Monday, January 14, 2008

Wildlife

Editor's Note: today's post is a deviation from the normal routine in that the suggestion is mine.

Each day as I arrive at the office, the first thing I encounter upon exiting my vehicle is goose crap. After hopscotching my way across the sidewalk in an effort to avoid avian fecal material, I next encounter food dishes for the "feral" cats that live on the campus. Once inside the building, it is not uncommon to encounter rodent traps here and there and to occasionally have the candy bowl removed from the common area due to evidence that the rodents had accessed the M&M's (to say nothing of the people who fail to wash after using the restroom).

Normally this is all I have to deal with in the way of wildlife, but last week I was in a meeting with a colleague when Mickey Mouse himself poked his beady little eyes out from under my colleague's bag, ostensibly looking for a snack while we were busy talking about forecasting (I do not recall whether the forecast was financial or meteorological in nature). Are we running a corporate petting zoo or a Fortune XX company here?



Before I delve into the solution to this zoological conundrum, let me first provide a little background information. Like many huge companies, we chose to build several of our campuses where once there were farms. This reclaimed farmland was then developed and buildings added as needed, with substantial open space left as parks and ball fields, at least until Huge Company decides it needs additional cubicles (but since the campus where I work is not in Asia, this need for additional cubicles is unlikely to occur until the value of the Dollar is overtaken by the Peso).

Of course, every farmer knows that with farms come mice. And when there is no grain on the land, the mice are forced to seek sustenance somewhere else, usually starting with the granary and then moving to the farmhouse. And when there is neither granary nor farmhouse, but instead a large, warm building that is occupied no more than 50% of the time and wherein the semi-occupants stash substantial nuts, fruits, and chocolate in cozy little drawers, it's only obvious where the mice took up residence. Mice being unsavory creatures to most, years ago when stray cats wandered onto campus, they were allowed to take up residence and do their jobs. So the cats began taking care of the mice and other vermin, which included an increasing number of geese. You see, this former farmland now planted with tall fescue and littered with man-made ponds proved an excellent habitat for formerly-migratory Canada geese.

Problems arose when certain folks decided that the geese, being only slightly more majestic than rats and cockroaches, should have nesting boxes to save the goslings from suffering the same fate as the mice, what with these feral cats running around. Certain other folks, fearing that nature's most successful hunter might starve if forced to fend for itself, began feeding the "feral" cats. And before too long, nature took its course, and we now have hundreds of geese left to reproduce unchecked, dozens of cats with an obesity rate comparable to what one would find in Polynesia, and I-don't-want-to-think-about-how-many mice who have developed a taste for Wheat Thins, cashews, M&M's, Red Vines, and leftover donuts & bagels.

The solution to this problem is rather obvious: stop feeding the cats and get rid of the nesting boxes. There is no possible way that the cats will starve to death, even in the winter. There is simply too much to eat, should they be forced to hunt for it. While I doubt that we will eliminate the indoor mice altogether, we should be able to reduce their numbers substantially if we force the cats to do their job.

To those who think my proposal is harsh or inhumane, you tell me which is worse: allowing some predators to keep the mouse and goose population at healthy levels, or having sickness and disease run unchecked? A couple of days ago, I saw a goose walking around with a broken wing. This is pretty sad to see, but what do you do about it? In nature, that goose would become food for another animal and in aggregate, both predator and prey populations would be healthier as a result. When we as humans encroach upon nature, we need to be careful to have the lightest touch possible. Which in this case means leaving the animals alone and allowing them to coexist. Which hopefully also means a lot less goose crap on the bottoms of my shoes each morning.

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