At Yellowstone, It’s Fluffy the Snuggle-Bud One, Coyotes Zero

This is not Fluffy. His name is Sid, and he couldn’t care less what you think.

I wish that Fluffy could talk. Maybe then we could find out how in the world she managed to do it.

A little article in the (Minneapolis-St. Paul) Star Tribune caught my eye this morning. That’s because the title included the word “cat.” Sandy and I are partial to cats, God help us, and we’ve lived in a cat-managed household for going on 45 years now. (Sid, the feline that currently manages our household, is going strong in his 19th year despite the fact that he is a bit gimpy, a tad hard of hearing, and down to his last eye.) I read lots of articles about cats, perhaps hoping that I’ll learn something that will help me break free.

Anyway, this particular article was about a cat who miraculously survived an ordeal in the Yellowstone National Park vicinity. It seems that this long-haired tabby named Fluffy went missing last August 1 while the Ayers family was trailer-camping at a campground near Horse Butte, which is near West Yellowstone and not far from the park’s west entrance. The Ayers had to return to Houston without her. Since the Yellowstone ecosystem includes a wealth of predators, they figured that Fluffy had met her fate. They thought that a coyote probably got her. Coyotes are hell on housecats.

Imagine the Ayers’ surprise and delight when they were contacted in mid-November, three and a half months later, and told that Fluffy had turned up at Horse Butte, unharmed and still wearing her harness, collar, and ID tag.

The people who spotted Fluffy and were eventually able to live-trap her figured that she had found a snug hidey-hole in a garage or something. It’s also logical to assume that she found food by hanging around houses and accepting the kindness of strangers (though she wouldn’t let anybody get near her).

But how on earth had she managed to dodge the coyotes, foxes, owls, hawks, eagles and bears? This is a cat that is judged to be the less intelligent of the two felines in her Houston household. This is a cat whose owners (whoops; I mean staff) describe her as a “snuggle-bud” who loves to be held like a baby. This is cat that is named “Fluffy,” for crying out loud! You would think that the highly competent wolf-dodging coyotes in the West Yellowstone area would be downright embarrassed to admit that this one got away.

Postscript: A very nice lady named Anne Kinney escorted Fluffy the Snuggle Bud on the flight to Houston. I will bet my last dime that the damn cat didn’t have a “thank you” thought in her head.

Comments

This story came out a week ago just after the Thanksgiving Day holiday. When I read it, it brought a big smile to my face - because I love cats - and it seemed ironic because I had a conversation about escaped domestic cats in Yellowstone on Thanksgiving Day.

We spent Thanksgiving with a friend, and one of the other guests was a former wildlife veterinarian of Yellowstone National Park. It turns out we are neighbors - though we were both 20 miles away for the dinner. Anyhow, I asked him a question that had been on my mind awhile. Could escaped domestic cats ever colonize Yellowstone and become part of the ecosystem like they had in so many other places? For instance, I told him in the town of Bowling Green, Ohio, where I was born, they for a time had a leash law on cats. When that happened, within a year, there was a rabbit epidemic in the city - there were rabbits everywhere. Cats are huge predators in many urban and other eastern ecosystems where other predators are missing.

Anyhow, he assured me that cats couldn't survive long in Yellowstone, though they did (and dogs too) indeed escape from homeowners on the edges of the park. Coyotes and other predators would get them; they would have trouble surviving the harsh conditions, especially in winter. He said there was no chance of this happening.

Then, I read this story. This cat ended up in Horse Butte, which has a lot of people living on it - and so it's a little more like the suburban/urban ecosystems. And, while I think the wildlife vet may still be right about a wild feral cat population in Yellowstone, it was funny that this story came out so soon after a discussion about it.

Jim Macdonald
The Magic of Yellowstone
Yellowstone Newspaper
Jim's Eclectic World

Thanks for filling out the story, Jim. I thought there might be another person out there who appreciates cats.

I live in ruarl farm land borderd by BLM on three sides. we have lots of feral cats, and lots of cyotes.

I've heard lots of similar comments, Eric, and I have a theory. (Well, at least an hypothesis.) Cats that live in coyote territory either wise up or get eaten. The ones that become coyote-wise (perhaps because of a close call) are thereafter very good at coyote evasion. I recall one veteran feline that I encountered while pheasant hunting on a farm near Gregory, South Dakota. This cat (according to the farmer) never spent a day of his life indoors and dealt with coyotes on a a daily basis. From a distance, I saw a coyote trot within about 50 yards of that cat and the two animals barely looked at each other. I assume they had simply gotten used to each other. Coyotes regularly visit our little neighborhood here in suburbia; one even curled up and went to sleep in the flower bed across the street from my driveway. Nevertheless, as far as we know, there have been no indoor/outdoor cats killed by coyotes in this vicinity. I guess that just goes to show you something or other.

I guess, Bob, that's why I'm in part not convinced that feral cats couldn't colonize Yellowstone, though there's no evidence that they have to date despite decades of visitors losing cats and people on the borderlands with cats. They strike me as very resourceful animals. And, perhaps, they haven't colonized because the food is better where there are people (I've read that's how cats and humans developed; cats chose humans because of the food source) - less so than the inability to survive super harsh winters and a lot of predators. Fluffy ends up at Horse Butte - not a bad place to end up, if you are a cat; on a peninsula with homeowners - why do you think the buffalo try to go there to calve in the spring? (it would be a safe place if it weren't for all the Department of Livestock agents).

I think feral cats could potentially colonize Yellowstone, but it's maybe unlikelier that cats would want to. However, I need to talk to my new friend more on this - I haven't spoken with him since this story broke.

Jim Macdonald
The Magic of Yellowstone
Yellowstone Newspaper
Jim's Eclectic World

I authored the original "Feral" article on Wikipedia: like others here, I have a slightly inordinate fascination with domesticated creatures reentering the wild.

My entry on Wikipedia has been somewhat overrun by political correctness and enviromentalisms, but the outlines of my intent & aim are still there. I'd say this topic remains drastically-undervalued intellectual real estate. There are things going on here that are likely important (and applicable to humans), but that the mainstream isn't picking up on (or assiduously ignores).

John McPhee, in his 1976 Alaskana-book "Coming Into the Country" called Dick Cook (icon of the east-Alaska Yukon river-rats), "feral", with a fillip of a qualifier such as 'fully' or some such. In his feral-sally, McPhee focused on Cook's tattered Sears longjohns, and his ability to camp in cold weather beneath a simple tree-rigged plastic tarp. It was a weak sally, but I think quite feral-intentional, and hopeful to prise open the subject further.

Of course, Dick Cook was not feral, and I doubt he would have claimed it. De-institutionalized, sure; rogue, perhaps. Still, the feral appellation is a prevalent meme in the popular culture, misused enthusiastically & unapologetically.

I grew up on the ancient Sol Duc riverside Indian clearings of Shuway, 5 miles north of Forks, on the Olympic Peninsula. My paternal grandparents had moved to the (Indian) prairies of Sequim in 1941 (then 300 dairy farms and a few hundred town-folks, now a well-known retiree-mecca), 75 miles away. We had cats on the Sol Duc, they had cats on the dairy farms. If they were raised to large-kitten stage without human interaction, these 'kittens' made "your weight in wildcats" seem downright effete.

Never have I once seen cats move away from human settlements and take up independent life in the brush, canyons or - esp. - the abundant ever shifting logging clearcuts, where for most of a decade the explosion of low & small growth, floral & faunal, would seemingly support them generously. Never.