Opinion » Bill Cope

Stocking Stuffers ...

That wiggle and squirm and may be hungry


I forgot your birthday. Sorry. And I'm not your boyfriend, so I didn't do anything for you on Valentine's Day. And you're not my mom, so you didn't get anything from me in May, either.

But I do have some holiday gifts for you. And I apologize for not having them ready by the big day. But understand, these are last-minute fill-ins because what I really wanted to get you didn't get here in time. See, I was counting on Fitzgerald to drop some new indictments by now, and I've been working on a gift of music I call "Federal Prison Blues," to be sung to the tune of Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues." You were supposed to get a big kick out of the mental image of Karl Rove in an orange jump suit and a guitar in his lap, singing it to his cellmate--a Mike Tyson-looking fellow, only with more tattoos.

Trouble is, whatever Fitzgerald is up to, he's taking his sweet time getting up to it. So I had to go looking for something else. What I've came up with--close your eyes and hold out your hand--are four creatures no one knew existed until just recently. Yup, I'm giving you animals! Surprise!

I got the idea when I remembered how I used to take my daughter to the zoo whenever I wanted to do something really special for her. But I'll be the first to acknowledge that these presents aren't for everyone. Let's face it, there are people who look at wildlife and see something indescribably precious, something worth more than all the other treasures of Earth combined, and then there are people who look at wildlife and see something to shoot. Or turn into salami. Or stuff. Or make a coat out of. Or just to get the hell out of the way.

If you're one of the former, enjoy. But if you're one of the latter, why don't you go back to your bowl game and skip me this week. Take my word for it, you wouldn't get it, anyway.

Borneo To Be Wild--In the past decade, 362 species have been discovered on the planet's third largest island, Borneo. Of these newcomers to the Life On Earth list, 361 are either bugs, snakes, frogs, fish, lizards, crabs or plants--nothing all that different than what you might find at Zamzows.

But Number 362, caught on camera as it foraged through the rain forest at night, is a cryptozoologist's dream come true: a new carnivorous mammal. We humans seem to have a warm spot in our hearts for mammals--largely because we are one, I suspect--and we are particularly excited by predators. Don't ask me why. Possibly it's because, no matter how sheepish and bovine we are in reality, we all secretly envy the meat eaters. Like, "Dude, if I just had some four-inch fangs and razor-sharp claws, I'd have to fight the babes off!"

All I can tell you for sure is that there will never be a musical on Broadway called The Hamster King.

At any rate, this new Borneo beast is said to look like a cross between a fox and a cat, with small ears, large hind legs, reddish fur and a sinuous tail long enough to lasso orangutans with. To my knowledge, it hasn't been given a name yet, but somebody ought to get on that right away. Borneo's wild forests have been disappearing at a pace of 1,500 square kilometers a year. If that keeps up, it might not be long before the name is the only thing we have left of this critter.

Lady of the Lake-- For centuries, the Vietnamese have told the legend of Le Loi, a warrior king who, with the aid of a magical sword, repelled invading Chinese. When the battle was over, the myth says a giant turtle took the sword from Le Loi and carried it to the bottom of Ho Hoan Kiem--Vietnamese for "Lake of the Returned Sword."

Funny thing is, in 1998 film was taken of a large turtle on the surface of Ho Hoan Kiem, which is situated in the center of modern Hanoi, a city of over four million people. As so often happens when lots of people are near, the lake is now a polluted, sumpy mess. Yet because of that film and other photographic evidence, researchers are now certain there is a small population of unknown terrapins that live only in Ho Hoan Kiem, the terrapins grow to the size of six and one-half feet and weigh in at 400 pounds.

How could such a large animal have remained undiscovered for so long, especially in a heavily-populated urban environment? No one can say for certain, but it's presumed the turtles can stay underwater almost indefinitely. Or maybe it's just because the citizens of Hanoi spent too many years watching the skies for American B-52s to notice what might be swimming at their feet.

Knocker on Wood--This one you probably heard about. Recently, hopeful ornithologists found in the swamps of Arkansas an ivory-billed woodpecker, thought to have been extinct since the '40s due to Borneo-like deforestation in the southeastern United States. It's a grand bird, with a three-foot wingspan and brilliant red crown. If you ask me, it has an Egyptian thing going on ... maybe what Anubis would have looked like had he chosen to be a bird-headed god instead of a jackal-headed god.

Welcome back, ivory-billed woodpecker. We'll try to treat you better this time.

Fit for a Japanese Horror Flick--And this is my favorite. It's a big-ass scorpion. Five-foot long, three-foot wide ... big-ass scorpion. Hibbertopterus is its name, and scientists have actually known about it for some time. But they always believed it was strictly a water dweller, and that it couldn't come crawling out on shore to chase down smooching teenagers and eat them.

Now the scientists know differently. Tracks of the beast, recently discovered in Scotland, prove hibbertopterus could leave the water and walk on land for however brief a time. This means smooching teenagers had better watch out. Especially if they lived in Scotland over 250 million years ago--which is when paleontologists claim hibbertopterus went extinct.

But remember what they said about the ivory-billed woodpecker?

Personally, I'd like to think there is still a bunch of big-ass hibbertopteri down there at the bottom of the ocean where we haven't looked for them yet, getting hungrier and hungrier, creeping their way up the continental shelf to Southern California. Better yet ... Mississippi.

OK, that's it. Hope you got what you wanted because these things didn't come with receipts. I hate to tell you what to do with your own gifts, but my advice is "look but don't touch"--except for the hibbertopterus. If you run into one, pet away. But the others have already had about all the hand of man they can take.