Man vs. Squirrel… Place Your Bets

Ground squirrel.

This photo of a ground squirrel is from Rocky Mountain National Park. NPS photo.

A popular TV show has confirmed that many adults are not smarter than a 5th grader, but surely humans are smarter than ground squirrels. The following tale from Glacier National Park offers a good test of that hypothesis.

Almost anyone who's spent much time in national parks has a story involving wild animals, and the cast of characters isn't limited to the larger critters such as bears, moose and elk. All creatures, great or small, have the potential to create some memorable situations, and a good example occurred when a man wanted to take a picture of a ground squirrel in Glacier National Park.

The animal had poked its head in and out of its den in the rocks but never fully emerged for a good shot. Many tourists in such situations unfortunately decide to use food to entice the animal into camera range, so this visitor does get bonus points for resisting that temptation…or maybe he was out of snacks.

Perhaps this gentleman was a fisherman, which would help explain his solution. In a classic case of "it seemed like a good idea at the time," the frustrated photographer tied his car keys to one end of a piece of string and dangled them in front of the den’s opening. If a lure works for fish, why wouldn't it for this animal?

Waving something bright and jangling in front of the family cat—or a one-year-old baby—may be a great way to get a cute photo at home, but this story took an unexpected turn in the wild.

The keys did achieve the desired result: They got the squirrel’s attention, but the man didn’t expect it to literally “take the bait,” so he didn’t have a good grip on his end of the line. The animal bolted from its den, snatched the keys, and just as quickly darted back underground, prize firmly in tow. All subsequent attempts to retrieve the keys were unsuccessful.

An extra set of keys for the man’s vehicle? Not available, of course. I can vouch from my time working at Glacier that it is many a mile from anyplace in that park to the nearest locksmith, so the cost of having a replacement set of keys made was undoubtedly an expensive proposition.

That brings us to a free investment tip: If you’re looking for a good business opportunity, see if there's a locksmith in the vicinity of any large park or other recreation area. There seems to be no limit to human ingenuity when it comes to finding ways to lose car keys in the Great Outdoors, but having them heisted by a ground squirrel ranks pretty high—or low—on the list.

If you're even tempted to try a similar stunt, I suggest you get a second opinion…from a 5th grader.

This story is adapted from the book Hey Ranger 2: More True Tales of Humor and Misadventure from the Great Outdoors © Jim Burnett and Taylor Trade Publishing, used by permission.