian Tigers and anything else that isn't us.

  19. Why just sperm? I'm missing something here. Whatever was done for ferrents can we do for sentient humans? They are rapidly becoming extinct.

  20. Come on. I'm living a sheltered life here. Don't make me go looking up "Duggars." I got as far as finding out the alpha male is named Jim Bob and I quit reading, because that is how I stay sane.

    lifeintheboomerlane, your better humans are not extinct, but living in a small den in Murrmurrs' comment section.

    Tiff! You have no idea how much I appreciate someone typing "consarndest."

  21. I may be odd but for some reason I had a picture in my mind of ferrets atop prairie dog, riding them like horses, and having a rodeo. Musta been somethin' I ate!!!! BURP!!

  22. Oh, yes, those little ferrets. They are so cute. I've come to know a few. And eat a few. Delightful snacks, if you can catch them.

    And after putting on the act you described, no Bear I know would want to have you julienned. Bear would laughing so hard, it would put you on a leash, as one would a pet monkey. Take you around to other Bears for the sheer humour of your antics.

  23. Came via Rob-bear's blog.
    This is a wonderful essay. Kills me to think that the prairie dogs have been wiped out. I hope the black-footed ferrets can survive. And as far as the worth of a tiger vs a human (or a billion humans), I vote for the tiger also, most definitely.
    The childhood photo of you with the prairie dogs is absolutely priceless.

  24. One of the best jobs I ever had was working on the education program for the SSP (species survival program) with Amur Tigers ("Siberian" is old hat, Murr). Humans are so arrogant and stupid that now that we've driven them close to extinction in the wild we have to help them come back in captivity but it rarely involves collecting jizz. The main focus was on making conditions as natural and conducive to mating as possible. The best part of this job involved spending several days every so often (during Molly's estrus cycle) hanging out at the outdoor big cat enclosure at the Lincoln Park Zoo ( a right fine space for them, under the circumstances) and taking notes on Molly's interactions with Vahzhno. They had an absolutely fascinating dance routine but she always, ultimately, said no. And with a lady Amur Tiger, no means no.

  25. Isn't that just typical: Man's always screwing up the balance of nature and then congratulating himself on "fixing the problem", which just creates another one. I mean, if it ain't busted...
    That's like down here in Patagonia. There were a lot of earwigs. Now I admit it's kind of an "eew" moment to pick up the door mat and find a bunch of crawly-assed earwigs under it, but, as far as I can tell, they're harmless enough.
    But somebody evidently got tired of his wife's badgering him about "doing something about the earwigs" and could think of nothing better to do than to bring in a few African yellowjackets to clean house. So in a few more years, earwigs were scarce as hen's teeth. But the yellowjackets, well, carnivores that they are, they ate just about every bug imaginable, vied for road kill with the vultures and buzzard hawks and attacked people's Sunday barbeque right on the grill, remaining, nevertheless, insatiable. They now number in the gazillians and their sting is so toxic that anyone with the slightest allergy to bee and hornets stings can die within minutes of being stung by one. And those who accidently get close to one of their nests and can resist succumbing to the stings of fifty or so of them are few and far between. The solution? So far there isn't one.
    Of greater immediate concern, however, is "Dissenter's" suggestion that Dick Cheney might be going hunting again. If so, and you're anywhere near, I suggest a steel helmet and flak jacket. Last time that SOB was out with a gun, he pulled down on a duck and shot one of the guys in his own hunting party. (After several surgeries, the guy forgave him, but with a mad dog like know, like you'd kind of always wonder if it was really an accident or if maybe you just said something that sounded too liberal).

  26. At long last I finally know why the cash my grandma used to send me for birthdays and Christmas never came...grandpa used to say never send cash by mail. Now I know why.
    Did you know the police are now using the interest social sites to catch law-breakers? Is there a time limit on this crime?

  27. You can't prove it, Shaatzie.

    Whoa! How cool is that! Amarkonmywall was actually involved in providing romantic conditions for tigers!

    Dan, there are so many examples of people bringing in some major pest to "take care of" some other native pest, but somehow the idea that yellow jackets would be a suitable alternative to earwigs--that really is a special kind of stupid.

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  29. Sorry 'bout deleting the previous post.....Any how....
    You lie! You were not 24 years old when that picture was taken. You were 13 and thought dressing like a mailman would be funny. No wonder you are still so pretty. That and having no kids.

  30. I think I had something very clever to comment but I'm laughing so hard, that fleeting moment of brilliance has flown. Where else can one be so entertained and informed at the same time?

    Question, what is a Duggar and who would want to mate with a Jim Bob? (Apologies to any Jim Bob who might read this, but you're going to have to change your name before I can take you seriously.)

    Stating the obvious on that 24 yr old Murr photo, what a BABE!