The Great Rodent
Montevideo is the capital of the semi-exotic Uruguay, bordering Argentina. The name refers to something about “seeing a hill,” not perfectly translatable. The harbor was the site of the scuttling of the German Pocket Battleship, Graf Spee. In 1939, after the Battle of the River Plate, despite inflicting substantial damage on a superior British force, she was intentionally sunk by her captain, Admiral Langsdorff, in the neutral harbor, rather than returning to do battle. This was not a shining hour for valor, and battleships are not about discretion.
I mention all this by way of historical review, because it was reported this week that the local museum curator, perusing dusty boxes, found a skull donated to the institution decades ago. Upon closer examination, and consultation with other experts, this turned out to be the skull a new species, specifically, the largest rodent known to have lived, approximately the size of a bull!
That’s correct, prior to South America and North America being joined, this 1,800 pound gerbil roamed the pampas munching vegetation and pretty much sinking in the mud. I wondered what might have caused it any problems, but then read on to find that it was probably a primary food source of the saber-toothed tigers, which would explain a tough life. (Ultimately, it became extinct—I detest “went extinct,” which is an abomination—when the land masses joined and more agile rodents from the north invaded the place.)
Except, is it really extinct?
We have giant rodents with us today. They skulk in the corners of large organizations taking up space, munching on the assts, and not contributing anything. They stand outside the doors of independent professionals and discourage movement and innovation, generally stinking up the neighborhood. They plod around meetings, mucking up objectives, confusing issues. I see them all the time in government, eating at the foundations of decency and fairness. You can find them in education, entire herds separating students who need help from faculty which revels in lethargy and aloofness.
The big rodents are still around, and we don’t do a very good job of admitting to them or exterminating them. And the last thing we need are more agile rodents to replace them.
What we do need, which we really can’t seem to find any more, is a handful of saber-toothed tigers.
© Alan Weiss 2008. All rights reserved.