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Of Mice and Mysteries: Musings on Instances of Incredible Animal Behavior

A couple of days ago I found a very interesting tweet on my feed. It was written in Spanish, and told the story of a senior British citizen who claimed that every night his garden shed was cleaned up by a helpful little mouse. Since no-one believed him, he decided to place a surveillance camera to obtain the following evidence:

I found the video so fascinating I decided to retweet it with a succinct translation, looking to see if anyone of my English-speaking friends had heard of this story. Unsurprisingly, it has become one of my most popular Tweets of this year, but it also sparked an interesting debates between my friends and colleagues.

Joshua Cutchin, author of A Trojan Feast and Thieves in the Night, had apparently found that the video in question was being mentioned in some online discussions as a way to ‘debunk’ ghost cases, whereas other friends of mine thought it was just a fascinating example of animal intelligence.

I used my search engine to find out more, and the first time the story was reported it was done by The Daily Mail, which makes it clear that  Stephen Mckears –the 72-year-old retired electrician who was finding plastic clips, nuts, bolts and all sorts of little objects gathering each night inside a plastic tub he kept in his garden shed (the tub was filled with peanuts he kept to feed the birds)– never considered any supernatural interpretations for the unusual occurrences, though the younger members of his family initially did:

I didn’t know what it was at first. The kids were saying it was a ghost.

One day I emptied the tub out and spread the contents on the side – and the the next day they were all back in again. I thought I was going mad.

I would suspect Mr. Mckears didn’t find any mouse excrement scattered all around the shed either, which would have been clear evidence of vermin involvement –even though this is undoubtedly un-vermin like behavior.

Other commenters on my tweet suspected this was just a case of a highly-trained rodent used to produce a viral video, a possibility we obviously cannot be overruled entirely. In the Daily Mail article, Mr. Mckears jokingly called his four-legged helper ‘the Brexit mouse’ (“because he’s been stockpiling for Brexit”) though I doubt this story had any veiled political motivations –nevertheless, let’s just hope Uri Geller doesn’t hear about this one, or he might start claiming he was mind-controlling the mouse!

Whatever the case, the reaction the ‘cleaning mouse’ story received made me think about other instances of bizarre animal behavior that seem to intersect with our ‘paranormal’ interests. Take for example the account of Casey, a 3-year-old kid who got lost in the woods and told his parents that ‘a bear’ had looked after him:

His aunt then retold Casey’s story on Facebook, saying: “He said he hung out with a bear for two days … God sent him a friend to keep him safe. God is a good God. Miracles do happen.”

Since then, Casey’s story about the bear has made international headlines, some debating about whether or not such a thing is possible. Some dismissed the story as a fantasy.

​​​But Chris Norcott, a wildlife photographer who spends more time with black bears in North Carolina than probably anyone else, thinks the story could very well be true — he’s even heard similar tales in the past.

“I believe him,” Norcott told The Dodo. “Over the years, I’ve seen many behaviors which demonstrated their concern and nurturing side … towards their own offspring [and] other animals.”

I’m sure readers of The Grail will not find surprising that members of the Cryptozoological community immediately jumped all over this news, and credited their favorite undiscovered primate for the survival of little Casey —“that was no bear, that was obviously Bigfoot!” they claim with absolute certainty, thinking that in the eyes of a young child it would be easy to misidentify an hirsute cryptid with a plantigrade, which would be a more familiar image thanks to television and cartoons.

Similar occurrences also happen in UFOlogy, when EVERY single instance of odd animal sightings are immediately explained away as ‘screen memories’ –a term coined by the late Budd Hopkins, in which a deer or an owl initially reported by a UFO witness turns out to be a ‘false projection” meant to disguise an alien encounter. Whether the screen memory is a deliberate deception implanted by the UFOnauts, or a natural reaction of the psyche after facing something completely outside the worldview of the witness, is a matter of heated debate amid UFOlogical circles.

My friend Mike Clelland has spent the last decade documenting extraordinary encounters with owls, which seemed to be somehow linked to the UFO phenomenon in ways that go beyond the stereotypes unquestioningly accepted by UFO researchers. Mike is pretty certain the owls he’s encountered are ‘real’ owls, and not screen memories, yet acknowledging the ‘realness’ of these nocturnal raptors doesn’t in any way diminish the transformational potency these experiences have had in his life, and the lives of many other people who have reached out to him thanks to the notoriety his blog Hidden Experience has quietly amassed over the years. At one point the famous UFO abductee Whitley Strieber commented on Mike’s page, proposing the idea that perhaps the owls were being used by ‘the Visitors’ –as he calls them– as a sort of ‘biological surveillance system’ in order to spy on people like Mike (i.e. the aliens would look through the eyes of the owl). An interesting idea, no doubt, but IMO a kind of desperate attempt in trying to make the owls fit into the UFO narrative in ways that would make sense to us, when we could just simply accept this is a phenomenon for which we still don’t have an adequate cultural framework in order to approach it –same as the entire UFO phenomenon, for that matter.

My point is this: Why is it that we try so hard to rationalize extraordinary animal behavior so it can validate a specific model of the world? I guess the answer is because we have been told all of our lives that animals are nothing but biological machines, driven by instinct and the will to survive. As incredibly complex as their behavior may be it can still be predicted or programmed, we arrogantly assume (just like ours, social psychologists might add). So if an animal behaves in ways that fall outside our expectations –like for example, when a dog and a polar bear play together, a gorilla saving a little boy that falls into its habitat, or animals riding other animals— then if we cannot explain the ‘odd behavior’ as the work of aliens, guardian angels in disguise, ghosts playing tricks on us, or misidentified cryptids, we then simply file the occurrence into our “well ain’t that something?” file cabinet and quickly forget about it, still clinging to the notion that we understand all there is to know about the lowly creatures co-inhabiting this planet with us.

And yet the more we look into the animal and plant kingdoms, and read stories like hawks in Australia using fire to hunt for prey –FIRE! The last tool that was supposedly exclusive of mankind– gorillas acting as if they’re mourning their dead, and plants solving math problems, we realize the boundaries supposedly separating us from the all the creatures, big and small, get thinner and blurrier beyond all recognition.

Unlike us, our earlier ancestors didn’t see themselves as outside the rest of Nature. They saw all the animals as kin, and incorporated them into their mythologies and religions. In those myths the behavior of “Brother Bear” or “Brother Fox”  was just as intelligent and deliberate as that of humans, which is why we laugh at the ignorant thinking of those primitives, or simply interpret those myths as cultural metaphors, closer to the children tales of Rudyard Kipling than to actual facts –and yet we keep hearing stories of children raised or cared by animals, even to this day…

PSI research has been attaining more exposure in the last few years, which I think it’s a step in the right direction. But if we entertain the idea of human beings having ‘psychic abilities’, what makes us so certain animals don’t have them too? Rupert Sheldrake was mocked when he wrote his book Dogs That Know That Their Owners Are Coming Home, and yet the evidence he produced suggests there’s indeed an unexplained connection between pets and their owners. Such links suggest symbiotic relationships between different species are much more complex than we think, and instead of thinking in ‘supernatural’ terms we could very well acknowledge this as the REAL face of Nature.

Our Cartesian conditioning paints the world as a spontaneous machine devoid of real purpose, yet isn’t it more sensible to address Nature as having such a sophisticated sense of self-organization operating at all levels –from the microorganisms living inside our gut to the gigantic fungi network expanding more than 8.8 square miles across the Malheur National Forest, in Oregon– than we could only interpret it as INTELLIGENCE for lack of a better term? We see ourselves as conscious beings gifted with free will and volition, and yet in reality we are closer to a coral reef populated by a myriad of different organisms that don’t even share our own DNA, yet coexist in harmony with the goal of keeping us alive and healthy.

I cannot ‘feel’ or see the nerve cells inside my body, and yet when I wish to type the keys of a computer, a whole chain reaction of biochemical processes I cannot even name take place, and the fingers attached to my hands follow my command. Clever little buggers.

The sense of interconnectedness of all living things and seeing ourselves as part of a larger system was the main thesis of The Lives of a Cell, a book written by Lewis Thomas in the 1970s, which was venturing scientific and philosophical theories which later coalesced into the Gaia hypothesis. Critics might accuse me of doing exactly what I was criticizing at the beginning of this essay, and trying to fit incredible animal behavior into a given framework. Like all humans I am not without my bias, but my redeeming quality I think is that the Gaia model doesn’t exhibit the same level of arrogance shared by the one uphold by the materialists, or even the alternative models dominating the current paranormal discussion. It’s a model that reinstates the dignity of Nature, and keeps us humble by continuously reminding us we’re too small to see the whole.

Remembering that, and seeking to work in cooperation with Nature, instead of trying to dominate it, might be the only way to move out of the mess we’ve created for ourselves when crowned ourselves as Kings of Creation.

Yes, sometimes a mouse is just a mouse. But even a tiny mouse should not be underestimated.

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