In my second year, I wearily returned to Toyon Hall around midnight, ready to get fired. The air was crisp and the friendly neighborhood skunk was calmly strolling the lawn. Everything was fine until said skunk suddenly started rushing towards the yard where I was walking. Fearing a stinging attack, I walked through the front doors. Reflecting on the incident two years later, I had the intuition that such unprovoked encounters are not uncommon.
From hares hopping along bike paths to coyotes roaming East Campus, Stanford’s animals can’t go unnoticed. After sunset we can watch packs of husky raccoons crossing Meyer Green. “I saw [a raccoon] slipping into the sewer,” said Catherine Chen ’22.
Critters also tend to wander around manholes and garbage cans. Jodalys Herrera ’23 suspects the Stanford raccoon’s “fat” build is attributed to feasting in the gourmet dining room’s dumpsters. She saw a heavy creature “eating from a pile of something near a trash can”.
Unfortunately for ’23 Luke Babbitt, one of those raccoons broke into his dorm. On January 30, while lying in bed with the windows open, he heard a menacing creak. The screen detached from the frame and a raccoon paw entered, pulling a crawling creature through the crevice. Panicked, Babbitt began to escape, but then decided to defend his territory, going “from a moment of flight to a moment of fight”. Swinging his pillow at the window, he managed to chase away the invader. Reflecting on the surreal encounter, Babbitt said the intrusive raccoon “frightened the life, death and homosexuality of [him].”
Janine Fleming ’22 also had a wild fender bender near Kimball Hall in her sophomore year. As she received a DoorDash command, she was soon joined by what appeared to be a large dog, with which she had a brief “awkward look”, before the animal fled. Much to her concern, she soon realized the dog was a coyote.
The prevalence of coyotes near Hannah Pingol’s sophomore dorm prompted her to skip class on occasion. At a quiet wine and cheese event hosted by Kairos in 2020, Pingol and a friend stepped out for a breath of fresh air. After discerning the gaze of a coyote, they began to run. Much to their dismay, the coyote first followed in pursuit. “We were so scared that we threw our drinks into the bushes,” Pingol said.
The subject of hares is all too personal for Henry Liera ’22, who saw a pair of hares mating outside the Arrillaga Outdoor Education and Recreation Center. “I was shocked; I laughed, said ‘good for them’ and then went on with my day,” Liera said.
During my freshman year, I heard a rumor that the creatures’ seemingly larger size was due to genetic mutations caused by Stanford radiation experiments gone wrong. Doubting the veracity of this gossip, I contacted Stanford attending veterinarian and professor of comparative medicine, Stephen Felt.
Felt shared that people may perceive the size of hares, or jackrabbits, as surprising given “how much bigger they are than their related ‘smaller’ cousins (i.e. rabbits), especially their ears and hind legs. Other wild mammals may appear larger when approaching humans. The animals “are stressed[ed] can manifest as postural changes and bringing out their fur (term called ‘piloerection’),” Felt wrote.
According to Felt, all of these animals are generally nocturnal. If you see a raccoon in broad daylight, it may be a mother, “whose caloric needs are higher, [searching for food] so that she can produce milk,” or a young that was kicked out of the nest, Felt wrote. However, Felt also revealed that if animals are out during the day and “display unusual behaviors (stumbling, aggressiveness, vocalization, convulsions, etc.), they may have a disease (eg, rabies)” for which Animal Control must be contacted.
Although many mammal populations at Stanford appear to be alive and thriving, others are suffering from the effects of biomagnification, or increased concentration of toxins in animals higher up the food chain. “We certainly identified dead predatory wildlife species (fox, bobcat) that fell victim to the fallout from indiscriminate rodenticide use,” Felt wrote.
“The most massive animal of all is the human,” said Lina Fowler ’22 MS ’23, who is unimpressed with the furry residents of campus. In contrast, Babbitt remains vigilant about his surroundings. “I keep my windows closed at night because I’m scared,” he says.