Tag Archives: animals


I hereby interrupt the latest depressing, devastating news cycle for this sports break: Now this is my kind of March Madness . . .

Check out Skunk Bear’s 2016 tournament champ here.

One possible result in the Mighty Mini Mammals division of 2015's Mammal March Madness tournament. If the species that's seeded highest always wins its bracket, the fennec fox will beat out the rest of the division and advance to the final four.

Adam Cole/NPR


Everything feels like an elegy. I’ve heard, and felt, this sentiment often these past few weeks. When I think of the bears, sleeping in their dens, dreaming of spring lilies. When I walk down our road, and glimpse pheasants in the bare hedges, watch flickers puff out their spotted feathers between birch branches, pass the remains of a fallen buck, sharp ribs poking through his tattered hide. Even the river, winding along its icy banks, brings easy tears.

To be sure, recent events have rendered these feelings acute, aided too by the fact that winter is dying before spring’s first breath… but if I’m honest, I’ve always sort of felt this way about the world. Not to say I don’t feel equal measures of wonder and celebration, because I surely do, just not so prominently on this day.

Anyway, I haven’t written much poetry lately, but I just came across an old poem of mine about swift foxes that ran in High Desert Journal a decade ago, and it fit my mood. But see, there is even hope here. After years of endangerment, and considerable conservation efforts, their populations are now more stable, at least in portions of their historic range less threatened by habitat loss.
At least for now.

Swift Fox
Vulpes velox 

From knoll’s crest she watches
The prairie again, with those long
Egyptian eyes that slant just a little,
Just enough to fix nobility
In their unblinking grace.

Small as a cat and quiet too,
We call her swift, call her rare.
Vulpes velox,
A title with too many edges,
That matches only
Her forty-two pointed teeth,
And none of the softness
In her buff yellow fur, sweet
Between the bluestem,
Capped in an inky tail spot. 

On the ocean of the plains
She speeds beneath the shrieking
Night, tossing mice through the air
Like dull falling comets, breaking
Against pups’ mouths stretched wide. 

From the edge of a smooth-hole den
She is always listening
For the next howl, hungry coyote cousin,
Whose pups have bigger stomachs.
She can’t hear her prairie falling away
Beneath roads and cattle hooves,
But I think she knows
She isn’t fast enough.

— Kathleen Yale
* Published in High Desert Journal, Issue Number Three, Spring 2006

Photo by Gerald Romanchuck


Animals in Love

It’s Valentine’s Day again. I got something for you.

No kisses. No chocolates. No flowers this year. Just a few of my other favorite things: poetry, animal trivia, and science. Really, they make the best gifts.

Offering #1: A fabulous poem by Tony Hoagland.
Rose read it at our wedding because, on principle, I’m always in favor of squeezing talk of penguin vomit and peacock butts into a formal occasion.

Romantic Moment
By Tony Hoagland

After the nature documentary we walk down,
into the plaza of art galleries and high end clothing stores

where the mock orange is fragrant in the summer night
and the smooth adobe walls glow fleshlike in the dark.

It is just our second date, and we sit down on a rock,
holding hands, not looking at each other,

and if I were a bull penguin right now I would lean over
and vomit softly into the mouth of my beloved

and if I were a peacock I’d flex my gluteal muscles to
erect and spread the quills of my cinemax tail.

If she were a female walkingstick bug she might
insert her hypodermic proboscis delicately into my neck

and inject me with a rich hormonal sedative
before attaching her egg sac to my thoracic undercarriage,

and if I were a young chimpanzee I would break off a nearby tree limb
and smash all the windows in the plaza jewelry stores.

And if she was a Brazilian leopard frog she would wrap her impressive
tongue three times around my right thigh and

pummel me lightly against the surface of our pond
and I would know her feelings were sincere.

Instead we sit awhile in silence, until
she remarks that in the relative context of tortoises and iguanas,

human males seem to be actually rather expressive.
And I say that female crocodiles really don’t receive

enough credit for their gentleness.
Then she suggests that it is time for us to go

to get some ice cream cones and eat them.

Offering #2: A trifecta of Valentine-related scripts I wrote for SciShow this week. Here I bestow upon you the science of pheromones and love brain, and offer a gentle reminder that no matter how bad your dating scene might be, you are still 100 times better off than a poor lady bed bug.



An Ant’s Life

When  I was little, probably in second or third grade, my brothers and I would ride our bikes around and around and around our Madison city block, counting laps and presumably burning off summer energy. Being an ardent, near-obsessed animal lover even then, I would keep my eyes on the sidewalk and swerve around, trying to avoid the dusty caramel ant mounds that popped up in between the pavement cracks. At least one time I let my young sense of, what … guilt? obligation? melancholy? mortality? take over and I walked around the block, picking up the dead ants we’d accidentally run over. Being dramatic, the process wasn’t complete until I’d personally apologized to each tiny corpse, and then buried then in mass in the back garden. I am sure I even put flowers on their little grave.

File:Mier by Kieriebosblomme, Roodeplaat NR, a.jpg

Photo credit: JMK

When I hear other people talking about burning ants as kids, or shooting squirrels, or experimenting with their new-found god-like human powers in other violent ways, I think about little me and the ants. Maybe I was a weirdo, but at least I was a compassionate one. In the end, those ants kick-started my young grave-digging career — I laid many more cat- or road- or dog-killed animals  to rest with a violet or dandelion bouquet. It also started at least half of my actual career — studying and working to protect and conserve and understand various wild animals and their ecosystems.

Why I am wistfully talking about ants? Well, because I just watched yet another example of stellar, creative science storytelling — Stanford biologist Deborah M. Gordon’s animated explanation of how ant colonies work. Check it out:


Back in my kid days, we had Zoo Books, class field trips to local marshes, and a little zoo down the street I spend countless afternoons wandering. Today the depth and diversity of interesting, free science education mediums is dizzying, and I’m proud to be part of that community.

I want to believe if we take the time to notice things — if we understand them better — if we teach our children how incredible say, ants and their complex kingdoms are, maybe they won’t be temped to burn or squash or hunt them down for no reason. I’m not saying anyone needs to be burying dead bugs in the backyard, but it would awesome if everyone looked down more, forgave their watermelon-thieving ways, and at least tried to step more gently.

Photo credit: Rakesh K. Dogra