This is another story about Roy Dimwitty and his unusual adventures with animals as recorded in his father’s journal.The story is based upon actual events.
Roy in the Wolverine Den
The pungent odor of musk and urine was evidence of a powerful predator. The hair on the back of Roy’s neck stood erect and his forehead broke out in instant clammy sweat. The reaction was testimony to a powerful sense vital to early humans. The sense of smell still had the ability to arouse primitive fear. Roy knew why, of course. He was about to enter the underground den of four of the most ferocious animals on the North American continent, wolverines.
Having completed his second year of college, Roy considered himself very fortunate to have found the greatest summer job in the world. He hired on as a zookeeper at the famous Bronx Zoo in New York City. His job was to fill in for full-time keepers who took summer vacations. Today his assignment was to clean the wolverine den and its outdoor habitat area.
Yesterday, Jim, the regular keeper, showed Roy what to do before he left on vacation. When they entered the den and habitat area together, the wolverines disappeared into the rocks in the back of the habitat and were rarely seen. Jim and Roy swept up all the wolverine scat and hosed the area down without incident.
“Nothing to it” Jim said. Little did Roy know that there was going to be a lot more to it than he ever could have imagined. Roy’s dad, Ambrose Dimwitty, would be amazed that evening when he heard Roy’s exciting story.
In the past, Roy had shown an unusual ability to communicate with animals. Something about Roy attracted animals and put them at ease. They seemed to trust him and regard him as one of their own. When he was a child, I noticed that squirrels, pigeons, cats, dogs, cows, and many other animals all took a special interest in Roy for some unexplained reason. I had noticed this unusual behavior when my son was barely two years old.
Roy stood quietly in the underground den area just outside the heavy steel bars and gate that divided the room. He listened for the shuffle of soft padded feet and low growls while his eyes adjusted to the darkness after the bright sunlight outside. The inside den looked empty but just in case there was a lurking wolverine, Roy clanged his heavy shovel against the bars, as Jim had suggested. Finally, convinced that no wolverines were lingering in their den, he unlocked the gate and stepped quickly inside with his cleaning tools, a long hose, a shovel and a heavy push broom. The shovel would be his only protection if he was attacked.
Roy remembered Jim’s last words “Nothing to it. The wolverines are more afraid of us than we are of them.” Roy locked himself in, hosed down the inside den and shoveled up the debris that could not be hosed down the drain. He kept checking the small three-foot high passageway to the outside habitat area to make sure a wolverine did not sneak back in and catch him by surprise. Roy was apprehensive because he knew, in a few minutes he would have to crawl through that passageway in order to clean the outside area.
When Roy finished cleaning inside, he dropped to his knees and looked out into the bright sunlight. He heard muffled growls and saw a passing shadow sweep by the den entrance. Roy hesitated momentarily, but quickly regained his courage and pushed his heavy shovel out of the den entrance making as much noise as he could by clanging it against the cement floor. Jim suggested he do that just in case a wolverine was waiting above the den entrance to pounce down on him. Roy pushed the shovel, hose and broom out next and quickly followed. He grabbed the shovel, stood up and quickly scanned the area. The inhabitants of the enclosure were nowhere to be seen to his relief.
Several early zoo visitors stopped to watch Roy as he cleaned the enclosure. One little boy yelled out “Are you a wild animal?” His parents laughed while Roy waved and chuckled to himself. It was not more than a few minutes later, as Roy swept up animal droppings, that he paused to look around to check on the wolverines. To his surprise one wolverine had come out of hiding and had crept up behind him, not more than thirty feet away. As he turned, it scurried away back into the rocks. The next time Roy looked up from his work, all four of the wolverines were in view pacing back and forth with their eyes on him. Roy thought it was strange that they had all come out of hiding but they kept their distance so he was not alarmed.
As Roy hosed down the enclosure, his mind wandered. He remembered what he had read about these ferocious and fascinating animals. They were the bane of fur trappers in Canada because they systematically followed trap lines, stole bait and devoured trapped animals. Their appetite was so great that trappers and Indians called them “gluttons”. They were too smart to be caught in the traps themselves. If they could break into a trapper’s cabin or storage hut, they would ransack it. For some unknown reason wolverines often carried away pots and pans, traps, in fact anything they could not destroy. By following their tracks, trappers were sometimes able to retrieve some of their gear.
Wolverines thought nothing of attacking and killing porcupines or taking kills away from wolves, cougars and bears. Although they weighed no more than thirty pounds they were so strong and ferocious that larger animals were reluctant to take the chance of being injured doing battle with them.
Roy’s thoughts were interrupted by a tug on his right rubber boot. He turned and was shocked to see a wolverine had it in his teeth. The wolverine immediately let go of his boot and retreated a few yards as Roy faced it. Roy’s shovel was leaning against a nearby tree with the broom, too far for him to reach it quickly if he were attacked. Nevertheless, Roy had the hose in his hand and a strong stream of water would provide him with some protection if he needed it. Although his heart was pounding, he did not panic. Somehow, he knew just what to do. It had worked in the past when confronting dangerous animals so maybe it would work for him now. Roy turned his head and body sideways so he would not seem to be confronting or threatening the wolverine. He tried his best to act confidently and not like a prey animal. While keeping his eyes on the crouching animal, he spoke softly to it.
“I don’t mean you any harm. I want to be your friend. I won’t hurt you… Don’t worry Mr. Wolverine.” Of course, Roy realized that the meaning of his words was not understood, but their tone and his body language might be. He knew that human language often failed miserably as a means of communication, even among humans. Roy’s tone of voice was meant to be soothing and non-threatening, and his body language, non-threatening. The wolverine’s low guttural growl softened and soon stopped, to Roy’s relief.
Almost instinctively, perhaps foolishly, Roy did something no one else would have done. Still facing sideways, he slowly knelt down and held out the back of his hand toward the animal as he had done many times before when meeting a strange cat or dog for the first time. The wolverine looked up at Roy’s turned face. Roy kept talking and held his hand still. He noticed out of the corner of his eye that the wolverine inched a little closer and sniffed in his direction, ready to run if this big animal threatened it. Roy thought it was fortunate that earlier in the morning he had fed the wolverines. This wolverine had a full stomach and was most likely curious rather than aggressive. Roy kept talking. His voice was calm and reassuring. The wolverine cautiously crept closer. Although Roy kept his eyes on the wolverine, he could see dark shapes moving on either side of him and realized the other wolverines were advancing cautiously toward him as well.
Behind him, from the visitor’s area on the other side of the moat, Roy heard some kids calling attention to his situation. “Hey Mom, come see this. The man is playing with the little bears.” Roy was sure that they had no idea as to the seriousness of his confrontation with the wolverines.
Roy knew wild carnivores instinctively chase prey and so he did not want to act afraid or run; that would be the wrong message to send to the wolverines. Roy had no choice now but to continue his friendly greeting with the curious animals.
The other wolverines soon stopped growling as well; they just waved their noses in the air and sniffed. They seemed to be trying to summon the courage to creep a little closer to this strange human knelling before them.
Eventually, the first wolverine was close enough to stretch out its neck and actually touch its nose to the back of Roy’s hand. As simple as this act was, it might have been the first time a wolverine and human ever made such intentional contact under these circumstances. Soon, all four wolverines were cautiously sniffing at his hand. They surrounded Roy and sniffed his legs and arms until one wolverine raised its head and sniffed toward his face. Roy tried not to appear nervous and so he sniffed back and kept talking to them in a calm voice. The wolverine placed its front feet on Roy’s leg, then raised up to sniff his face, almost touching it’s nose to Roy’s cheek. The pungent smell of the animals was strong but no longer as alarming as it seemed before. Roy sat down on the ground and let the wolverines surround him. He could tell they had relaxed somewhat and were expressing more natural weasel family curiosity than anything else. When one nuzzled his hand again, Roy gently rubbed its face with his finger, hoping he would not discover how sharp those white teeth were. Soon all four wolverines were experiencing this strange new sensation. It was, no doubt, the first time a wolverine had ever been finger petted by a human. Roy could hardly believe what was happening. He wondered what I would think about this strange encounter. I told him later how amazed I was, because I had run across wolverines when I was a youth in Canada.
Roy glanced up and noticed a crowd of visitors had gathered along the railing behind the moat separating the habitat area from the visitor walkway. They were enjoying the scene without the slightest knowledge of the significance of what they were witnessing, after all few people they knew anything about wolverines. Roy thought it was just as well. What he was doing was risky and might get him fired if discovered by other keepers. They would think Roy was reckless, and they would be right. What he was doing was against all the rules and he regretted that he was risking his safety, and his job. On the other hand, the zoo staff would, no doubt, have had many questions for him; questions that he could not answer about his strange relationship with animals.
Roy thought it best to not chance having anyone else see this strange and wonderful, but foolish encounter with the wolverines. He slowly stood up and gathered his cleaning tools. The wolverines backed off but stayed close as Roy walked slowly and confidently back to the entrance of the den, careful not to make any sudden movements or scrape the heavy shovel on the ground.
As Roy knelt down to crawl through the den entrance into the inside cage, one animal rushed by him into the den, brushing against his arm. The others followed, almost knocking Roy over. He was startled at their action but did not panic. As he continued to creep into the dark den area, he knew all four were awaiting his arrival. Roy could see very little until his eyes adjusted to the darkness. Eventually he saw them, they were lying on the cool floor in a row, as if welcoming him to their home. He talked to them as he moved to the inside cage door with them at his heels. Roy slowly and gently pushed them back with the side of his foot so they would not try to follow him out. He unlocked and opened the heavy door just enough to slip out with his tools.
The four wolverines watched him intently while they paced back and forth behind the bars of their cage. Roy locked the door and went over to the food prep area and the refrigerator that held several days’ worth of meat. He found four small beef bones, one for each wolverine, so they would not quarrel over the treats. As he pushed each bone through the bars of the cage, the wolverines snatched them up according to their dominance and retreated to the back of the den. Watching them eat clearly demonstrated to Roy why wolverines are so feared by other animals. The beef bones were savagely picked clean, crushed, and consumed before Roy’s eyes as he stood in wonderment.
Before Roy left the den area, he knelt down next to the cage bars and touched the nose of each animal. He wondered what they were thinking and if they would remember him tomorrow. Roy heard some growling as he shut the door and stepped into the sunshine.
The visitors had drifted away in front of the habitat area. Roy stopped at the front of the empty habitat area and called out “Hello, anyone home?” Immediately four excited wolverines scrambled out of the den and looked around, sniffing the air. Roy called to them again and all four loped toward the edge of the moat in their awkward gait. They paced back and forth looking over at him and raising their nose to smell the air. Roy had other chores to do at the zoo that day so he reluctantly left his new friends.
That evening at the dinner table, Roy had an exciting story to tell to his family. Sister Millie was so excited with his story she could hardly eat, and his mom, Maggie, scolded him for taking such a risk. I listened but did not really have the opportunity to ask many questions until Millie calmed down. After dinner in the living room of our small apartment, I took out his journal and wrote in it as Roy told his story again in all its detail. I suggested that Roy not tell his story to other zookeepers. Roy had come to that conclusion and was glad that his dad agreed. It was wise to keep this adventure a secret.
Roy had trouble falling asleep that night because he was excited about the unusual day and eager for the morning and another visit with the wolverines. I also lay awake in bed, after Maggie had fallen asleep, and thought about my son. Why was Roy different from other people, or was he different? Perhaps there were others who had the same ability to communicate with animals but never knew it. Was civilization slowly desensitizing humans to their ancient and intimate link with nature? On the other hand, maybe my son was unique.
I wondered what other adventures Roy might have in the future. Some day I hoped to turn my journal of Roy’s adventures into a book; a book for kids because adults would not believe the stories. Whether or not the stories were believed was not as important as the message they carried. Kids would be more likely than adults to tune into the important message about their role in the web of life and their responsibility to preserve the health of the earth and its inhabitants.