The park officials couldn’t believe their eyes when they saw it. At first, they had a hard time even identifying what that animal was. It was like nothing they had ever seen before.
But then, after reading some scientific literature and pondering the different possible hypotheses for what they had just seen, there was only one explanation: after more than a hundred years, it had come back.
It’s scary to think how much we don’t know about nature. Still, in this day and age, great extensions of land remain unexplored by mankind. And nobody knows what forms of life can be found there.
And every day, new animal and vegetal species are discovered that no human being has even heard of before.
Can you imagine how it must feel to be confronted with a piece of nature that has been thriving and evolving on its own, hidden from the human eye? It must be an awe-inspiring and humbling experience.
One can only imagine how the park officials from Mount Rainier National Park felt when they went through an experience like that.
Sometimes, nature surprises us in other ways. Some animals are believed to have gone extinct a long time ago; but suddenly, someone spots one of those animals. And we find out that nature has been following its course away from our observation.
That’s a humbling – and even slightly scary – experience too. And that’s what took place recently in one of America’s national parks.
Stephanie Jenkins, the Superintendent of Mount Rainier National Park, expected that day to be fairly similar to the others. Was that a good thing or a bad thing? Well, that’s a difficult question.
She still enjoyed her job, no doubt about it. But after years of taking care of the park and making sure that everything that took place in there conformed to the rules and regulations, things had gotten a little monotonous to her. Until that day.
Her duties were comfortable, and it was fulfilling for her to think that she was helping to take care of one of America’s richest natural spaces.
But sometimes, she wished for something to happen that would shake her routine and introduce some novelty to the park’s wildlife. Little did she know that, for the better or worse, this was what was about to happen.
She was sitting at her desk, taking care of some administrative matters. Those were the kinds of things that took up most of her time as a Superintendent at the National Park, but also the ones she dreaded the most.
Right then, she was fantasizing about how her life would be if she had taken a career path that allowed her to be more in touch with the raw forces of nature; with the wild, the unconstrained, the unknown. And suddenly, one of the park employees knocked on her door.
What could it be? “Come in,” she said. She felt amused and curious as she saw the excited, nervous, and a little bit scared face of the employee as he anxiously tip-toed through the door.
“Mrs. Jenkins, we have just seen something that… well, we don’t know what it is. It looks like an eagle, but it looks like nothing we’ve ever seen before. And checking the records, I don’t think it has ever been seen in this park either.”
Stephanie Jenkins felt an excitement that she hadn’t experienced for years. Finally, something unexpected and wild? Or maybe it would be just a case of ignorance on the part of the park’s employees?
Rushing out of her office, she followed the employee to the area where he claimed to have seen the strange eagle. And then she saw it.
It looked like the bird indeed. But there was something absolutely unusual about it: something that made the bird look like nothing she had ever seen before.
It had a beautiful, impressive orange plumage and an extraordinarily long beak. What in the world could that be? Mrs. Jenkins ordered the employees to follow it and take photos so she could examine the bird up close.
So they did. And when Mrs. Jenkins had the chance to look at the photos of the strange bird from a slightly closer distance, a sudden thought struck her mind. Could that be…? But that was impossible!
She identified the animal as a species that she had read about some time ago; some predatory bird known for its orange plumage. But there was only one detail: that species was supposed to have gone extinct more than a hundred years ago.
Quickly, Stephanie Jenkins rushed to the park’s library. She ran through the whole bibliography on eagles and birds in general that could be found in the area.
It took her the whole day to finish reading it. Still, by the time she was done, she had come to a final conclusion: that strange eagle was the same predator that was said to have gone extinct a century ago.
That species had a fascinating history: apparently, it was brought to America from India by British colonizers in the 19th century. It ate mice, rats, and even squirrels.
At the time, its orange plumage was greatly valued for decorative and ornamental purposes. For this reason, it had gone extinct both in India and in America. Or that’s what the scientific community believed up until Jenkins’ discovery.
Immediately, Jenkins emailed the main universities in the area. She couldn’t wait to know the story behind her finding: how did that eagle survive through the years despite the intense hunting activities? How many specimens could be found around?
And most importantly: could it only be found in the park or in other parts of America as well? She was excited to have those questions answered. She hoped that the academic community would conduct some research on the strange bird.
Plenty of universities soon replied to Jenkins’ email. Scholars became greatly interested in Stephanie’s finding. But then, a zoologist shattered all of Stephanie’s dreams.
The zoologist shared a story about two other bright orange birds that were found in Wales, near Pembrokeshire Coast National Park. They resembled Stephanie’s bird, but not all was what it seemed.
The zoologist explained that the first bright orange bird was spotted on the side of a highway in Wales.
Everyone was astounded by the bird’s strange, beautiful color – it looked like the phoenix of myth. The bird appeared to have trouble flying, so an excited good samaritan picked it up and called Tigglywinkles Wildlife Hospital.
“When they called to say they had picked up an orange bird, we had no idea what to expect – and would never have guessed at this!” Tigglywinkles Wildlife Hospital posted on their Facebook page, accompanied by a photo of the strange-looking bird.
Everyone was excited that they had possibly found a new species – the bird looked like nothing anyone had ever seen before.
The photo of the beautiful blue-eyed, orange bird quickly became an internet sensation. Everyone was trying to guess what type of bird it could be.
The vets at the wildlife hospital who examined the bird said that it gave off an extremely pungent smell when they handled it. But, it turned out that the bird wasn’t an exotic new species after all.
On closer inspection, the vets concluded that the orange bird was just an ordinary herring gull – but that didn’t explain its extraordinary color.
“This is one of the strangest casualty circumstances we have seen in a while! This bright-orange herring gull was rescued by kind members of the public who spotted him at the side of the A41.”
It turned out that the herring gull had somehow managed to get himself covered in turmeric and curry spices – which also explained the smell.
“It was all over his feathers, preventing him from flying properly. We have no idea how he got into this predicament but thankfully, apart from the vibrant colour and pungent smell, he was healthy,” the hospital posted in a viral update.
The hospital staff decided to name the gull “Vinny” – after Vindaloo curry. They bathed him in washing liquid and water to clean his feathers.
“He managed to cover them in curry water, but eventually did let us scrub him clean,” they wrote. Then, they posted a photo of the bird’s dramatic transformation. But this wasn’t the first or last time a gull got too close to a vat of curry.
In 2016, another photo of a orange, curry-doused seagull went viral online. The seagull, hilariously named Gullfrazie, had fallen into a vat of chicken tikka masala while trying to scavenge some chicken from food factory waste bin.
Gullfrazie was rescued by workers at the factory and picked up by a volunteer for Vale Wildlife Hospital. When he arrived, the vets were incredulous.
According to research, seagulls are a lot smarter than people believe. Although we see them as pests that infest coastlines around the world, they are surprisingly intelligent birds that learn behaviors from other seagulls.
When one seagull with a taste for curry decided to scavenge from the waste containers around food factories in wales, others started doing it too. But what did this mean for Stephanie’s orange bird?
Seagulls can fly distances of 6,000 miles. It’s plausible that a British gull with a penchant for curry had somehow ended up in Washington and across the ocean 3,500 miles away.
The zoologist’s explanation for Stephanie’s discovery fit. At first, she was shattered that what she’d seen wasn’t an extinct species. She’d made a fool of herself in front of the entire world!
Stephanie couldn’t believe that the “rare” bird was actually a common seagull covered in turmeric. But when she finally came to grips with her embarassment and took a closer look at the photographs, she couldn’t help but laugh.
Little did she know, there actually was a rarity that hadn’t been seen in more than a century – right under her nose in Mount Rainier National Park.
After there had several confirmed sightings of an animal that hadn’t been in the Mount Rainier National Park for over a hundred years, Stephanie was approached by the Cascades Carnivore Project.
They asked for permission to set up remote cameras in her park, hoping to catch a glimpse of an extremely elusive predator. Right after the curry-gull incident, the project finally bore fruit.
When Stephanie heard the news, she just couldn’t believe it. After a crushing blow, her spirits soared again.
The cameras, which had been designed to capture the unique white markings on the animal’s chest, had captured footage of one of the predators nursing two kits in the park. It was the first time a wolverine had been in the area for more that a century.
“It’s really, really exciting,” Stephanie told the media. “It tells us something about the condition of the park— that when we have such large-ranging carnivores present on the landscape that we’re doing a good job of managing our wilderness.”
Wolverines are rare in America. Estimates say there are only 200-1000 individual wolverines in the lower 48 states in the U.S. This was the first time a female with young had been spotted.
“Many species that live at high elevation in the Pacific Northwest, such as the wolverine, are of particular conservation concern due to their unique evolutionary histories and their sensitivity to climate change,” Dr. Jocelyn Akins of the Cascades Carnivore Project said.
“They serve as indicators of future changes that will eventually affect more tolerant species and, as such, make good models for conservation in a changing world.”
Although the locations of the wolverine’s den have not been released to the public for fear for the wolverine’s safety, there are ways ordinary citizens can help.
“Backcountry enthusiasts, skiers, snowshoers and snowmobilers can help us monitor wolverines and contribute to studying their natural return to the Cascade ecosystem,” Dr. Tara Chestnut, a park ecologist said.