Wild Things

The emus, pythons and yes, bison, next door usually aren't a problem - until they make a break for it.

April 28, 2005|By Abigail Tucker | Abigail Tucker,SUN STAFF

When Bob Anderson saw the footage of balletic bison leaping tennis nets in Pikesville, he rejoiced that the beasts didn't jump the city line.

"Thank God it wasn't me," the director of the Baltimore City Bureau of Animal Control said. "They were calling me, saying, `The buffalo are in the city.' I said, `No, no, check the county!'

"But it could happen in the city," he said.

Indeed, the nine bison that escaped from a Greenspring Valley Road farm Tuesday to trample the Baltimore suburbs are barely worth a batted eyelash, or so it seems when animal control officers and others enumerate the exotic escapees they have encountered of late:

A 3 1/2 -foot baby alligator that snapped up a young boy's fishing bait in Prince George's County. A boa constrictor squirming in a Howard County landfill. A caged baby Burmese python left in a bike path, also in Howard County. Iguanas at the Cockeysville Food Lion and in a Catonsville garden. A large aquatic turtle in Eastern Avenue traffic. A blue and gold macaw that flew its Lisbon coop. A trio of Muscovy ducks that just two weeks ago menaced a small girl in Anne Arundel County.

This was rarely a problem before, Anderson said.

He blames the growing number of strange runaways in the city and its suburbs on the public's increasing interest in exotic pets and livestock, easily available through breeders who advertise on the Internet.

There's no way to say how many are living in Maryland, but local animal control units and shelters log dozens of bizarre, and occasionally heroic, captures each year.

To be sure, Tuesday's herd of horned absconders was a special case, because of sheer numbers. But "we've caught some buffalo in the past," said Nicky Ratliff, executive director of Carroll County's Humane Society and Animal Control Office, who added that several landowners in the area, like the Pikesville farmer, raise bison for meat.

Ratliff said she prefers a whole stampede of bison to other fancy livestock her staff has had to chase.

"The emus, the ostriches," she said. "Especially the ostriches. They can kill you in a minute. An 8-foot chicken is big. Even an emu can eviscerate you."

It's hard to say how many loosed monitor lizards and marauding emus made a break for it on their own. Many are likely dumped by their owners, according to Holli Friedland, the adoptions coordinator of MARS Reptile and Amphibian Rescue, a Baltimore County group that saves scaly strays. Some people will go to great lengths for their unusual animals, she said, but for many the limit seems to be "2, 2 1/2 feet." Once a reptile gets that big, owners feel intimidated, she said.

Not all cases can be blamed on careless or cowardly masters. Tiny tropical monkeys have a knack for tearing their way out of screened-in porches, said Sewell Price, assistant supervisor for the Baltimore County Animal Control Division, who has scooped up primates in unlikely suburban locales.

Then there are evictions, when pet and person are kicked out together. In March, Friedland salvaged several tropical frogs and a legless lizard from a Baltimore City eviction, where cages had been put out to the curb by a fed-up landlord. Another lizard -- albeit a legged one -- eluded animal control officers, never to be heard from again.

Needless to say, these vanishings can end in tragedy. Two years ago, a wallaby -- a kind of tiny kangaroo -- was struck by a car on Interstate 70 in Mount Airy, Ratliff said. And in the early 1990s, a hybrid wolf-dog that had fled its Carroll County pen killed a number of local pets before officers shot and killed it.

People get hurt, too. Recently a Baltimore County animal control officer was badly scratched in the course of an emu capture, Price said, and on Tuesday a bison decked one of the county police officers, who fended off further injury only by using a chaise longue as a shield. Not long ago, a black throat monitor lizard inadvertently held a Baltimore County man hostage: The foot-and-a-half-long amphibian took refuge beneath his Toyota in an apartment complex parking lot, and, realizing this, the man elected to shut himself in his car.

In some cases, imaginations rather than animals run wild.

"We get a lot of calls for black panthers and bears," Price said. "Most of the time the panther is a black Labrador retriever. Mostly the bear is a black Newfoundland dog."

But in recent years, jaguars living in doghouses, lions in barnyards and 4-foot alligators floating in bathtubs (and being used to guard drug stashes) have been recovered from residences in the area, so there's really no telling what else lurks locally. Ratliff recalls a photograph of a strange animal that had been taken in the woods of Carroll County, that the photographers had puzzled over for months before showing her.

"I knew what it was in a nanosecond," she said. "It was an orangutan. Who knows where it came from? Who can say where it went?"

Not to the Inner Harbor, Anderson is no doubt hoping, although seven years with the city's animal control department has made a cynic of him.

"Nothing surprises me anymore," he said.

"I shouldn't have said that," he said a minute later. "One of these days something's going to put the fear of ... Oh, can you hold on a second? The hotline's ringing."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.