Unprecedented behavior in the population of the Speckled Canyon Vole has
lead the Park Service to post its first ever "vole warning." U.S.Park
Service Ranger Elliot Greentree today posted the first ever "vole warnings"
at the trailheads leading into the Grand Canyon. The warnings alert hikers
and backpackers to beware the Speckled Canyon Vole (microtus arizonus) due
to recent attacks on unsuspecting Canyon visitors.
Ranger Greentree explained that the long drought experienced with the National Park had caused a serious food shortage for the voles and that the "wily rodents" had exhibited "unexpectedly intelligent and ferocious" behavior.
"We began hearing stories early this season," continued the ranger. "At first their behavior was simply more daring than in the past; chewing holes in packs, seeking food, and so on. Actions that were all within the capabilities of single, individual voles." The Park Service began to sit up and take note, however, when stories of rampaging gangs of voles began to surface. Again, the initial reports indicated food-directed behavior, but the an unprecedented level of cooperation between the small mammals.
"In July," continued the ranger, "we had a rash of stolen backpacks reported. Naturally, we assumed a human thief until a hiker was awakened by unusual sounds in the middle of the night of August 2nd. She reported seeing a literal army of voles carrying off her backpack, similar to how a group of ants might carry off a large piece of food."
Greentree smiled and admitted that their first reaction had been to assume that the hiker, Sandy Mentary, had been out in the sun too long. However, she led them to the spot where she had last seen her pack, and eventually rangers discovered a graveyard of twisted metal and shredded cloth. "Over 60 of them, lying there like bleached bones in the desert sun," said Greentree, shaking his head. Hikers' stories became even stranger as the summer progressed, from swarms of voles "stampeding" down certain trails, to the disappearance of three pack burros two weeks ago. The event that prompted the posted warnings, however, involved a foreign tourist. Siegfried Volsung, of Munich, while sleeping in a campground on the upper North Side, awoke from a dream in which he "seemed to be flying." As he lifted his head up, he was amazed and terrified to discover that we was moving. His sleeping bag was on the backs of hundreds of voles, silently maneuvering him towards a nearby cliff. His startled flailing and cursing frightened and dispersed the voles, but rangers theorize that the voles planned to hurl him over the edge similar to the way Indians drove buffalo over cliffs during their hunts. Volsung and his party left, shaken, for Germany the next day and the Park Service began the investigations that led to today's warning.
The Grand Canyon is the only place where the Speckled Canyon Vole is found, and rangers are prevented from taking any steps which would be detrimental to the vole population, protected under the Endangered Species Act.
Though, they feel duty bound to post the warnings, they are downplaying the Volsung experience as an "isolated incident" and are concentrating on warning campers to secure their packs and keep food as inaccessible as possible. Meanwhile, the Park Service is implementing plans to capture and radio-collar some of the voles in hopes of understanding the mysteries of their current behavior.