In about 1979, I was a Patrol Ranger on the Sierra NF in Shaver Lake. Early one morning I got a radio request to report to Dorabelle Campground to assist the Rangers there.
When I arrived at the Campground HQ I found the Rangers on the porch with a 30ish man. The man’s nose was heavily bandaged and, even with all the bandaging, it was obvious that his nose was quite swollen.
|Shaver Lake at Dorabelle Campground|
That was not to be the case.
“I was sleeping in my tent,” the man began, “when I felt something grab my nose. I woke up and there were a pair of red eyes staring at me! Some sort of animal was biting me right on the bridge of my nose!”
I must have looked at him somewhat dubiously, because he quickly continued, “Swear to God, man! I’m telling the truth! I’m not drunk or anything. I was just asleep and something came into my tent and attacked me!”
He told us that he jumped up and when he stood the creature let go and dropped to the ground. It quickly scurried off into the brush.
“I didn’t get a great look at it ‘cause it was still pretty dark and it moved fast. It was about the size of a large cat and had light fur, tan or gray or maybe even white. But two things I know for sure, it had red eyes and sharp teeth!”
The man, somewhat understandably disenchanted with camping, told us he was heading home. “I want to see my doctor and get this fixed up. I hope it doesn’t leave a scar. That son-of-a-bitch took a lot of skin with him.”
I took the gentleman’s contact info and then shocked him by explaining that he would probably need rabies shots. Often, I explained to him, when an animal attacks without provocation, it’s because it is rabid.
“Couldn’t you trap it and test it?” he asked – no one looks forward to rabies shots, they have a notorious reputation.
“There are so many wild animals up here we’d never be able to be sure that anything we catch would be the one that bit you.”
“It’ll be the one with red eyes!” he said and stomped away.
“We’ll set out some traps,” I said, to his back, “but I’m not optimistic.”
Frankly, I was a bit dubious of the red eye detail, lots of animals’ eyes look red at night, due to reflections. I thought it was probably a squirrel that got into the tent and panicked when it thought it was trapped. We’d had a kid bitten by a squirrel (not rabid) earlier that same year, and it had happened before, usually when someone was trying to feed them.
Still, the rabies shots would be necessary, there’s no cure if it is allowed to begin. It’s nothing to mess with.
When I arrived there were two children (10-12 year old) with the Rangers.
The children told us that they had gotten up early to fish. On their way back from the lake the saw a squirrel-sized animal with white fur run through their campsite – which happened to be the same site where the man had been bitten.
“It looked sort of like a squirrel and sort of like a cat.” One of the youngsters told us. “We saw it go into this pipe.”
They pointed to a drainage pipe that went under one of the campground roads just across from the Campground Ranger Station.
The younger of the two then piped in, “It had red eyes!”
Now they had my attention. Red eyes again. What was going on here?
Getting my flashlight I looked into the culvert. I couldn’t see anything, but the children said that they’d been watching both end of the pipe since it went inside and it hadn’t come out. The Dorabelle Rangers confirmed that nothing had come out since they started watching it after the children contacted them.
So we took two traps and set them on either end of the pipe. Wrapping chicken wire around both the mouths of the pipe and the traps, we were positive that whatever was in there couldn’t escape.
Nothing had shown up when I went off duty that afternoon. First thing the next morning I went straight to Dorabelle. The Head Campground Ranger arrived just as I pulled in. We walked over to the traps. There it was! It had red eyes! I realized that it was some sort of albino.
But what, exactly, was it? I’d never seen anything quite like it and I’d been a Ranger for four or five years then, and an outdoorsman all my life. It looked like a large weasel. It was much too big to be a weasel, although it did have that general shape. It wasn’t a badger, wolverine or any sort of cat.
Fish & Game came and collected the beast. They didn't know what it was either. They took it to the County Health offices in Fresno. It was euthanized and examined for rabies -- negative. I contacted the victim and he was greatly relieved to know he wouldn’t need the shots.
A few days later I was in Ivie’s Market. There on the bulletin board was a notice
Lost Albino Ferret and a blurry picture of our "Red Eyed Creature."
Yep, it was a domesticated pet ferret. Before this I’d never heard of them, but that’s what it was, an escaped pet.