I've been thinking about my fifth-grade teacher, Mrs. Miskovitch, lately. She was a formidable woman with a soaring beehive hairdo and a suffocating bosom. She threw erasers at us if we spoke out of turn and read aloud a detailed account of the Donner Party's cannibalism. I spent 1977 in both terror and awe of this woman.
Mrs. Miskovitch is in my thoughts now because she instilled many valuable life lessons. For example, she told us never to put anything in our ears except our elbows. For a fifth grader, that concept required some contemplation. One of her other teachings was easier to grasp: She said to never feed wildlife.
Apparently, there's a batch of people in Telluride, Colorado, who weren't in Mrs. Miskovitch's class. Here's the problem: His name is Stickers, and he's been living at the Telluride Ski Resort for a number of years, but this season, he's receiving too much attention.
To see Stickers, visit YouTube and search for "Telluride porcupine." He stars in at least 13 films. You can also see a short cameo and a photo of him here. I've got to hand it to him: He knows how to work a crowd. When a group gathers, he waddles up to each person, stands on his hind legs, sniffs for food and keeps moving until he finds lunch. He's adorable for sure.
The Telluride Ski Patrol has posted signs in Sticker's neighborhood that read "Caution: leaping attack porcupine." To say he "attacks" falsely implies viciousness, but porcupines have poor eyesight. He can't seem to determine the difference between a finger and food, and a number of people have been bitten.
The problem, however, extends beyond a few bleeding fingers. He is voracious, and people feed him anything in their ski coat pockets. From gummy bears to chocolate, Sticker's appetite has strayed far from his natural diet and he's now habituated to humans. This is a dangerous combination for wildlife. Many mountain towns in Colorado are plagued with habituated bears (read my blog about Michael Phelps and bears for more information on the subject), but porcupines are a new twist on the familiar theme.
Around the holidays, Telluride Ski Patrol responded to multiple calls about Stickers. He was indiscriminately chomping through fingers and candy. And if we can't leave him alone, the Forest Service says that the Department of Wildlife will relocate Stickers to a place where he will have to fend for himself, assuming, of course, that he remembers how to be a nocturnal herbivore.
I learned later in life that Mrs. Miskovitch wasn't an expert on wildlife--she misinformed my class that hummingbirds never stop flapping their wings. But she usually got it right. I can still see her finger wagging menacingly. That unbitten finger wags at all of us: Don't feed Stickers. Don't feed the wildlife. If fifth graders can get it, we should, too.