Funny how wildlife in trouble can touch the hearts of humans.
Growing up on a farm in Iowa, former Alaska state Rep. Eldon Mulder, R-Anchorage, confesses he’d never given a thought to saving a porcupine. Porkies are nothing but trouble down on the farm.
“Removing porcupine quills from pets, cattle, and other livestock is an unpleasant task for everyone involved,” writes Heather Smith Thomas at Countryside Daily, noting that though “the porcupine is a peaceful, timid rodent…(its) unique method of self-defense often causes grief to inquisitive animals.”
But when Mulder saw porky stuck on a rock in the middle of the fast-moving Kenai River on Tuesday, he found himself going to the poor animal’s rescue.
“He was shivering,” Mulder said Wednesday. “You could see he was shaking” from fear.
A long time Kenai River angler, Mulder said it wasn’t hard dipnetting the animal off the rock even though the dipnet season on the Kenai is closed.
“He just sort of tumbled into the net,” Mulder said, “and we did do catch and release.”
The entire rescue was filmed by Mulder’s wife, Corina, and the video popped up on the website of the Kenai River Sportfishing Association (KRSA) Tuesday evening and started spreading. Mulder, a member of the board of directors of the KRSA, said he didn’t actually mean for that to happen.
He tried to send the video of the rescue to friends, he said, but it was too big to text. So he asked KRSA staff for help with the video while in the office in Soldotna.
Next thing he knew, he said, he got a text from a friend saying “I’m going to nominate you for the conservationist of the year.” It was his first warning he was starring in an online video.
“It was the funniest damn thing,” he said of the incident which started at dinner with Bob Penney – an Anchorage businessman, one of the founders of the KRSA, and a man regularly vilified by Kenai commercial fishermen for trying to save the Kenai’s world-famous Chinook salmon.
“I looked over Bob’s shoulder,” Mulder said, “and holy crap, there was a porcupine on the rock.”
Mulder admitted his first inclination was to leave the porky alone and let nature take its course, but “Bob was insistent,” convinced the poor porky was in trouble and suffering.
Pretty quickly, Mulder was in a riverboat going to the rescue. The video shows him perched precariously on the very tip of the boat’s bow in order to make the rescue.
How the porky got onto the rock in the first place is the subject of some debate. KRSA executive director Ricky Gease thinks the animal floated downstream on a log that jammed up against the rock, at which time the porky scampered off.
Mulder is pretty sure the log wedged on the upstream side of the rock predated the porky. He thinks the animal somehow fell into the river, washed downstream, happened to grab onto the log, and then scrambled up on to the rock.
“You know, their quills make them float,” he said. And it’s true.
The “water-tight, sponge-filled interiors of (the quills) aid in flotation, enhancing the porcupine’s swimming capabilities,” according to Wild Mammals of North America: Biology, Management, and Conservation.
Corina Mulder, a big backer of the rescue, thought the porky was a baby. That proved not to be the case.
“It’s was definitely not the baby my wife thought it was,” said Eldon, a man who has hoisted enough king salmon into a net to get a good idea on what things weigh. “It probably weighed 30 pounds. The net was really bowed.”
After the porcupine was captured, it was hauled to shore in the net – “There was no way I was putting it in the boat,” Mulder said – and was released in Penney’s yard. The animal promptly waddled away. Where it is today is an unknown.
So, too, what the rescue will mean for Penney’s high-profile reputation on the Kenai, where the local newspaper once ran a story headlined “Porcupines: A gardener’s worst nightmare.”