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  • October 26th, 2019

ALIENS AMONG US

By Joel M. Vance

 

I wouldn’t say that my home state of Missouri is the second coming of Jurassic Park, but we do have our moments. It seems that every decade or so some alien creature surfaces in the news. Some critter that may belong somewhere else, but definitely not in the state of Missouri.

 

In 1972, Louisiana, Missouri, (not the state of Louisiana, but the town) was the site of a spate of reports of a creature that became known as Momo. Momo was described as being about the approximate size of an NBA center (7 feet), covered with fur and topped by a large head like a pumpkin— fitting perhaps, in this, the Halloween season.

 

Momo also apparently was in serious need of powerful deodorant. There were a number of sightings of this weird primate up and down the Mississippi River corridor before it vanished into legend. One Lawrence Curtis, identified as director of the Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden, examined tracks of the critter and said it was an unknown primate.

 

One immediately thinks of Bigfoot from the Northwest United States, and the yeti of the Himalaya Mountains. Missourians, routinely, do not think of anything that size that doesn’t anchor the offensive of line of the Missouri Tiger football team.

 

No one knows if Momo was a native born citizen, perhaps on vacation from the coastal forests of the Northwest states, or an undocumented alien from Nepal or Tibet. Whatever, he—it— vanished from intermittent sightings and hasn’t been seen as far as I know for about 50 years.

 

Missouri seems to be a nexus for visits from creatures that are not supposed to occur in the state. Once, bears and mountain lions were among those mammals thought to be long extirpated from the Show Me state, but an influx of black bears, probably spillover from stocked bears in Arkansas, and fairly recent sightings and traffic fatalities involving male mountain lions indicate that we can’t count them as creatures only existing in history books.

 

Far more common are sightings of creatures from other states, but not ones routinely populating us. Once, when I was the sports editor at the Mexico Missouri Ledger, someone reported running over a porcupine in Monroe County, the next one North of us. The porky was at least 500 miles from where you expect to find him, alive or dead, and one theory was that he had hitched a ride on a log truck which, for reasons never explained, had come a long way south perhaps from Minnesota.  Another time a lone timber wolf migrated hundreds of miles into North Missouri from its origin in Wisconsin.

 

But such anomalous excursions are rare, but not unknown. Randy male animals, seeking love are known to travel long distances in search of romance, often far from their native habitat. That probably explains what occasioned the marathon trek of The Missouri Kid.

 

When I was working at the Missouri Conservation Department, there was a continuing saga of a bull moose which appeared first in Iowa, following a southward course completely through that state into North Missouri and ultimately as far south as the Missouri River where it vanished—the theory being that someone armed with a high caliber rifle had reduced what writer Bil Gilbert in Sports Illustrated magazine dubbed “the Missouri Kid” to freezer meat. Unlike Momo who appeared only sporadically and briefly, the Kid was seen by countless people along his extensive odyssey and, when he vanished, was mourned by all (except, presumably by whoever bagged him, and by many conservation agents who, to this day, would like to know the identity of the moose assassin.

 

Conservation agents were similarly baffled many years ago when a farmer in Osage County, on opening day of deer season, shot what he thought was the world’s largest trophy buck, only to find that it was an elk. It was an honest mistake and he wasn’t ticketed but the major mystery was the origin of the animal (elk historically were native to Missouri and actually have been reintroduced in the Ozarks, but at that time they were absent from the state). The elk had been tagged in Yellowstone National Park, so its origin was known, but not how it made its way 1000 miles cross country to die along the Missouri River.

 

There is a suspicion that just perhaps the animal had been a resident in a St. Louis Park, appropriately named Lone Elk Park, and had made a break for it, migrating along the Missouri as far West as the farmer’s barn lot in Osage County. How it came from Yellowstone to St. Louis is the original mystery and one theory is that it was elknapped, a wildlife violation of major magnitude, but as cold cases go that one is positively Arctic.

 

Another elk once went AWOL from a location in southern Iowa and traveled south into Missouri where apprehensive agricultural officials insisted that the animal be tranquilized and tested for brucellosis. The results were negative, but the animal overdosed on tranquilizer and died. It had been consorting with area cattle who possibly held some sort of bovine memorial service, like refugees from a Gary Larson Far Side cartoon.

 

So far there have been no violent encounters between these alien wildlife creatures and Missouri mankind, although I know of an instance where a biologist with the Conservation Department was attacked by a captive buck deer when he entered a fenced in enclosure which the animal, inflamed by rut, considered its own.

 

The beleaguered biologist grabbed the antlers of the buck and held on for as the cliché says “dear life” he also shouted for help and several wildlife workers pinned the animal down some 20 feet or more from the fence…. and safety.

 

As they held on to the struggling animal, one logically asked “So, what do we do now?” They decided that they would, on the count of three all let go and run like hell.  “One! Two! Go!” Collectively they eclipsed the world record for the 20 yard dash and chain-link fence hurdle. Only to find, when they reached safety, they were one person short. One, apparently had  gotten tangled in the antlers.  So they all clambered back into the pen and did another deer takedown. “Okay, pay attention! One! Two! Go!” This time, they made it barely ahead of one seriously angry and disappointed buck deer.

 

Perhaps it is a function of climate change, but for whatever reason when there are several warm years successively Missouri sees an invasion of southwestern wildlife species and, if global warming continues, this trend undoubtedly will intensify. Armadillos, road runners, and scissor tailed flycatchers are the most common immigrants from Oklahoma and points southwest. I’m waiting for the first report of the chupacabra, a mythical Mexican wolflike critter, but perhaps Donald Trump’s so far mythical wall will keep it south of the border.

 

If politicians are so dead set on deporting undocumented aliens, they could start with some that have been around for a couple hundred years. I don’t mean your great grandma and grandpa, I mean ones that have four legs or, in some cases, two legs and a couple of wings. But any attempt to rid the country of some of those undocumented aliens would run into heavy opposition from, for example, ringneck pheasant hunters. Attempts to introduce pheasants into the United States date to the time of George Washington.

 

Certainly we all are the legacy of undocumented immigrants. Way back when, some Vances came over from Ireland and Scotland and settled in the New World. None of them had documents attesting to their legitimacy or their qualifications for entrance into what would become the United States of America. Not only that, but the Vances were themselves immigrants, probably undocumented, from France before they became Irish and Scot. God only knows what they were before that but almost certainly they were without papers and any documentation might well been carved on a wall in a Neolithic cave.

 

Of all the alien critters to have chosen Missouri as new settlement territory, none was as intimidating, not to mention terrifying as what happened in Springfield in August , 1953. Momo was a maybe threat; the Springfield incident was real and potentially lethal. Here’s what happened:

 

A teenager named Carl Barnett bought an exotic fish in a Springfield pet store, but the fish died and Barnett wanted to be compensated. The store owner refused and Barnett, on his way home, noticed a crate and opened the lid. Instead of harmless snakes, the crate contained a dozen cobras, a deadly venomous reptile that you don’t want loose in your home city.

 

Barnett kept the secret of his not so harmless prank for 35 years before fessing up. The first of the liberated snakes appeared in a homeowner’s yard on August 15. The homeowner killed it with, of all things, a garden hoe. Another snake appeared across the street from that homeowner and also encountered deadly force. By now, the garden hoe was becoming a weapon of choice in the great snake confrontation. Hoes did in the third and fifth snakes, while the fourth succumbed to someone running over it until it was no longer a threat. The pet store owner captured the sixth snake but the seventh was more of a problem— it was thought to have slithered beneath someone’s house.

 

By now the city was all a-dither. It was time for the cops to get involved.  They first tried to lasso the errant reptile and, when that didn’t work, they tossed a tear gas grenade beneath the house which flushed the snake out, whereupon the cops shot it five times, failing to kill it— but they used the ultimate weapon to dispatch the snake. A garden hoe.

 

Ultimately 10 cobras suffered an untimely death, most to garden tools, but the 11th finally was captured alive October 25 and taken to Dickerson Park Zoo where it became a featured attraction. News stories vary, some say 11 snakes died, one captured, others ten snakes defunct. However, even if one survived the great escape, it takes two to tango, reproductively speaking, and it has been almost 70 years since anyone has encountered a cobra in Springfield and folks there have retired their hoes to weeding garden produce rather than as big game hunting weapons.

 

These days, Missourians live with their indigenous venomous reptiles— rattlesnakes, cottonmouth moccasins, and copperheads, and so far the Show Me State is free from invading alien snakes.  Florida trappers have captured a record-setting python, an alien species, in the Big Cypress National Preserve west of Miami. The huge snake measured 18’4” and weighed almost 100 pounds. Even at that, it was only the second largest non native python ever caught in the wild in Florida. The Associated Press commented, “The Fish and Wildlife Commission said hunting female Burmese pythons is critical because they add 30 to 60 hatchlings each time they breed.”

 

As of now, climate change a.k.a. “global warming” has not encouraged pythons to migrate as far north as Missouri—or at least, no one has reported encountering 18 foot long snakes in the Missouri wild.

 

Yet….

 

 

 

 

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