Growth and development, newcomers and Mile High rent dominated much of the conversation in the city in 2015. But there were also lighter, funnier and just plain weirder stories, too. Here are some of our favorite strange but true events involving animals. Find the rest of our Year in Review in print this week and on our blog today, tomorrow and Thursday.
About one hundred or so prairie dogs from Castle Rock went on a strange journey last spring. The rodents began their voyage in March, when they were trapped at a construction site for a massive new mall; the development had been at the center of a tense debate over sprawl in Castle Rock. An environmental group eventually won the right to send the yap rats to a farm in New Mexico, but in the meantime, they were caged and kept in the garage of a woman who’d volunteered to look after them. But when the transfer to New Mexico didn’t take place, wildlife officials descended on the woman’s house and seized the sod poodles. A video showed the seizure, in which a woman can be heard crying in the background. The prairie dogs were eventually relocated to an open area in Douglas County, a last-minute save that kept them from being fed to ferrets. No, really.
Animal Defenders International created quite a stir last spring when it announced that it would fly 33 lions — rescued from circuses in Peru and Colombia — to Colorado, where they would take up residence at the Wild Animal Sanctuary in Keenesburg. The lions’ tale made for daily news fodder for a while — and the imminent arrival was plastered across billboards throughout Denver — until ADI suddenly reversed course in June, saying that the sanctuary wasn’t going to work after all. The lions eventually found a home on a preserve in South Africa.
Last spring, Colorado’s Teller Lake No. 5 made national news — not to mention a few jokes on Comedy Central — when wildlife officials said they might have to drain it in order to get rid of an estimated 4,000 goldfish that were quickly destroying the ecosystem there. Apparently the massive goldfish population came about after someone dumped their pets into the Boulder County lake several years ago — and the fish multiplied. But a month later, when biologists went to survey the goldfish population, they discovered that they were...gone. The lake’s savior? Hungry pelicans, apparently. “Isn’t it fantastic?” Colorado Parks and Wildlife spokeswoman Jennifer Churchill told the Boulder Daily Camera. “It has totally happened naturally.”
Where there’s smoke, there’s fire — or in this case, where there’s a dead rat, there’s smoke. In June, law enforcement officials in Jefferson County raided a home after receiving a tip about rodents being treated poorly, and discovered hundreds of dead and live rats — some of which had turned cannibalistic after being cooped up in containers with little light or ventilation. They also removed dozens of geckos and about sixty exotic snakes. But that wasn’t all: Police also found an illegal pot-growing operation that included about 100 plants.
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Police arrested a Monte Vista woman in November after discovering a gruesome scene alongside County Road 8 near Alamosa: dozens of bloody, injured and dead sheep strewn over about 400 feet. Law enforcement officials believe the woman was driving drunk when she plowed into a herd of the animals, killing more than forty of them before continuing on her way. “I think what we are really trying to figure out is how the car managed to continue on after hitting that many sheep,” a Colorado State Patrol officer told 9News. “Without any skid marks, it doesn’t appear that she applied the brakes at all.”
Jo Ann Medina was arrested in July for feeding bears in her Colorado Springs neighborhood. Arrested? Yes. That’s because it was the fifth time that law enforcement officials had busted her for giving food to the bears, which meander their way through her residential neighborhood to get it — something that wildlife officials say puts everyone at risk. This time, there were six to ten bears in the hungry crew of marauders, some of them as large as 450 pounds.
A young moose wandered onto Boulder’s Pearl Street Mall late on a Sunday night in June, becoming the center of attention for a bunch of yokels who tried to approach it. Police eventually scared the animal over onto the Boulder County Courthouse lawn and captured it in the parking lot of the Hotel Boulderado.
Watch for more strange-but-true stories from our annual Year in Review roundup.