Cougar Almost Home (c) Rod MacIver

CATRUNNERS, Chapter 2

Chapters: Prologue | Chapter 1 | Chapter 2


Busy as Beavers

By Ken Swift

(A Make-Believe Adventure for Youth of All Ages, Human and Feline)

Vivian Green took to her new research role like a young Beaver finding a new stream and making it her home. Vivian poured herself into study of Puma/Cougar/Panther/Mountain Lion ecology and history as diligently as Maya and Heather investigated the legal and veterinary angles.

Meanwhile, Gordy honed a communications system, which they used increasingly, as they gathered information and gained confidence in the security of their electronic conversations. Gordy and Ken tested it in various ways, before letting fellow Catrunners know that they might now talk about the plot, under the guise of a domestic cat adoption program, with each of them under a new and prosaic email.

Wood was delighted to have an excuse to spend long days afield with Vivian. Although he did not have information on Pumas as detailed as she needed, he could consistently point her in good directions, on places and opportunities for rewilding. As well, his insatiable curiosity about wildlife helped her ask the critical questions, such as whether Pumas brought to the Northeast should be kept awhile before release in large outdoor enclosures, until they grew accustomed to the new landscape (only for a short while, in her Aunt Ann’s experimental deer-exclosures, provided ample prey and available mates were around, Vivian tentatively concluded); how far Pumas might wander from their release sites (tens to hundreds of miles, Viv guessed, depending largely on mating opportunities, since prey would be plentiful); and how Puma recovery might affect Eastern Coyotes (might trim their numbers and make them more elusive, Viv suspected).

Vivian and her dogs, Hemlock and Juniper, and Wood spent several days tracking Bobcats, Coyotes, Fishers, River Otters, and Black Bears, with expert naturalist Sara Morris. Sara reminded them of all the tracking basics (feline tracks asymmetrical and showing four toes but no claws, generally; canine tracks more pointed and symmetrical; most weasel tracks showing all five toes with feet in angled pairs, though Fishers oft as clumped threes, etc.), but then began teaching them how to see larger tread patterns and read stories in the substrates. A reader of people as well as of animals, Sara could sense that they were up to more than honing their tracking skills; and she could also sense that she should not ask about their plans for now.

Sara warned them they’d not likely see all that many tracks, it being late summer, with no snow and not much mud to clearly record tracks. Within minutes, though, Hemlock and Juniper were onto the trail of a Bobcat, Vivian could tell by their bark and Sara could dimly make out in shallow prints in wet sand along a burbling brook. Quickly, Vivian halted her dogs; and Sara reminded everyone they should back-track, not follow the animal forward, lest they disturb him or her. Sara said this tracking etiquette is especially important in winter, when many mammals live on narrow energy budgets, and in spring, after birthing season.

Sara added in a whisper: I always back-track — unless I’m worried that the animal may be heading for a trap-set. I carry a thick blanket, to gently immobilize the animal, thick gloves, and pliers, in case I need to remove a leg-hold trap.

She could see the surprise in Vivian’s and Wood’s faces, having heard her essentially confess to being an animal liberator. She knew they’d do the same but would not expect her – a highly trained professional who often worked for state wildlife agencies – to countenance such ethical yet illegal behavior.

Vivian recovered her composure first: We respect you even more for hearing that, Sara, but of course we’ll never breathe a word of it. (Wood nodded respectfully.) Could you quietly teach us sometime, though, where to look for leg-hold traps. I absolutely abhor those killing devices, not just because they are cruel and unnecessary but also because they target the very species most in need of protection: wide-ranging predators, and Beavers which are also keystone species.

Cougar (c) Larry Masters

Cougar (c) Larry Masters

Not so young and innocent as Vivian, Wood already had a covert history of trap-busting; but he was more than happy to let the biologists lead this foray into animal liberation. He did add, though: Trapping of Beavers seems to be the most common sort of such barbarism in our western Adirondacks. I commonly find traps set for Beavers (but also catching River Otters, Mink, and Muskrats) on frozen ponds around here in winter. If it weren’t strictly illegal to do so, he finished with a wink, I’d spring the traps and sink them.

You two could get me in trouble! Sara laughed as she brought them back to the Bobcat trail and the legitimate quest for carnivore paths. Back to this cat (judging by track size, a big Tom), notice here in the sand that he walks gingerly and in his own prints. Wild carnivores in general, but cats in particular, move efficiently, wasting no energy in unnecessary motion. Bobcats, Lynx, and Cougars all commonly set their hind feet in their front feet’s tracks, especially in snow, where such direct-registering saves energy. Likewise, you can discern wild dogs’ tand unracks – Wolves, Coyotes, and foxes – from domestic dogs because the latter are overfed and undisciplined, flopping about rather aimlessly (present company excepted, of course!, she added affectionately for Hemlock and Juniper); whereas the wild canids move in straight efficient lines. On the other hand, weasels, especially Fishers, prowl about so nosily and widely, their tracks may seem to ramble and amble. This, too, is actually highly efficient hunting behavior, but could be mistaken for an unruly dog, in a vague substrate, if you don’t follow out the tracks. If in doubt, follow it out.

Soon the faint Bobcat trail they were slowly following led to a sunny ledge on a rocky south-facing slope, where Sara pointed out the cat’s warm bed: Just like our domestic cats, wild cats look for warm places and take frequent naps, sleeping away much of the day, especially in winter, when energy conservation dictates resting in the sun whenever possible, or under cover of branches and rock overhangs when weather is cold and wet. Wow, look there! Sara suddenly pointed. Looks like this cat’s nap was interrupted by another animal coming from that way. She led them, minus the dogs, who were still eagerly sniffing the cat’s sleeping spot, up a series of small lichen-splotched ledges with tiny stirrings in the pine needle substrate, till finally she found a track-set in an old Bobcat scrape: Looks like a Fisher found this cat’s scent-mark, and followed his trail, maybe hoping to scavenge a carcass from the Bobcat’s last kill. What a lively interaction likely ensued!

Who’d win such a skirmish, Sara? Wood asked.

Unlikely they’d come to blows. They both have too much to lose from fighting unless it’s absolutely necessary. Bobcats and Fishers are both amazingly quick and agile, but in the rare events when they tangle, it’s probably males trying to wrest territories and potential mates from other males of their own species.

Well, at least I’m not doing that, Viva, Wood slyly noted.

Maybe you should, Wood! Sara joked. I’m sure you can hold your own against any rival male around here.

Wood more than half-seriously rejoined: Alas for me that in Homo sapiens, at least the ones who actually deserve the name ‘sapiens’, females do the choosing, right?!

Law and Chemistry

While the naturalists were tracking carnivores and studying habitats, Maya was quickly becoming an expert on state wildlife laws and rules pertaining to interstate movement of wild animals. Although she’d told fellow Catrunners and herself that she wanted to find a lawful way to bring back Pumas, she felt oddly relieved when she finally concluded that their action must be covert – there was no legal timely way to persuade agencies or land-owners to restore missing species – at least not big toothy animals with physical powers far greater than our own.

Heather, too, proceeded apace with her assigned studies. She had to consult not only with colleagues in the animal sciences but also with chemistry colleagues. She did so with the caution of one putting her life at risk, for in many senses, she was doing just that. Her typical questions were: if you must immobilize a big cat to transport it to a distant zoo, what do you use; and what do you do when a big cat awakens from its drugged state; and how long can you keep them asleep? When she finally had a cocktail she thought might work, she called Wood:

Wood, dear, I know you love your cats like Life itself, but would you be willing to risk their perpetual bliss for a little experiment that we must conduct for our plan to proceed? I need to test on real cats the cocktail of tranquilizers that I’ve concocted, borrowing ideas from various fellow veterinarians and wildlife rehabilitators. Tundra and Serac would agree to this experiment, I think you have to admit; and the risk to them is small. Too small a dose, and they act bored. Too large a dose, and you have to revive them after two days of sleep with a can of tuna!

Heather thus put Wood to his first big test: Are you willing to risk even your beloved Four-legged Family to make this quest succeed.

The three passed the test, barely. Wood watched and waited and fretted, while Tundra and Serac enjoyed the longest nap of their care-free lives. First Serac then Tundra awoke, as Wood neared the end of his capacity for anxiety. The cats were both fine, but he was emotionally drained. Heather had similarly successful results on her and Maya’s cats, though the two women did not fret so much as Wood did.

Guarding Gains

Between tracking expeditions, Vivian communicated quietly with her Aunt Ann, leading wildlands philanthropist of the pond-studded western Adirondacks. The aunt and niece were so close, emotionally and intellectually, that Vivian did not need to say much, and knew she should not. Ann’s amazing legacy of wild-land and wild-water preservation – 100,000 acres and growing, northwest toward the nearest secure Wolf habitat, Ontario’s Algonquin Park – depended on her playing strictly by the rules. Ann bought and saved land, and funded groups that used education and occasionally legal action to save wildlife and habitat. Ann would want to support the Catrunners however she safely could, from a distance, Vivian knew.

Ann was already engaged in rewilding work, but all very legally and with cooperation from state and federal wildlife agencies. With political help from Ken and Maya and physical help from Wood and her chief warden, Kwanzi Bob, Ann was removing exotic fish species from the streams and ponds on her land, and restoring Brook Trout, Lake Trout, American Eel, and several less well-known species. She was also, in some old fields she’d purchased in the Saint Lawrence Valley, experimentally planting disease-resistant American Chestnut trees (back-crossed for generations till they had just enough Chinese Chestnut to confer resistance to the Asian pathogen that caused chestnut blight). She was making these same forest old-field sites available to restoration ecologists for planting potentially resistant seedlings of other trees likewise being afflicted by alien pathogens, including American Beech, American Elm, and ashes.

Were Ann to knowingly aid and abet an illicit carnivore reintroduction project, her relations with land and wildlife management agencies would be ruined, she and all the Catrunners realized. So, Ann was kept clear of all planning and sheltered by several layers of security. Still, Ann wanted to see carnivore recovery as much as any of them; and indeed had named her place, Wolverine Shadows, after the most wilderness-dependent carnivore in North America. Wolverines had been exterminated from eastern North America south of Labrador a century ago, yet she dreamed they would someday roam her lands again.

Cougars (c) Bruce J. Lichtenberger/Corbis

Cougars (c) Bruce J. Lichtenberger/Corbis

Of course, Vivian was putting her own career and reputation at risk, by surreptitiously plotting to restore a missing carnivore. All she dared specifically ask for now is that her aunt’s conservation foundation make available two of its field vehicles and enough cash to pay for living costs of a small team of student researchers for a month or two.

Ann took Vivian farther into the woods around her home before asking: I’m guessing you want these vehicles to be our plain white pick-ups, minus our removable, magnetic logos. I can lend you two of those for a month, no questions asked. After that, I may have questions. I’m also guessing you want cash, not credit. Would ten thousand suffice for now?

Vivian nodded yes: I’d be grateful and so would several of our dear friends, and that cash should be plenty to start our work. For the record, we’re studying how biotic communities rebound after restoration of top carnivores.

Ann finished their cryptic conversation, before they rejoined inside her intimate friend and advisor, Thomas Chatham, with some words of reassurance and caution: Viva, you know I love you like the daughter I never had, and will do everything in my power to support your work for the wilds. You know I love your – our – friends, too. But please be very careful, especially for your self and your own blossoming career as a biologist, but also for the land protection and wildlife restoration projects you’ve helped me undertake. Do this rescue, please, and bring any animals who need homes to our wildest lands; but leave no trace. Be as invisible as the ghost cats themselves.

Vivian hugged her aunt, and promised she and the whole team would be as quiet as their quarry: We’ll be like a Wildway Underground, Aunt Ann, with only a few trusted friends rescuing the animals. When you hear reports of unexpected carnivores, they’ll probably be ciphers, decoys, aimed at preparing people to accept the real animals. If at any point you get uncomfortable – NOT that you have anything to do with this! – tell me. None of us would be willing to put you at risk.

Ann whispered: I trust that you have Ken and Wood and Rosy on your team?

Yes, Aunty, and several others you trust equally, but no more for now. And NOT Greer, by the way. We need his wise counsel; but like you, he needs to be kept at a safe distance, for obvious reasons. And that’s all we should say for now. I’m already telling you too much. You know nothing!

How is Wesley, dear? Ann asked, knowing that this was a somewhat sensitive subject. She alone among family members hoped Vivian would reciprocate Wood’s love. Other family members would not say it openly, but thought him too poor, rough, and edgy. After all, Wood made a living, meagerly, not in business, law, or medicine, but in conservation – usually scouting, monitoring, and boundary-marking but even accepting work with two “green cemeteries” as a grave-digger! Worse, if ever you could get him to talk about his accomplishments, he’d talk about whose graves he’d dug or for whom he’d cut firewood last year. No Green belonged with a primitive man like that, was the family consensus outside Ann’s wild domain.

I won’t have my daughter shacking up with a grave-digger!, Vivian’s father James had thundered at the Finger Lakes family compound dinner table the previous New Year’s Eve. That day, Vivian was out tracking in old-growth forest of Ferris Lake Wild Forest, southwest Adirondacks, with Wood and Sara, and was prevented by a snowstorm from returning to her family for dinner. Ann got her texted apology for being unable to make it home, then made the mistake of hinting it might be nice if Viv would share a room that night with Wood. (They shared a snow-cave, and with Sara and Hemlock and Juniper, too, and dug and drove out after the blizzard ended.)

Wood’s fine, Vivian circumspectly responded, and wants to tell you more about his recent adventures soon. He was very grateful for your sponsorship of his Rambling Rivers Eastward trek, as I’m sure he has told you too many times.

Ann nodded with a slightly sardonic smile: His summary report gave plenty of insights and information, and I thanked him so; but of course, I hope to have him debrief me in person, too, before long. Please send him my love and my wishes for a meeting over coffee or on the trail soon. Sounds like he had a few close calls with property rights zealots as he tried to find river-side campsites. Did he tell you more about the threats from land-owners?

Vivian had little more information than her aunt, because Wood did not really like to talk about risks he faced. He did admit to me, Vivian replied, after I plied him with port-coolers (yes, he likes to mix our cheapest port with carbonated water!), that two land-owners shot bullets over his head. He insisted he was camping legally each time, because within the floodplain of a navigable river. I asked, geology notwithstanding, how close the bullets came. He said one bullet hit a tree two feet away and another whistled near his ear. I told him I don’t want him risking private land scouting anymore without permission or company – preferably both.

Tell him, too, Ann added, that his most devoted sponsor will pull her support if he risks his life again! I worry sometimes that he has a fatalistic streak, that he’d give away his life too easily for his – and yes, our – wild ideals.

I hope I’m not responsible for that, Vivian sighed. He has seemed a bit more reckless since I reminded him I want to keep our friendship platonic.

You must do what is best for you, my dear; and I’ve surely demonstrated that there’s no accounting for love. But in my book, Wesley Wood is as good as they get; and you know, too, that you needn’t marry into money; our family will have plenty for as long as people believe in it, unless we get too risky with our investments. Wesley would march to war for you, Viva; and he’s a pacifist.

Maybe, Aunty, but especially now that we’re members of a small covert action team (a wild cell!), we can’t risk mixing romance and work. Plus, he always has those co-ed adventure athletes eager for outings with him; and for now, I’m enjoying the attentions of the sons of our family’s chief financial rivals!

Actually, Viva, it might be safer if you two were wholly with each other, and not with other romantic partners. In bed, it’s too easy to confide with another about things the other should not know. You’re prudent and cautious, and so is Wood, usually, but don’t either of you get so close with another partner that you start sharing work secrets, not until the quiet project is done.

Now back to that work briefly, Ann continued, before we go join Thomas for a cocktail and before your folks arrive: I’m sure your team, led by Ken, I’ll optimistically guess, is working on communications plans, for now and well into the future. That may get expensive. I cannot in any formal way grant to anything at all outside the law, obviously; but I can always come up with cash for needy friends, and I can transfer without penalty a certain amount of stock to you. I don’t want Ken or Wood or any of our other impecunious friends carrying the economic burden. Make it safe for me to help – safe for the lands we’re saving and the wildlife we’re restoring — and I will.

Cougar (c) Susan Morgan

Entering the Techno-Sphere

While Vivian was bringing Ann to the outer circle of campfire-light, in a manner of speaking, Gordy and Ken were perfecting the internal communications system; and Gordy and Rosy were crafting an external communications plan. The latter work proceeded more quickly, as it was essentially the sort of publicity work that Rosy had done for decades, as publicist for several popular folk and rock bands, which relatively lucrative work supported her real passion of waging wildlands campaigns.

Gordy, the whole team realized, was different yet indispensable. A generation younger than the team leaders, and quaintly amused by their Luddite leanings, Gordy, 26, could run circles around the rest of them in technical spheres, and could hold his own in physical realms as well. He’d been a lacrosse star in college, but had opted for a life with screens rather than projectiles after having a ball hurled from behind at 90 mph into his lower skull, leaving him in a hospital for days.

Gordy’s technical prowess quickly became central to the rescue mission. While setting up a communications system, he also had to establish a monitoring system so he’d know as soon as they were being watched.

Rosy and Gordy leaked their first two supposed “Panther” sightings, ostensibly taking place in successive weeks on the other side of the Adirondacks, near Panther Mountain in Keene, New York, with one accompanied by a photo of a big cat-like track in mud along the AuSable River. Admitting the irony of playing into the proliferation of “fake news”, they planned to sporadically leak news of reported big cat sightings in New York’s Adirondack Park, the Tug Hill Plateau across the Black River to the west, and Vermont’s Green Mountains across Lake Champlain to the east, often enough that wildlife enthusiasts would be hopeful and hunters would be watchful, but not so often wildlife officials would stop their usual denials and actually investigate reports.

Their news leak in Vermont precipitated a surprise that was at first heartening, then sobering: A young woman wildlife biologist, Marge Fox, who had studied with wildlife tracker Sara Morris then procured a research grant from the state’s fish & game department, dared tell a snoopy reporter that her studies suggested Vermont had plenty of deer and cover to support healthy populations of Puma, at least, and probably Wolves, too. After her one perhaps foolishly forthright quote in the newspaper, however, silence followed. Maya soon learned through the wildlife grapevine that Marge’s research grant had been quietly rescinded, while agency officials remained stonily silent on the reported sightings and on their former grantee’s work. This was particularly sobering in that, Maya and her friends knew, Vermont’s state wildlife agency was actually one of the more progressive and democratic in the country. Obviously, it was not ecologically-oriented enough, but most other states’ wildlife agencies were even more dominated by “hook and bullet” interests.

Bear (nearly as amiable as his brother in “good-ol-boy” circles, despite having dodged the Vietnam War) casually inquired of a few fireman buddies in Vermont whether they’d heard any scuttlebutt on biologists getting fired over cat sightings. The ensuing exchange, which Bear shared cryptically with fellow Catrunners, was instructive. Two of the counterpart firemen had heard of Marge Fox’s being effectively fired. The other three had not. One of the two cheered the agency’s outing of a covert carnivore advocate. The other disagreed, saying Fox had been doing good research, and maybe our forests would be a little wilder and healthier if they did have all their original residents. One of the other three fell on each side and one was conflicted and undecided.

Ken sent around to the group the first progress report, on their effort to adopt five new shelter cats for their birthday friend. Ken at first found it awkward fitting real news and directives into this fictional format, but with help from Gordy and Rosy, he soon got in the swing and rather enjoyed the creative outlet. He concluded that recent news of cat adoptions in the neighborhood left them reason to trust some but not all residents to welcome the new neighbors.

Missing Cats, Missing Dogs

None of the self-appointed Catrunners was entirely new to ecodefense, “monkeywrenching” – legally dubious (at best) but ethically right (arguably) actions to protect wild places. Some of the Catrunners had, after much deliberation, at critical times and in imperiled wildlands pulled survey stakes, blocked back-country roads with boulders, down-sized “snowmobile trail” bridges, stoned drones, or even disabled heavy machinery with sand in the oil. All agreed such monkeywrenching should only be used as a last resort, never be used when injury to life could result, and be used sparingly and cautiously by individuals (not groups) willing to pay the high price of getting caught.

Ken and Bear and Heather had already been arrested several times for human blockades of logging roads in old-growth forest and of other habitat-destroying projects. Maya had first met Ken and Bear, then her future partner Heather, while serving as their attorney, for Biodiversity Defense.

Greer had been busted in the act while deflating tires of a monster truck at an off-road vehicle convention in Barstow, California, years ago. The assault-style ORV drivers had been humiliated by Greer the year before (after he quietly posted on the back bumpers of scores of these earth-crunching machines a sticker that looked like an NRA decal, but up close could be read: If your member were as minuscule as mine, you’d drive a muscle-wagon, too!)

The wildlife trans-location the Catrunners were now plotting seemed to fall somewhere between monkeywrenching and civil disobedience, Ken opined. It’s a step or two beyond those clever Missing Cat and Missing Dog bulletins you did last year, Rosy and Gordy. Didn’t you manage to get kids posting those on town center bulletin boards and in shop windows? And do I recall aright some techno-wizard electronically insinuating them into the personal columns of our area’s newspapers?

Gordy grinned mischievously and pulled a sheet of paper out of his back-pocket. On one side it read:
MISSING CAT Big beautiful long-tailed cat missing, and neighbors seek her safe return. May answer to names Puma, Cougar, Panther, Mountain Lion, or Catamount. Crucial for keeping deer herds and plant communities healthy, and minimizing outbreaks of zoonotic diseases. If you’ve seen this cat, please report to Puma Recovery Project. If not, please write or call New York’s Department of Environmental Management and ask what they are doing to bring her safely home …

On the other side, the bulletin in part read:
MISSING DOG Handsome burly gray dog; bigger, faster, smarter than a German shepherd – lost from our home. May answer to names Gray Wolf, Red Wolf, Canis lupus, or Canis rufus … then similar language on the carnivore’s natural beauty and ecological importance, and how to urge state wildlife officials to restore the lost neighbor.

Beyond the Campfire

Outside this inner circle of Catrunners, but circuitously sponsoring it, Ann Randolph Green instructed her trusted foreman Kwanzi “Bob Jordan” and her paramour and business partner Thomas Chatham to prepare two work vehicles and a small pot of money for an urgent research project in the Adirondack to Algonquin link. Thomas and Bob both knew Ann well enough not to ask questions, though Tom later took Ann aside and said: Ann, most of the power and money are yours, and I trust your judgment almost always; but I do hope you’re not getting into something risky here. If full-blood Wolves return to the Adirondacks, local gunners will assume you brought them here, and they’ll cause us unending trouble.

Cougar Almost Home (c) Rod MacIver

Cougar Almost Home (c) Rod MacIver

Thomas, 38, two decades younger than his woman friend yet already nearly as successful with his investments, was sharp enough to sense a fresh trail, but not yet experienced enough to know whose scent he was following. He and Ann and most of Ken’s team (all of whom were friends with Ann & Tom) had more than once joked around campfires about trucking a few Wolves southeast from Algonquin Park. Ann played along with Tom’s misreading, and simply answered: Vivian has some colleagues doing healing-edge research on canid interactions around Algonquin. Their work is controversial, because it is showing that trapping and hunting of Coyotes has to be ended around the Park if Wolves are to safely recolonize former habitats southward. (Wandering canids also face that veritable wall of development as they near the US border, but the needed wildlife bridges and underpasses are a different project …) These intrepid young biologists can’t get funding elsewhere to continue their research, so I’m going to help them.

This was all true, and Thomas was credulous – and smitten — enough to let Ann lead him down that diversionary trail, and he stopped worrying for the present. He told Bob, their most trusted employee: It’s just research, but it’s controversial enough that I want you to equip these trucks with all needed survival supplies and treat them like high security vehicles.

Bob Jordan (temporary, adopted name), already a widower at 48, was a political refugee from Kenya, who had fortuitously met, on a safari he led in Tsavo Park, one of North America’s boldest and most successful wildlands philanthropists. He’d lost his beloved wife, a social justice activist, when she’d been mysteriously murdered, possibly by police, soon after a peaceful march demanding economic fairness. As soon as warden and philanthropist had shared their stories, “Bob” (as Ann soon started calling him, so as not to reveal his whereabouts to poachers) and Ann deeply respected and liked each other. Just weeks after their safari, Ann heard that poachers were threatening the lives of wildlife wardens in the parks she had visited. She called Kwanzi and asked if she could help in any way. He allowed as how since breaking up another poaching ring, he’d been shot at and had his shack burned down. Ann invited him to come work with her for a year or two, till order returned in Kenya’s parks, promising to take care of all needed paper work, and send his two surviving siblings twice the money he’d been providing for them from his meager warden’s wages.

Bob had won grudging acceptance among local people at his exile home in the western Adirondacks, despite his East African skin, by joining the volunteer fire department (after encouragement from veteran fire marshal Bear) and being the toughest man on the force, and having several home and life saves to his name already. KBob, as his friends affectionately called him, quietly wished Ann & Tom and friends would push the limits more, bring in some of those missing carnivores he’d been hoping to see. He could not understand why North Americans were afraid of their native big dogs and cats and bears. Back home in Kenya, Kwanzi regularly roamed and worked near Lions, Leopards, Cheetahs, Hyenas, and other predators that together make North American carnivore assemblages look meager. He also worked near animals that do occasionally kill villagers, like Cape Buffalo, Hippopotamus, Nile Crocodile, and venomous snakes. He knew that all these animals combined were not nearly so much of a threat to his safety as were the poachers.

Still, Ann and Tom had been in the North American wildlife saving business much longer than he, so he trusted their cautious judgment, while quietly hoping he’d be secretly sent northwest to find Wolves before long. Bob had Vivian’s vehicles outfitted and ready to go well before the expedition date, each pick-up truck (one gray, one blue) containing two large padded holding pens, emergency medical supplies for people and wildlife, trail food, water, sleeping bags, tents, and other basic needs. He suspected that this was a trip of special import and wished he were going. Had he known how deeply involved in this plot he’d soon be, he might have wondered how much safer he’d be in civilized upstate New York than he’d been in the unruliest parts of Kenya.

When Vivian came to pick up the vehicles, Bob cautiously inquired of her plans for them: Where are you going with these field trucks, Miss Green, and may I help in any other way?

KBob, my brave and wise friend, this little expedition is risky by my standards, but it is nothing like the risks you daily face back home from poachers and wildlife traffickers. Please just enjoy a little safety and easy living for awhile, courtesy of my aunt. All too soon, I fear, we’ll lose you, though we’ve already grown to trust and depend on you; and you’ll again be risking your own safety in defending Kenya’s wildlife. I don’t want to put you or your work in Africa in any jeopardy. Please know you are doing more than your share here, and tell us how we may help your future efforts in Africa.

If you won’t let me join this mysterious quest, Miss Green, will you at least take me to your study sites in Algonquin Park to look for Wolves before I return home to Kenya?

If you’ll call me ‘Vivian’, not address me so formally, and if the trucks you outfitted succeed in their quest, Kwanzi Bob, I’ll happily take you to any wild place in North America you want to see. And your new buddy Wood will happily serve as our guide. Meanwhile, I think you two have some expanded reserve boundaries to mark for my aunt …

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