When the telephone rings at a newspaper, especially a weekly rural one, it usually means someone within the readership area has something to share. What they deem newsworthy. Often it’s unusual. This particular morning it was to be something way more than unusual, it was freaky.
At the time, the 1990s, there was a tiger haven near West Fork where cats of the wild kind were taken in for various reasons. Usually because someone had bought a cub thinking it cute till it grew up and tried to eat their hand at feeding time. Or simply was way too big to be played with nor was it cute anymore.
When I first went to work as a feature writer at the Observer I was fascinated by the large tigers living there, some were the unusual white type. I soon made friends with the owner and she began to ask for me when she had a story to share. This was often because tigers are not always predictable, and I learned that right away. But I fell in love with the large cats and I soon learned their behavior is much like the domesticated pet kitty that owns so many of us. What they do not do like our kitty is purr or meow. The domesticated feline has learned this over the centuries in order to please and communicate with us humans.
Now to the story: The phone call that morning was to tell me in an excited voice that someone had brought in a medium sized wild black cat endowed with fangs much like photos of saber toothed tigers. She said it was very wild and very ill, so if I wanted a photo of it while it was alive I needed to hurry.
At the time we had an editor who thought he had to go along on all calls unless a body was involved, at which time he quickly found something else to do, so he went along with me to view this so called saber tooth. A caveat: we seldom if ever had bodies so I had to put up with him. He could neither write, edit, or take very good pictures but he was related to someone and convinced he could.
When we arrived he raced to beat me to the small cage where the cat was being held. Because if was lying flat he insisted on raising its chin up with a forked stick for this photo which he also took. To me it made this poor creature look like he had already passed into big cat heaven, but what it does show are the fanged teeth.
No matter what experts were called none could explain this oddity except that perhaps it was either a mutant or a cross breed or a throw-back. Here’s what “Live Science” has to say about saber toothed tigers:
Saber-toothed cats apparently did not go extinct for lack of prey, contradicting a popular explanation for why they died off, fossil evidence now suggests. … However, at the end of the late Pleistocene about 12,000 years ago, these “megafauna” went extinct, a die-off called the Quaternary extinction. I’ve always wondered what we saw in that cage. This is its picture. Since all I have is a copy from the newspaper it is not of good quality since at that time we used a darkroom to prepare the photos.
Those of my readers old enough to have known Logan France of Mountainburg know of the story he told about when he was much younger and considered quite adept at lassoing from horseback. In those days circus trains often traveled on the Frisco line that ran north and south from the Arkansas River Valley to Fayetteville. He told of the time the train wrecked and he was called upon to come help round up all the wild animals that had escaped, most especially the wild cats. Because they didn’t capture them all he always claimed that was where many of our “panthers” that are spotted roaming these Ozarks came from. And he surmised that some would have come from mating with our own wild cats. To this day mountain lions are spotted occasionally just at dusk. The Observer had a standing offer to anyone who could get a good photo of one, but all we ever got were paw prints in the dust which an animal expert said were those of mountain lions.
Saber-toothed tiger Facts. Saber-toothed tiger (Smilodon) is one of the most popular prehistoric mammals that once lived in North and South America. It was dominant predator on the grassland plains and open woodlands during the Pleistocene (from 2.5 million years – 10.000 years ago).
Now, no one can say they didn’t learn something from my blog this week.