Tag Archives: out of place animals

Episode 298: The Tantanoola Tiger



This week we’re examining the Tantanoola Tiger, a mystery animal that probably wasn’t a tiger…but what was it? This episode is rated two ghosts out of five for monster month spookiness! Thanks to Kristie for sharing her photos of the Tantanoola tiger!

Happy birthday to ME this week! I’ve decided to turn 25 again. That was a good year.

Further reading:

The Tasmanian tiger was hunted to extinction as a ‘large predator’–but it was only half as heavy as we thought

The grisly mystery of the murderous Tantanoola Tiger (Please note that the end of this article has some disturbing details not appropriate for younger readers. However, true crime enthusiasts will just shrug.)

Kristie and her kids reacting to the  taxidermied Tantanoola Tiger:

Kristie’s picture of the taxidermied Tantanoola Tiger. WHO DID THIS TO YOU, TIGER?

The numbat is striped but too small to fit the description of the “tiger”:

Our friend the thylacine, probably not strong enough to kill a full-grown sheep:

Tigers are really really really big. Also, don’t get this close to a tiger:

Show transcript:

Welcome to Strange Animals Podcast. I’m your host, Kate Shaw.

This past spring, when I was researching mysterious accounts of big cats spotted in Australia for episode 274, I considered including the Tantanoola Tiger. That was Kristie and Jason’s episode, and Kristie casually mentioned that she’d seen the stuffed Tantanoola tiger on display and wasn’t impressed. She even sent me pictures, which we’ll get to in a moment.

In the end, I decided the Tantanoola Tiger deserved its own episode, because it’s completely bonkers, and that it needed to be in monster month, because parts of the story are weird and creepy. I give it two ghosts out of five on our spookiness scale, so it’s not too spooky but it’s more than a little spooky.

The story starts in the southeastern part of South Australia at the very end of the 19th century. The little town of Tantanoola was home to a lot of sheep farmers, and in the early 1890s something was killing and eating sheep.

For years there had been rumors that a Bengal tiger had escaped from a traveling circus in 1884 and was living in the area, so once half-eaten sheep carcasses started turning up near Tantanoola, people assumed the tiger was to blame.

There was definitely something unusual killing sheep. Aboriginal shearers reported seeing an animal they didn’t recognize, something that frightened their dogs. Paw prints were found that measured over 4 inches across, or 11 cm, which is really big for a dog’s print although that’s what it resembled. It also happens to be a reasonable size for a small tiger, although a big tiger’s paw is usually more like 6 inches across, or almost 16 cm.

In 1892, a couple out driving in their buggy saw a striped animal cross the road ahead of them. They reported it as brown with stripes and a long tail. They estimated its length as three feet long not counting its tail, or about a meter, 5 feet long including the tail, or 1.5 meters. This is actually really short for a full-grown tiger. A big male Bengal tiger can grow more than ten feet long, or over 3 meters, including the tail, and even a small female Bengal tiger is about eight feet long, or 2.5 meters, including the tail.

There aren’t a lot of animals native to Australia that have stripes. The numbat has stripes and does live reasonably close to Tantanoola, although it was driven to extinction in the area by the late 19th century. But the numbat is only about 18 inches long, or 45 cm, including its tail, and it looks kind of like a squirrel. It eats insects, especially termites, which it licks up with a long, sticky tongue like a tiny anteater. It’s even sometimes called the banded anteater even though it’s a marsupial and not related to anteaters at all. Plus, it doesn’t eat very many ants. The female numbat doesn’t have a pouch, but while her babies are attached to her teats they’re protected by long fur and the surrounding skin, which swells up a little while the mother is lactating.

So the animal seen in 1892 probably wasn’t a numbat, but it also probably wasn’t actually a tiger. The people who saw it said it definitely wasn’t a dingo either.

In May 1893, a tiger hunt was organized but found nothing out of the ordinary, but in September of that year a farmer found huge paw prints after his dogs alerted him to an intruder during the night. The prints were over 4 inches across, or 11 cm, and this time a policeman took plaster casts of them. A zoologist at the Adelaide Zoo examined the casts and said that they weren’t tiger prints but were instead from some kind of canid.

The next month, in October, a farmer reported that he’d killed the Tantanoola tiger. But it wasn’t a tiger and wasn’t even any kind of wolf relation. Instead, it was a feral hog that had been killing his sheep for years and evading his attempts to kill it. The boar measured 9 feet from nose to tail, or 2.7 meters, and while it was probably responsible for some sheep killing, it wasn’t the Tantanoola tiger. The so-called tiger kept on killing sheep.

In August of 1894 a 17-year-old named Donald Smith saw a strange animal dragging a struggling sheep into the trees. The mystery animal was light brown with darker stripes and stood about two and a half feet high at the shoulder, or 75 cm, and was over four feet long, or 1.3 meters. Donald thought it was a tiger, although he’d never seen a tiger before. He said the stripes on its body were dull, but they were much more distinct on its head. When police and trackers arrived at the area later, after Donald alerted them, they found claw marks, bloody tufts of wool, and big paw prints.

Finally, the following August, two sharpshooters set out to hunt the so-called tiger and actually found it. It was just barely dawn when they saw what looked like a gigantic dog grab a sheep and wrestle it to the ground. One of the men shot the animal and killed it.

The Tantanoola tiger definitely wasn’t a tiger. It was more like a dog, but it was much bigger than any dog they knew and certainly much bigger than a dingo. It was three feet tall at the shoulder, or 91 cm, and 5 feet long, or 1.5 meters, including the tail. It was mostly dark brown with patches of lighter brown and gray, and yellowish legs. Its paws were over 4 inches across, or 11 cm. But it didn’t have stripes. It was identified as a wolf, although what kind of wolf varied. Suggestions included a European wolf, a Syrian wolf, or an Arabian wolf.

We still don’t know exactly what kind of wolf or related animal the animal was, but we do still have the stuffed specimen. It’s on display in the Tantanoola Hotel, which is where Kristie and her kids saw it several years ago. She took pictures and was kind enough to give me permission to use them, and please, I beg you, even if you’ve never clicked through to see any pictures I’ve posted before, please look at these. There are two, the reaction shot of Kristie and her kids looking at the Tantanoola tiger, and a picture of the tiger itself. You will laugh until you cry.

As we’ve mentioned a few times before, taxidermy requires a lot of work and artistic ability. Whoever stuffed and mounted the Tantanoola tiger lacked some of the artistic skills. It looks really goofy. Really, really goofy. But at least we have the body, although unfortunately it hasn’t been DNA tested so we still don’t know exactly what kind of wolf or wolf relation it is. But that’s not the only mystery.

In fact, there are three separate mysteries here. First, how did the wolf get to Australia? Second, what was the striped animal people were seeing? Third, what was killing sheep? Because even after the wolf was shot, sheep kept being killed and the striped animal was occasionally spotted.

One suggestion is that the striped animal was a thylacine. We’ve talked about it a few times before, most recently in episode 274. The thylacine was still alive in Tasmania in the 1890s, but it had been extinct in mainland Australia for about 3,000 years. It’s possible that someone brought a thylacine to mainland Australia where it escaped or was set loose, just as the wolf had to have been brought to Australia.

Then again, thylacines weren’t very strong. They mostly ate small animals, especially the Tasmanian native hen, which is about the size of a big flightless chicken with long legs. It was much smaller than a wolf and much, much smaller than a tiger. If there was a thylacine around Tantanoola at the time, it probably wasn’t the animal killing sheep.

Even though farmers had shot a huge feral hog and a wolf, neither of which belonged in Australia, sheep kept being killed. No one ever figured out what the striped animal was, and eventually it stopped being seen. The 19th century turned into the 20th century, and more and more sheep started disappearing—hundreds of them every year. In this case, though, they weren’t being eaten. They just disappeared.

Toward the end of 1910 the mystery was accidentally solved. Three hunters smelled an intense stench of death coming from some trees. It was so strong that they went to investigate. They found a path into the trees and came across something awful.

There were piles of dead sheep and lambs everywhere, dozens of them. They’d been skinned and the skins were hanging on wires strung through the trees. But the path continued, and when the hunters went farther, they found even more dead sheep.

It took a few weeks, but the police eventually tracked down the culprit, a local man who had been selling a lot of sheepskins on the sly for years despite not raising sheep himself. He’d killed thousands of sheep to sell their skins, leaving the bodies to just rot. He’d also done some other terrible crimes, so if you click through to read the article I’ve linked to in the show notes, please be aware that it’s not appropriate for younger readers. He’d also been convicted of sheep stealing in 1899, but in Victoria, not South Australia.

The sheep rustler wasn’t the Tantanoola tiger, because he was probably a good 140 miles away, or 225 km, when it was killing sheep. Besides, the so-called tiger actually ate the sheep it killed. But once he was caught and sentenced to jail, the Adelaide Evening Journal newspaper wrote about it with the headline “The Tiger Caged.”

As for the striped animal, tiger or not, we still have no idea what it was.

You can find Strange Animals Podcast at strangeanimalspodcast.blubrry.net. That’s blueberry without any E’s. If you have questions, comments, or suggestions for future episodes, email us at strangeanimalspodcast@gmail.com. If you like the podcast and want to help us out, leave us a rating and review on Apple Podcasts or Podchaser, or just tell a friend. We also have a Patreon at patreon.com/strangeanimalspodcast if you’d like to support us for as little as one dollar a month and get monthly bonus episodes.

Thanks for listening!


Episode 052: British Big Cats



Here’s another in the 2018 series of out-of-place animals, this time ABCs–alien big cats: big cats where there shouldn’t be any big cats. Like the British Isles, where no one should find a lynx or puma wandering around these days. But not only do people see big cats in Britain, they sometimes catch or kill them too.

The Eurasian lynx:

The European wildcat:

The puma:

A photo of the Beast of Bodmin Moor:

Mr. Tinkler’s unexpected serval:

The Kellas cat:

Show transcript:

Welcome to Strange Animals Podcast. I’m your host, Kate Shaw.

This week’s episode is about some more out of place animals, but a specific type. There are so many reports of big cats in places where big cats should not be, especially black panthers, that cryptozoologists have a term for them: ABCs, or Alien Big Cats. Thanks again to Maureen for the topic suggestion!

There are whole books written about ABCs, so I won’t be able to do more than touch on the highlights in this episode. Big cat reports from Great Britain are especially common, so that’s what I’ll focus on this time.

Many reports of black panthers turn out to be large domestic cats seen at a distance, where tricks of perspective and poor light contribute to the cat looking much bigger than it really is. Some big cat reports turn out to be real animals that escaped from captivity, but other reports are not so easy to explain away.

The British Isles only fully separated from mainland Europe about 8,000 years ago as the land rose due to isostatic rebound after the weight of glaciers was gone and due to rising sea levels from melted glaciers. Before that, it was connected to what is now Denmark and the Netherlands via a large area of marshland for several thousand years. We know one European big cat crossed into Britain during that time: the Eurasian lynx, which only went extinct in Britain about 1,500 years ago. Other ice age big cats went extinct long before, around 25 to 30,000 years ago, or 12,000 years ago in the case of the cave lion.

Of all the big cats that once lived in Britain, only the Eurasian lynx is still around. It now lives in parts of Asia and Europe on up to Siberia. It’s larger than the related North American bobcat and the Canadian lynx, but still nowhere near as big as tigers and lions. The Eurasian lynx stands about 28 inches tall at the shoulder, or 70 cm, and is heavily built with thick spotted fur and a short bobtail. The tip of its tail is black although the rest of the animal is mostly buff to orangey-brown with darker brown spots, and it has long black tufts of fur on the tips of its ears. It’s a distinctive animal.

There is one other wild cat that we know still lives in Britain, the European wildcat. It used to live throughout the British Isles but now only remains in Scotland, although it also lives in parts of Europe. At first glance the wildcat looks like a domestic cat with tabby markings, but it’s a little larger and more heavily built than most domestic breeds. But since it can and does interbreed with the closely related domestic cat, it can be hard to tell the wildcat apart from a feral domestic tabby. It’s also very rare. Only a few hundred remain in the Scottish highlands at most, possibly only a few dozen. In the last few years, Scotland has worked hard to protect the remaining wildcats. An active program to neuter all feral domestic and hybrid cats in the West Highlands has helped reduce the number of crossbreedings, and more land has been designated as a wildcat haven.

There are very old stories of a vicious big cat in Britain, with the first mention in a Welsh manuscript dating to some time before 1250, called the Black Book of Carmarthen. It’s a collection of histories and legends told in verse. A fragment of a poem frequently referred to as Pa gur after the first two words of the first line, or more descriptively, Arthur and the Porter, is about King Arthur and probably dates to around 1100. The Cath Palug is mentioned in the stanza right at the end before the rest of the poem is lost due to damage. I’ll quote an English translation of the last few lines, because I was an English major and will use any excuse to read poetry out loud.

“Cei the fair went to Mona

To devastate Lleown.

His shield was ready

Against Cath Palug

When the people welcomed him.

Who pierced the Cath Palug?

Nine score before dawn

Would fall for its food.”

Kay was Arthur’s foster-brother, but in this poem he’s described as Arthur’s nephew. Lleown possibly means lions, and Mona is Ynys Môn, or Anglesey. The cat was a monster that had already killed 180 men when Kay finally defeated it. But the Cath Palug appears in other Arthur legends, and from them we can learn a bit more about it. In some stories it was the offspring of Henwen, the great white sow, who was chased into the sea and gave birth to a black kitten. The kitten swam to the island of Ynys Mon where the sons of Palug raised it, only for it to turn into a monster. In other versions of the story, a man fishing in a lake swore to dedicate his first catch to God, but broke his oath. On his third cast he caught a black kitten, which he kept and raised. But it grew enormous and killed him, his family, and anyone else who came near the lake. Sir Kay, or Arthur in other versions of the story, polished his shield so the cat would attack its reflection and not the man.

The Cath Palug was probably not a real cat but an animal of folklore. There’s always a possibility, of course, that the stories were based on the European lynx. But the lynx is not black even as a cub, and it’s not a dangerous animal to humans the way tigers sometimes are.

The first modern report of an Alien Big Cat in Britain comes from about 1770. The writer William Cobbett described seeing a gray cat the size of a Spaniel dog when he was a boy. It climbed into a hollow elm tree near Waverley Abbey, a ruin in Surrey. Later in his life, while traveling in Canada, he saw a wild gray cat, possibly a lynx, and thought it looked like the cat he saw in England.

Lynxes are occasionally killed or captured in Britain. In 1903 a lynx was shot and killed in Devon after it killed two dogs. The animal was taxidermied and given to a local museum, which labeled it as a Eurasian lynx—but a study of the animal published in 2013 proved that it was a Canadian lynx that had been kept in captivity for at least part of its life. In 1927 newspapers reported a lynx caught in Scotland. I found a copy of the article from the Sunday Post dated the 16th of January 1927, which I’ll quote part of:

“Shepherds reported having seen an animal like a leopard, but without spots on its coat, stalking the sheep in the heather. A farmer who set a steel trap on a mountainside was astonished to find the following morning that he had captured a large, fierce, yellow animal of unknown species. He obtained a gun and, cautiously approaching it, shot it. The body was sent to the London Zoo, where it was identified as that of a lynx… Two other specimens have been killed in Scotland recently. How they reached there is unknown, but it is believed that they must have escaped from some traveling menagerie.”

Unfortunately the article doesn’t give much information about the animal. It’s only called large, fierce, and yellow, and the shepherds who’d seen it before it was trapped said it looked like a leopard without spots. That’s strange if this really was a lynx, because while some individual lynxes may have spots that don’t show up well against the background coat, all lynxes have spots. They also have bobtails and the distinctive black ear tufts, but those details aren’t reported.

It’s possible the poor cat wasn’t a lynx at all but a puma. The puma, also called a cougar or mountain lion, is native to the Americas. It’s bigger than a lynx, standing almost three feet tall at the shoulder, or 90 cm, and is usually tawny in color with lighter belly, and has a long tail that may show some faint ringing. You’d think that the London Zoo expert who examined the animal would know the difference between a long-tailed puma and a short-tailed lynx, though, so who knows what it really was? But in 1980 an honest-to-goodness puma was captured in Scotland. The puma spent the remainder of her life at the Highland Wildlife Park zoo, where they named her Felicity, and after she died was taxidermied and is now in the Inverness Museum. Felicity was probably an escaped or released pet, since the zoo director reported that she liked being tickled. Wild animals don’t typically like to be tickled.

Many other large cats of various species have been killed or captured in Britain. In most, if not all, cases the animals were probably exotic pets that were either released when they became too difficult to manage, or escaped and weren’t reported because the owners didn’t have a license to own the animal in the first place. But there are many other sightings of more mysterious large cats.

The Surrey Puma is one of the earliest cases. The first sightings were made in the 1930s around the Surrey/Hampshire border, but since this is the same area where William Cobbett saw his Spaniel-sized gray cat, many people think that 1770 account is the earliest known. In 1955 a woman walking her dog saw a puma-like cat slinking away from a dead calf, which it had evidently been feeding on. Many reports followed through the 1960s. Naturalists who examined paw prints discovered in the area identified the prints as made by dogs. Occasionally someone would snap a photo, but they were always too blurry to be conclusive—until 2014. One quiet Friday morning a man named Allan Tinkler, from Molesey in north Surrey, was eating breakfast with his children when he saw a strange cat in his garden. It stayed in the yard for over half an hour and was definitely not a domestic cat. I’ve got one of the pictures he took in the show notes, and it clearly shows a small wildcat called a serval.

The serval is a long-legged, large-eared African cat with spots over most of its body and some stripes along the neck and shoulders. It turned out that this particular serval was an escaped pet, and its owner retrieved it safely and took it home. They also had a license to keep it. Servals are frequently kept as pets and will sometimes cross-breed with domestic cats, producing tame kittens with serval-like markings. This hybridization is the basis of the domestic cat breed called the Savannah cat.

Obviously that serval wasn’t the cause of sightings going back decades or even centuries, but with no clear photos or captured animals, we can’t guess what the Surrey Puma might really be.

The Beast of Bodmin Moor is another case that received a lot of attention starting in the late 1970s. Bodmin Moor is in Cornwall, England, and over the years people have reported seeing big cats in the area, brown or black in color and about the size of a German shepherd, with long tails. One persistent rumor is that in 1978, when a circus owner named Mary Chipperfield had to close her zoo in Plymouth, she released three pumas onto the moor rather than give them to Dartmoor Zoo. Supposedly the Beast of Bodmin Moor is a descendant of these pumas.

In 1994, after something killed a number of sheep on the moor, the local MP called for an official investigation into the beast. A biologist and a zoologist headed the investigation. They looked at the sheep supposedly killed by a big cat, at tracks, photographs, and video footage, and conducted a search of the moor. Their conclusion, after six months, was that there was no evidence for any big cats of any type living on the moor. The tracks were made by dogs, the sheep carcasses did not show signs of being killed or eaten by cats, and the photos and videos showed domestic cats seen in places where scale was hard to judge.

Locals weren’t at all appeased. Many people were convinced big cats lived on the moor. A few days after the official report, a boy found the skull of a big cat near the River Fowey. But the Natural History Museum in London, which examined the skull, determined that it was from a leopard that had been prepared for taxidermy after death, and was probably taken from a leopard-skin rug.

Mysterious big cats have been spotted all over Britain, and considering how many exotic cats have been caught and killed over the years, it’s clear something is going on. It’s unlikely that any exotic species have successfully established breeding populations in Britain, but it’s not completely out of the question. But there is one other possibility.

For a long time the Kellas cat, or cait sìth, which means ‘fairy cat,’ was thought to be a Scottish folktale. It was a big black cat flecked with white, and with a white spot on its chest, that was supposed to be an omen of doom or even a type of evil spirit. Then a gamekeeper caught one in a fox snare in 1984, and in the following years a few more were shot or captured. It turns out that the Kellas cat is a landrace population of hybrids between European wildcats and domestic cats. A landrace is a locally adapted animal—not a subspecies, although in some cases it could eventually develop into one, but not really a separate breed of animal, although traits of a landrace population can be standardized into a breed through selective breeding. In the case of the Kellas cat, it’s black with a white spot on the chest, and has long white guardhairs that give it a flecked appearance.

While the Kellas cat is not much bigger or heavier than a domestic cat, it’s possible that at least some sightings of mysterious big cats are actually Kellas cat sightings. And honestly, if I had the choice between seeing an escaped exotic pet and seeing a fairy cat, I’ll take the fairy cat every time.

You can find Strange Animals Podcast online at strangeanimalspodcast.com. We’re on Twitter at strangebeasties and have a facebook page at facebook.com/strangeanimalspodcast. If you have questions, comments, or suggestions for future episodes, email us at strangeanimalspodcast@gmail.com. If you like the podcast and want to help us out, leave us a rating and review on Apple Podcasts or whatever platform you listen on. We also have a Patreon if you’d like to support us that way.

Thanks for listening!


Episode 048: Out of Place Animals



Happy New Year! Let’s learn about a few animals that have shown up in places where they just shouldn’t be. How did they get there, and why? Sometimes we know, sometimes it remains a mystery.

Some of Pablo Escobar’s hippos:

King Julien, the ring-tailed lemur who was discovered almost frozen to death in London:

A little alligator captured in a koi pond. In Maryland. Which is not where gators live:

A monk parakeet eating pizza in Brooklyn, because of course it is:

How did these beavers get into a Devon river? They’re not telling:

Show transcript:

Welcome to Strange Animals Podcast. I’m your host, Kate Shaw.

Happy new year! Let’s ring in the new year with some out-of-place animals. Sometimes an animal shows up in a place where it just shouldn’t be, and while the animal itself isn’t a mystery, how it got there is. In this episode we’ll chase down the solutions to a few of these mysteries, and ponder a few others we can’t solve.

We’ll start with some hippos that aren’t hanging out in Africa where they belong, but are living in Columbia, South America. In this case, we do know what happened. Back in the 1980s, a guy named Pablo Escobar had a private zoo that contained four hippos, along with other animals. Escobar was not a nice person. He was a drug lord who grew obscenely rich from selling cocaine and killing anyone who didn’t agree with him. In 1993 the police raided his estate and Escobar was killed in a shoot-out. The government took over the estate and turned it into a park, and most of the animals were given to zoos. But the hippos stayed. The estate had a lake that they lived in, and they weren’t hurting anything.

But after a few decades, the four hippos turned into forty. The hippos have expanded their range from the park to neighboring rivers. Sometimes a hippo wanders into a neighboring town or ranch. Hippos can be dangerous—in fact, they’re the most dangerous animal in Africa, killing more people than any other animal. But the locals like the hippos. At this point the government is torn between needing to keep the people and environment safe from these out-of-place animals, and preserving animals that everyone agrees are really awesome. In 2010 the government started a program to castrate the males, which will stop the population from growing, although castrating a wild hippo is not easy so the program is not necessarily going to work.

This is what a hippo sounds like:

[hippo sound]

In December 2011, someone found an unusual animal in London, a ring-tailed lemur. Even if you don’t know what it is, you know what it is. The vets who treated the animal named him King Julien after the character from the movie Madagascar. Lemurs are primates, only found in the island country of Madagascar, so what was one doing in London on a below-freezing day? Poor King Julien almost died of hypothermia and dehydration.

King Julien was very tame, so had probably been someone’s pet. People are allowed to own lemurs in England, but only with a special license. Ring-tailed lemurs are popular exotic pets, and part of the reason they’re endangered in the wild is because they’re frequently captured for sale on the black market. I tried to find out what had happened to King Julien, without luck, but hopefully he recovered fully and now lives in a zoo or wildlife sanctuary where he can be properly cared for and can hang out with other lemurs.

This is what a ring-tailed lemur sounds like:

[ring-tailed lemur sound]

Unfortunately for many animals kept as exotic pets, once the people who buy them realize owning an alligator, for instance, is not as fun as it sounds, the animals are often just dumped outside to fend for themselves. The kind of person who would buy an exotic animal in the first place is probably not the kind of person who bothers to learn how to take care of it.

Back in the mid-20th century, if you took a vacation to Florida and went into a souvenir shop, you could buy a live baby alligator for a few bucks. Baby alligators are cute, like big lizards. But they grow fast, they eat a lot, they make a mess, and they often get sick because they’re not properly taken care of. I like to think I know a fair amount about animals, but I wouldn’t know how to take care of a baby alligator. And if it was 1950 and I couldn’t just look that information up online, or find it in the local library, I’d probably not do a very good job.

Now I know you’ve heard about sewer alligators. The story goes that back in the days when baby alligators were cheap pets, people would bring them home as souvenirs, realize very soon that they didn’t actually want an alligator as a pet, and would flush them down the toilet to get rid of them. Some of the flushed baby alligators survived, and grew up in the safety and relative warmth of the New York City sewers, eating rats. Every so often a maintenance worker would get the shock of shining a flashlight down a sewer tunnel and seeing the reflection of alligator eyes. In the stories, the gators were always enormous.

So did this ever happen? Did alligators ever really live in the sewers of New York or any other city? Alligators have actually been found in sewers, although it’s not known if they were survivors of being flushed or if they were released aboveground and found their way to the nearest water through storm drains. In 2010 a two-foot-long, or 60-centimeter, baby alligator was found in the sewer in New York City. In 1984 a Nile crocodile was captured in the Paris sewers. But a sewer is not a good habitat for any living thing, especially not a reptile. Any alligators found in sewers haven’t been there long—they wouldn’t survive long, and they certainly couldn’t breed in a cold, lightless environment.

But alligators don’t just turn up in sewers. They’re forever being found in people’s ponds, and not in Florida or surrounding areas like you’d think. As just one of many possible examples, in 2015 a guy in Maryland, in the northeastern United States, found a three foot, or .9 meter, alligator in his koi pond. Probably he did not have any koi left by the time police officers caught the gator and relocated it to a local zoo.

This is what an American alligator sounds like:

[alligator sound]

It’s not too unusual to find a bird somewhere outside of its natural range. While migrating birds have amazing skills at navigating long distances, sometimes a bird is blown off course by a storm, or joins a flock of closely related birds that then fly somewhere other than its usual migration route. But sometimes the presence of out-of-place birds aren’t so easy to figure out.

For instance, the Brooklyn parrots. Brooklyn is part of New York City, not a particularly welcoming place for tropical birds. But there’s a population of wild parrots called monk parakeets, or Quaker parrots, that have been living in the city for over 50 years. And no one’s sure where they came from.

The monk parakeet is from Argentina. It’s smallish, around 11 inches long or 29 cm, with a 19 inch wingspan, or 48 cm. It’s a cheerful bright green in color with pale gray forehead and breast, and some blue on the wings. It eats plants of all kinds and builds elaborate multi-family nests called apartments by weaving twigs together.

It’s also been a popular pet for a long time. It learns to mimic speech easily, is intelligent and hardy, and lives 15 to 20 years, or even longer. But because so many feral populations have developed in North America and Australia, some areas no longer allow monk parakeets as pets at all.

The Brooklyn parrots are probably escaped birds from pet stores and especially from shipping crates full of birds imported from Argentina. Thousands of the parrots were sold as pets in the United States during the 60s and 70s. The first report of parrots living in New York City comes from December 1970, when an article about them appeared in the New York Times. Since then, the origin of the parrots has achieved urban legend status, with unsubstantiated stories of heroic releases of captive birds from sinking cargo ships, a mass release of captive birds from an abandoned aviary, and so forth. In the mid-2000s, a poaching ring trapped birds to sell on the black market, but the ring was busted and the birds freed.

Populations of monk parakeets also live in Chicago, Austin TX, Brussels, Belgium, and many other cities. Because their droppings don’t harm statues and other structures the way pigeon droppings do, and studies of urban birds reveal that they aren’t a threat to native species, many cities have stopped trying to exterminate the birds. Their large nests do frequently have to be removed from power transformers.

This is what a monk parakeet sounds like:

[monk parakeet sound]

I always think of beavers as a North American animal, but the Eurasian beaver is native to—you guessed it—Europe and Asia. But like the North American beaver, the Eurasian beaver was almost driven to extinction by humans, who wanted its fur and a substance called castoreum that is still used in perfumes and cigarettes. Castoreum is produced by the beaver to scent mark their territory, and a beaver’s castor sacs is found right next to the anal glands. Another reason to quit smoking!

So by 1900, the Eurasian beaver was almost extinct throughout its range. Only a few small populations remained. In England, Scotland, and Wales it went extinct completely by the 16th century. But after conservation efforts throughout Europe and Asia, beavers have started to be reintroduced into their historic ranges. The first official reintroduction of beavers into Scotland occurred in 2009 and the animals are doing well.

In 2013, people in Devon, England started seeing beavers along the River Otter. The next year they had babies. No one had any idea where the beavers had come from—Devon is too far from Scotland for the Scottish beavers to have migrated there naturally, and anyway the Scottish beavers are closely monitored. If three had gone missing, the researchers in charge of them would know.

It led to a lot of controversy in Devon, to say the least. Fishers and farmers worried that the beavers would mess up the river, carry diseases, and in general cause havoc. And since the beavers hadn’t been officially introduced, no one knew whether these were even the right kind of beaver for England and if they were healthy. But locals liked having beavers around—they are really cute animals, after all. When the government agency Natural England announced it would capture the beavers and put them in a zoo, locals protested so strenuously that the plan was changed. Instead, the beavers were captured, examined by veterinarians to make sure they were Eurasian beavers and disease free, and rereleased. This happened in 2015. The beavers were healthy, they were the right species, and they were returned to the river. Still, no one one knows how they got there.

Beavers are actually good for fish and the local environment. Beaver ponds create winter habitat for many types of fish, and beaver dams don’t stop fish like salmon that migrate upriver to spawn. The presence of beaver dams helps reduce flooding, improves water quality, and creates cover for lots of fish and animals. And while some people believe beavers spread the giardia parasite, which causes a bacterial infection sometimes called beaver fever, giardia is actually mostly spread by humans and our domesticated animals, especially dogs. Giardiasis causes nasty diarrhea and other intestinal distress that can go on for weeks, and it’s why you don’t ever drink water that hasn’t been treated in some way.

The beavers in Devon are doing well and have spread into neighboring waterways. They got in the news again a little over a year ago, in October of 2016, when a rich guy decided he didn’t like them. Sir Benjamin Slade, who has a great name but who is clearly a prime jerk, posted a reward of 1,000 pounds to anyone who would kill the beavers who’d moved onto his estate, because he didn’t like that they were felling some of his trees. Dude, you are rich. Hire somebody to plant more trees for you. Besides, beavers have brought tourists to Devon who hope to catch a glimpse of the animals, which helps the local economy, Mr. Slade, if that IS your real name.

Anyway, this is what a beaver sounds like:

[beaver sound]

There are so many out-of-place animal reports that there’s no way to cover more than a few in one episode, so I’ll definitely revisit the topic. Until then, keep an eye out for anything unusual walking through your back yard.

You can find Strange Animals Podcast online at strangeanimalspodcast.com. We’re on Twitter at strangebeasties and have a facebook page at facebook.com/strangeanimalspodcast. If you have questions, comments, or suggestions for future episodes, email us at strangeanimalspodcast@gmail.com. If you like the podcast and want to help us out, leave us a rating and review on Apple Podcasts or whatever platform you listen on. We also have a Patreon if you’d like to support us that way.

Thanks for listening!