It’s late spring 1951. I’m traveling by car with two other fisheries biologists, Manny and Dale, returning to Seattle after a tour of a dam on the Baker River, located at Concrete, Washington. We’ve chosen to travel the Mountain Loop Highway from there to Darrington, little traveled at that time of year. Dale is driving.
About five miles north of Darrington we spot something white that is moving jerkily some 50 yards off the road. Dale slows, then stops as we see that this is a young bunny rabbit that seems to be moving sideways. How can that be? We all three jump out of the car and run towards the strange sight, just in time to see what’s really happening. A weasel has its jaws clamped on the back of the rabbit and is dragging the bunny towards its hole in the ground. The weasel speeds up its efforts as we come close and backs into the hole. He has a problem. Because of the danger we pose, he’s hurriedly trying to get the rabbit into the hole crosswise, which simply won’t work. The bunny is still alive. The weasel knows that if he lets go, his prey will hop off and he’ll have to expose himself to us humans to recapture it. He jerks and jerks, trying in vain to get the rabbit into his lair.
Dale, Manny and I might be biologists, but we’re human and have a kneejerk reaction to anybody or anything that would harm a poor, innocent young bunny rabbit. Keeping an eye on this sad scene, we back off and start plotting ways to save the little guy. It’s Manny who comes up with the solution. He walks into the nearby forest, uses a stout knife to cut and sharpen a long stake. The idea is that Dale or I will pull on the rabbit. The weasel will hold on as long as possible. Manny will be behind the hole, armed with his stake, and once the weasel is far enough out of the hole he will drive the stake through its neck. Thus the little bunny rabbit will be saved.
Dale and I are a bit leery about challenging a mad weasel in his own quarters. We have no protective gloves and can imagine the weasel dropping his prey and attacking the hand trying to deprive him of his meal. Manny is pretty disgusted with this cowardly attitude. As we watch the weasel’s continuing efforts to get the rabbit into his hole crosswise, it’s obvious that the bunny is grievously hurt.
It’s Manny who gives up the enterprise. “We know,” he says, “that this is really a demonstration of the survival of the fittest. The rabbit is going to die because it wasn’t fast enough to avoid being captured by the weasel, so it won’t live to reproduce that weakness. This is a great demonstration of nature at work.”
He throws his carved stake into the forest, we climb into the car and head for Darrington. Soon we’ll be back at work in the Stream Improvement Division of the Washington State Fisheries, where we do everything possible to keep man from interfering with the reproduction of salmon returning to the rivers and streams of the state. At least we’ve avoided another example of man messing with nature.
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