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  • Susan Gallagher

Pickled Babies

Last week I had the opportunity to promote my environmental education center with a display at a local home & backyard expo. I filled four tables with wildlife-related displays. There were bones, seeds, turtle shells, taxidermy mounts, and things in jars. It seemed a good representation of the kinds of life one might find in their own back yard.

Overall, my little tableau was well-received. I answered a lot of questions about venomous snakes, bluebird nesting boxes, and the hawks that prey on songbirds at feeders. I even collected a few dollars in donations, and awarded a prize for the visitor who correctly guessed the number of sweet gum seed pods in this jar…

Congratulations to Nikki B. of Pittston, who hit the nail right on the proverbial head, with a guess of 624.

To my surprise, I also horrified a few of those who stopped by my booth. Remember those “things in jars” I mentioned? One of them was a white-tail deer fawn.

Why would you bring that thing here!”

“That’s wrong. And disgusting.”

“What exactly is the purpose of THAT?”

The purpose, like that of everything else I’d brought, was to generate thought and discussion. This animal’s mother had been killed by a car, and an officer from the Pennsylvania Game Commission had tried to save it via in-the-field cesarean section. So for starters, we can talk about the rotten reputation some of these game officers have, and how it might at times be undeserved.

Better yet, we can talk about DEER! About how they’ve nibbled their way to the top of the list of current threats to forest biodiversity. How they mow down everything green in their path except for beech seedlings and hay-scented fern (two of the very few plants that don’t suit their tastes). Or how the only real tool to manage these insidious rats with antlers is regulated hunting--an issue complicated by politics, competing priorities, and of course, the emotional reaction we all felt when Bambi lost his mom.

Then I go ahead and put Bambi in a bottle. Oh, the horror!

I should mention here that I had several other things in jars, which didn’t seem to bother anyone. I know this because I asked.

“Are the pickled snakes okay?”



“Because they’re ugly.”

Follow this logic, and any endangered species that’s lacking in the looks department may as well kiss its ugly butt goodbye. Sorry little Salt Creek tiger beetle! No one cares. You just weren’t cute enough. Rest assured, I will, however, put you in a jar if given the opportunity.

(The critically endangered Salt Creek tiger beetle. Photo from Wikipedia.)

Aware of the reaction this fawn was generating among a minority of the masses, I got proactive. I covered the jar with my hands at the approach of any woman accompanied by a newborn, or those who were obviously pregnant.

“There’s a baby in here. I don’t want it to take you by surprise.”

But none of these women were offended. Not one. Though I’ve never experienced the Miracle of Childbirth myself, I’ve had friends tell me that having a baby connected them more deeply to the cycle of life--and death. New moms may abhor the idea of things dying young, but maybe they're somehow compelled to come to terms with it in the course of nine months' gestation.

The kids I met that day were also completely accepting of pickled wildlife. Most were grossed out, admittedly, but when has “gross” ever deterred a kid? “Eeeeew!! Hey, let me see that…”

And far be it from me to stifle a child’s interest in biology. No matter how distasteful it may be for some adults, I’m thinking I need even more wild babies in jars.

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