Cougars and moose, you might understand.
After all, development all over the fringes of Kootenai County are pushing them from their natural habitat.
Sure, they can get lost.
And coyotes will go anywhere, with signs hanging around their necks that say: “Got food?”
But now that a bewildered hippopotamus was spotted several places in downtown Coeur d’Alene on Wednesday — and then again bathing in the Spokane River — you’ve just got to ask yourself …
“Do you feel lucky, punk?”
No, what we’ve got to ask ourselves is this: “Is it global warming? A crashed circus train? A documentary being shot in Post Falls that’s gone all wrong?”
I mean, what’s with the unfenced zoo around here, anyway?
THE HIPPO first turned up at The Press, perhaps attempting to place a classified ad in the “Lost African Animals” category.
We’ll never know, since the hippo’s breath knocked receptionist Brandi Beer out of her chair and to the floor, where she fainted.
“It wasn’t the hippopotamus,” Ms. Beer said when she was revived. “We see all kinds of strange creatures in Coeur d’Alene.
“But I mean, how about some extra-large Scope for that guy? He smelled like the Irrawaddy River.”
After his visit to The Press, the hippo meandered across the street and stopped for a café mocha at Calypsos.
No one questioned at the coffee house claimed to have seen anything unusual, presumably because all 11 customers were hypnotized on their laptops as the hippo tore off the front door and then crushed the service counter while attempting to sit down.
After finishing the mocha — along with eating the cup and two vacant chairs — the hippo seemed simply to go for a stroll down Sherman Avenue.
AT LAST, law enforcement became involved.
Officers from the Coeur d’Alene PD, Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office, the National Guard, the Mounties (as requested) and ICE all descended on the scene.
“We suspect this beast entered the country illegally,” an officer said, brandishing a grenade. “It has to have a green card or be deported forcibly.”
By that time, however, the hippo apparently had discovered a clever hiding place, or had made a stealthy escape.
With uniformed gendarmes prowling the city, hours passed with no sighting of the animal.
Eventually, though, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game sent members of its Wildlife Conservation and Management force to the area — and they instantly spotted the hippo splashing gleefully in the Spokane River.
“I have no idea why all these characters were looking in parking lots,” one Fish and Game officer said. “Hippopotamus actually means ‘River Horse.’ It comes from the Greek ‘?pp?p?taµ?.’ They’re semi-aquatic creatures, basically.”
Asked why the hippo had not ventured into Lake Coeur d’Alene, the IDFG rep replied: “Do you mean Coeur d’Alene Lake?”
ONCE THE name game had been argued back and forth, it was explained that hippos prefer rivers, since they generally feed on plant life when media swine are not readily available.
Eventually, a decision had to be made on the hippo’s fate.
Fish and Game sharpshooter Sling Shott (not his real name, as opposed to Press employee Beer) wasted 17 tranquilizer darts before declaring: “We need a bigger boat.”
What he meant was a heavier weapon, so Officer Shott borrowed a Browning M2 .50 caliber machine gun from one of the ICE officers to save humanity from the hippo once and for all.
Shott was about to blow the 3,800-pound hippopotamus into Benewah County when someone in the crowd screamed: “NOOO!!”
In a lovely ending to yet another local critter story, it turned out the hippo belonged to a Press columnist, who had spent the afternoon playing golf and didn’t notice that the animal — named Thierry — had wandered out the open door of his condo.
And so, children …
The hippo was led safely home, chewing contentedly on the ripped cuff of Chief Lee White’s pants.
Steve Cameron is a columnist for The Press.
A Brand New Day appears Wednesday through Saturday each week.
Steve’s sports column runs on Tuesday.
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