Or it may be that animals are merely facing a difficult period before they learn how to make the best use of the trappings of civilization. In Lives of Game Animals, Seton, for all his admiration of cougars, admitted feeling uneasy because one of them had discovered the Vancouver zoo. When in need of a good meal, the cougar came into town from the mountains and ate a deer. J. Frank Dobie, in The Voice of the Coyote, pieced together every creditable report he could glean about the cunning intelligence of coyotes and their uncanny skill in getting away from dogs. But even Dobie wrote a little coldly about a coyote that—reportedly—enticed dogs to chase it along a railroad track when a freight was approaching, and then jumped on a flatcar and rode away. Dobie should not have been so suspicious, RABBIT HUNT ENDS IN SHOCK, said a news story last winter from Faversham, England: "Eight beagles chasing a rabbit were electrocuted today when the rabbit led them across the third rail of an electrified rail line near here." The rabbit in this mechanized form of the old Brer Rabbit story got away. Clever, perhaps, but animals using human aids against their historic enemies for some reason seem less admirable animals.
Sir Charles Pigott Piers, in his classic Sport and Life in British Columbia
, opened up another disquieting prospect in the growing camaraderie of men and once-wild animals—the possibility of animals taking on human vices instead of human virtues. Sir Charles was governor of British Columbia when it was a favorite refuge of remittance men exiled from London, and in his opinion these remittance men—he called them "neer-do-weels"—taught the beasts bad habits, or at least set them a bad example. One of these famous neer-do-weels was kept by his family on a ranch on Vancouver Island, cared for by a devoted sister, who doled out only a little whisky to him each day. In her loneliness the sister raised a pet bear cub, an affectionate and docile animal that jumped on people's laps, hugged them, played with them and developed all sorts of endearing tricks.
"The neer-do-weel proved the serpent in this Eden," wrote Sir Charles, "for on the sly he taught the little Bear to relish a toddy of whiskey." Before long the bear was following the remittance man around, paying no attention to the sister, and eventually it got to be such a nuisance that it was returned to the woods.
Years passed. "The good woman passed on," wrote Sir Charles. The remittance man, freed of all restraint, gathered a group of other remittance men around him. "So it happened one Christmas when he and his friends were sitting around the fire with a large bowl of steaming toddy, a scratching was heard at the door, which, being opened, gave entrance in a flurry of snow to a fully grown black bear." Sir Charles's literary gifts did not include an ability to describe so complex a social situation. He merely wrote that when the befuddled men finally realized it was the old pet bear cub they made him welcome and gave him all the whisky he wanted, and soon all were singing and dancing together. But the bear tried to revert to the tricks of his cubhood, climbing on people's laps, hugging them in a friendly way and, in the process, breaking down the tables and chairs and spilling the whisky. Angry words were spoken, and the situation was beginning to get ugly, when the bear, having lapped up the liquor on the floor, grew "so groggy on his legs," as Sir Charles recounted it, "he could hardly stand. Besides, he was getting sleepy." However little they knew about bears, the neer-do-weels knew what to do with anyone in this state: each grabbed a leg, and they hauled the bear across the snow to the guest house and put him to bed. Sir Charles does not say what happened in the morning, except that the bear woke up with a terrific headache and, after looking unhappily through the lace curtains for a while, headed for the woods and never came back again.
The point is that there may be two sides to the friendly feeling that is growing between man and other species. Reflect on this terse communication in the letters column of a major London paper, which ran under the headline FOX HUNTS MAN:
"Sir,—During the severe weather it has been reported that foxes have been hunting in packs, and have actually chased two small boys. We eagerly await news that one of these packs has been organized to hunt a man in a pink coat. We shall then be able to hear from his own mouth (if he survives) what an enjoyable experience it was."
There may indeed be hazards in fraternizing with suspiciously friendly wild animals, especially if they have had contact with certain types of people.