"...do you really want a couple million eagles circling overhead?"
September 18, 2012 6:28 PM   Subscribe

In 2003, the BBC reported that a population explosion of Great Gerbils had destroyed more than 4 million hectares of grasslands in China's north-western Xinjiang region -- an area about the size of Switzerland. By 2005 the damage covered 5 million hectares, and the Xinjuang Regional Headquarters for Controlling Locusts and Rodents were reported to be breeding and attracting pairs of golden eagles to curb the gerbil population. So McSweeney's Joshuah Bearman was assigned to the story. His report: An Investigation Into Xinjiang's Growing Swarm of Great Gerbils, Which May or May Not be Locked in a Death-Struggle With the Golden Eagle, With Important Parallels and/or Implications Regarding Koala Bears, The Pied Piper, Spongmonkeys, Cane Toads, Black Death, [and] Text-Messaging..
posted by zarq (38 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
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The gerbils were blamed for climate change in the region, by Chinese authorities.

SPOILER!:


In 2009, after the eagle gambit failed, the gerbils were put on birth control.

Xinjiang can't catch a break, though. The area was ravaged by locusts last year. For more about locusts in China, see this great post by Baphomet, posted in 2007 detailing what happened when Mao tried to kill of their natural predator: sparrows.
posted by zarq at 6:29 PM on September 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


From the link: "The Great gerbil (Rhombomys opimus), is not a critter to be trifled with. Far and away unlike the gerbils found in pet stores, the great gerbil can grow to 16 inches (40.6 cm) and achieve a weight of .0627 pounds or .0285 kg."

At 16 inches, it weighs 29 grams? Or just over 1/20th of a pound? Proofread your figures, people!
posted by Nomyte at 6:37 PM on September 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


So, let me start... introduce wolves to eat the gerbils. Then?
posted by SPrintF at 6:37 PM on September 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Xinjuang Regional Headquarters for Controlling Locusts and Rodents

That's fantastic.
posted by lstanley at 6:39 PM on September 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


Soon after, of course, the gerbils went underground and began their new life of crime
posted by sarastro at 6:40 PM on September 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Xinjiang can't catch a break, though. The area was ravaged by locusts last year.

At least they skipped over the river of blood and the infestation of frogs.
posted by orange swan at 6:41 PM on September 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


Did they try sending in Richard Gere?
posted by Flashman at 6:48 PM on September 18, 2012 [8 favorites]


Regarding the Great Concavity, thus spoke the great prophet Wallace:
It's a herd of feral hamsters, a major herd, thundering across the yellow plains...

The noise of the herd is tornadic, locamotival. The expression on the hamsters’ whiskered faces is businesslike and implacable—it’s that implacable-herd expression. They thunder eastward across pedalferrous terrain that today is fallow, denuded. To the east, dimmed by the fulvous cloud the hamsters send up, is the vivid verdant ragged outline of the annularly overfertilized forests of what used to be central Maine.

With respect to a herd of this size, please exercise common sense. Feral hamsters are not pets. They mean business. Wide berth advised. Carry nothing even remotely vegetablish if in the path of a feral herd. If in the path of such a herd, move quickly and calmly in a direction perpendicular to their own. --Infinite Jest, page 93.
posted by Llama-Lime at 6:49 PM on September 18, 2012 [5 favorites]


Whenever anyone mentions Gerbils, I think of George Kennedy in 'Modern Romance'.
posted by ovvl at 6:49 PM on September 18, 2012


They just need to build a Great Gerbil Fence of China
posted by JauntyFedora at 6:50 PM on September 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Simpsons Episode 5F22, "Bart the Mother":
KENT: Our top story, the population of parasitic tree lizards has exploded, and local citizens couldn't be happier! It seems the rapacious reptiles have developed a taste for the common pigeon, also known as the 'feathered rat', or the 'gutter bird'. For the first time, citizens need not fear harassment by flocks of chattering disease-bags.

[...]

Skinner talks to Lisa.

SKINNER: Well, I was wrong. The lizards are a godsend.

LISA: But isn't that a bit short-sighted? What happens when we're overrun by lizards?

SKINNER: No problem. We simply unleash wave after wave of Chinese needle snakes. They'll wipe out the lizards.

LISA: But aren't the snakes even worse?

SKINNER: Yes, but we're prepared for that. We've lined up a fabulous type of gorilla that thrives on snake meat.

LISA: But then we're stuck with gorillas!

SKINNER: No, that's the beautiful part. When wintertime rolls around, the gorillas simply freeze to death.
posted by mhum at 6:59 PM on September 18, 2012 [9 favorites]


Here in L.A. we're experiencing a population explosion of PARROTS, of all things...a whole flock of them has been flying around the area after escaping a pet store fire in the valley a decade or so ago. The flock has been slowly getting bigger for years, and every time i'd run into them, i'd noticed it. But this year? This year is different...they are EVERYWHERE! And in numbers large enough to be unsettling ...more common than pigeons, even (and there's no mistaking them...they are noisy and they are green and they are fighting with the crows outside right now)...it's like a sign of the apocalypse. Like, how bad do things have to get before it actually starts to rain frogs?
posted by sexyrobot at 7:20 PM on September 18, 2012 [7 favorites]


The solution is coyotes. (Not wolves.) Release about 20 of them, and in a few years your Gerbil problem will be history.

Foxes would work pretty well, too, but not as well as coyotes.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 7:48 PM on September 18, 2012


This of course raises the philosophical question: can there be too many koalas? To which my answer would be no, since when I imagine even an infinity of koalas, what I am really imagining is heaven, as I dive amongst them and snuggle and kiss and hug them and sing how very much I love them! In fact, I hereby declare that I would pay a thousand dollars to snuggle with a room full of koalas for one hour.
posted by PugAchev at 7:57 PM on September 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


There's something disquieting about these creatures. They remind me of the lilies of the field. They toil not, neither do they spin. But they seem to eat a great deal. I see no practical use for them.
posted by michaelh at 8:18 PM on September 18, 2012 [5 favorites]


Thanks Llama-Lime, I came to make a DFW reference, but you did it better than I would have.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 8:27 PM on September 18, 2012


Go for the eyes Boo!
posted by The Whelk at 8:46 PM on September 18, 2012 [5 favorites]


Hmm... it looks like I need to update my cheat-sheet for animal catching.

There was an old woman who swallowed a cow,
I don't know how she swallowed a cow!
She swallowed the cow to catch the goat,
She swallowed the goat to catch the dog,

She swallowed the dog to catch the cat,
She swallowed the cat to catch to catch the bird,
She swallowed the bird to catch the spider,

She swallowed the dog to catch the golden eagle,
She swallowed the golden eagle to catch to catch the giant gerbil,
She swallowed the giant gerbil to catch the spider,
That wriggled and jiggled and tickled inside her,
She swallowed the spider to catch the fly,
I don't know why she swallowed the fly,
Perhaps she'll die.

posted by rh at 8:57 PM on September 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Koalas are assholes.
posted by ryanrs at 9:02 PM on September 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


That article was a valiant effort indeed to write a story when you can't get any leads. Been there myself.

Don't really think it was ultimately successful but points for trying.
posted by smoke at 9:41 PM on September 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Also, Zarq, I think your tags were more substantive than the piece, and I mean that as a compliment.
posted by smoke at 9:42 PM on September 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't understand the raptor-rodent equilibrium. I have seen hawks pick off squirrels like shooting fish in a barrel. Easy as pie. And yet the last time I was in Palo Alto I saw in that open space in front of Stanford thousands of squirrels, at least two different species--one had chocolate brown fur and the other had light gray fur--with red tail hawks all over the place and I never one time in that place and time saw a hawk swoop down and pick off a squirrel. I surmise the hawks were so well fed that they didn't have to hunt all the time but why weren't there hundreds of hawks, not tens? When I saw the hawk pick off the squirrel so easy peasy that was the only hawk I saw that day and I saw at least ten squirrels that day. Was that a confirmation bias statistical illusion? How come there ain't hundreds of hawks living east of the Stanford quad picking off them squirrels in an unending bloodbath?
posted by bukvich at 9:49 PM on September 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Here in L.A. we're experiencing a population explosion of PARROTS, of all things...a whole flock of them has been flying around the area after escaping a pet store fire in the valley a decade or so ago. The flock has been slowly getting bigger for years, and every time i'd run into them, i'd noticed it.

Really? Where--what part of town?
posted by snuffleupagus at 10:36 PM on September 18, 2012


Welp, it looks like we'll have to bring in the dinosaurs now.
posted by littlesq at 10:52 PM on September 18, 2012


all the fuck over...universal city, north hollywood, burbank, pasadena, griffith park, hollywood, silverlake, downtown, usc, south central...they're freaking everywhere! LISTEN for them...they make a cackling, clattering squawk that's super-loud and they tend to fly pretty high up, like right above the tallest palm trees, and tend to stay around that height. Medium sized, bright green with red heads. A friend pointed out the flock to me (in hollywood) right after I moved here, about 9 years ago and told me the story...there were about 20-30 individuals then. I've seen them a few more times over the years, and heard them a few times more, every time the flock getting bigger...the last time i saw the flock, last september, (and this is assuming there was indeed only one), it was HUGE...maybe 300-400 individuals (!) and oddly seemed to be trying to divide, splitting into 'V' shapes and re-combining as if guided by 2 alpha males or something. This year, starting around spring, they just started popping up everywhere, in smaller flocks (~20 ind.) that seem a bit more diffuse, with more stragglers...and yeah, tons of them...I was driving downtown from the baldwin hills area last week, with the windows rolled down, and counted about 8-10 flocks...my guess is that they found a new food supply, probably those big orange berries on the palm trees that nothing eats (besides the occasional rat) because the palms aren't native either...nothing here is adapted to them. If I see Tippi Hedron run by screaming, I am SO boarding up the windows and hiding in the attic.
posted by sexyrobot at 1:10 AM on September 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Austin has several hundred wild monk parakeets now, grown from an original stock of 6 or 8 birds, turned loose by an individual in the late 70's. It seems like there were just a few dozen for the longest time, & in the last 10 years, they've hit some sort of threshold, and are now all over town. I hope they out-compete the grackles eventually, because those things seriously suck.
posted by Devils Rancher at 4:16 AM on September 19, 2012


I really enjoyed the article; I learned a lot about gerbils and I thought it was pretty hilarious.

For more invasive species, see Starlings in North America. I have mixed feelings: they destroy native species and are terrible nuisance birds, but they're so clever and entertaining and they like to taunt my cats because they know how windows work. We had one a few years ago who figured out that if he imitated a fire engine siren, one of the local dogs would bark, and then ALL of the local dogs would bark. He'd set them barking, wait until everything was silent again, and then imitate the fire siren to set them barking again. I also hear a lot of them mimicing cell phone ringtones.

"I surmise the hawks were so well fed that they didn't have to hunt all the time but why weren't there hundreds of hawks, not tens?"

Maybe territoriality? Are hawks territorial? Some years I see hawks picking off baby bunnies on my block like nobody's business, and then other years you barely even see the hawks wheeling by, and I've wondered why. Do suburban rabbits boom and bust? Are the hawks hunting less some years because of something to do with offspring? Are they moving their nests?
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:51 AM on September 19, 2012


Rodents of unusual size? I don't think they exist.
posted by Behemoth at 6:40 AM on September 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


Futurama tells me this will all end in owls.
posted by BeeDo at 6:49 AM on September 19, 2012


"The Chinese word for gerbil is sha shu. This literally means “desert mouse.” I turned to Walker’s Mammals of the World, Volume II to make sure the news reports weren’t conveying some kind of mistranslation."

It's normally "Desert Rat", I believe. Monty's lads in WWII weren't named after them for nothing.

Although given Chinese resourcefulness with any reasonable food opportunity I would have put money on them being made into Dessert Rats.
posted by Segundus at 6:53 AM on September 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


The parrots are taking over, man. Can't move for the squawky buggers in north and southwest London. Seen them in Brussels and Amsterdam too.

Not so many starlings any more though, which makes me sad.
posted by ComfySofa at 7:36 AM on September 19, 2012


smoke: "Also, Zarq, I think your tags were more substantive than the piece, and I mean that as a compliment."

Ha! Thanks.

Honestly, the article was a treasure trove of things I didn't know -- even if it failed to explain what the heck China was actually doing with regard to the gerbils. My favorite little factoids: golden eagles have multiple anti-rodent attack vectors, including the perfect-for-giant-gerbils "contour flight with a short glide attack" and can eat "about a gerbil a day."
posted by zarq at 7:38 AM on September 19, 2012


Journey on, brave Lemmiwinks.
posted by thewalrus at 7:41 AM on September 19, 2012


I know this is a crazy idea, but why didn't he like fly to china and actually cover the story?
posted by empath at 8:33 AM on September 19, 2012


Selfconsciously McSweeney's-esque long and absurdly rococo subtitle that makes me want to stab something;dr
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 9:31 AM on September 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


why didn't he like fly to china and actually cover the story?

I don't know, but China is notoriously difficult about allowing foreign journalists to report within their borders, on stories that they know in advance will make them look bad.

Knowing that, and that this story was reportedly not released to the public by their state-run media until the situation had reached a serious crisis point, it seems unlikely to me that he'd have been granted access if he'd applied.
posted by zarq at 10:26 AM on September 19, 2012


sha shu. This literally means “desert mouse.”

"What do you call the mouse shadow on the second moon?"

At the University of British Columbia endowment lands we have tons of rats and mice and two different colours of squirrel - and I see eagles all the time. I definitely think its a territory thing even though there's more than enough food to go around. Baby eagles grow really really fast.
posted by porpoise at 6:58 PM on September 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Golden Eagle Hunters.
posted by homunculus at 9:51 PM on September 19, 2012


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