Chinchilla

Data in, data out. This past week I have thumbed through pages and pages of elevation spreadsheets- processing and organizing points for future conclusions. Data entry is important, and building that breadth of information is so necessary in conservation. Sometimes after a long day or week spent in the field, it can be almost relaxing to work entering that data.

But there’s nothing like a little excitement to make for a good day, which is what happened to me on Wednesday. First- I cannot believe it’s August, my summer has flown by! Though it’s not hard to see how the time slipped by when days like today crop up.

I started the day tethered in the office, but by midday I was itching to get out into the field. My supervisor was out and about, but the law enforcement officers were talking about visiting a nearby refuge, so I decided to tag along.

Before we could leave Great Dismal, our primary law enforcement officer stopped by a couple of the refuge entrances to do his checks. We stopped halfway down the road entrance to Jericho Ditch, a popular hiking trail entrance, as an old four door came rolling by. With his superior observation skills, the officer asked if we saw the cage in the back of the car. He hunched down, talking about how the driver hadn’t returned his friendly wave.

We turned to follow them as they headed towards the small parking lot and brochure racks. When we reached the lot, they had turned around and had started to tear out of the refuge. In the bushes, we saw a small grey shape scurrying around.

At first I thought it was a rabbit, with it’s nubby noise and smooth fur, but I was wrong.

The nervous animal was in fact, a chinchilla.

For a moment we sat there, staring at this mysterious little creature, then the officer punched the gas and tore after them, hitting 60 on the road that was a 15 mph limit to catch up with the driver.

After pulling the driver over, ticketing him for an “introduction of animal to a National Wildlife Refuge,” and heading out, the jokes starting rolling. The three of us were really, really tempted to rescue the animal from being dumped somewhere else so that we could leave it as a gift to our biologist, who has got a humor normally peppered with loud, strong words.

We decided that maybe printing out a picture of the animal and labeling it as a new species known as the “squabbit” (combining squirrel and rabbit) and presenting it to the office. Snickering, our tale got larger on our way back to the headquarters, one of the officers boasted that he had “Captured a suspicious person with 12 ounces of pure chinchilla,” the other named the offender the “Chinchilla culprit.”

All in all, an entertaining day, when justice is served and chinchillas saved from the perils of a Southeastern swamp.