Every now and then, a very local, very strange story bubbles to the surface of the miasmic media pond that makes you wonder what else you’re missing out on. The story of a man in Germany that was so terrorized by a baby squirrel that the police were called is an example of this par excellence.
As regaled by several places, including BBC News, officers were requested to the man’s location in the city of Karlsruhe, after he vociferously complained that a very small mammal was chasing him down the street and refusing to leave him alone. When the police arrived, they witnessed the behavior in question, and presumably weren’t entirely sure how to handle it.
Fortunately, little action was required: the squirrel “abruptly fell asleep” and was then “taken into custody.” He has since become the police department’s mascot, and they have named him Karl-Friedrich.
He’s now being looked after in an animal rescue center, which is lovely. As it so happens, he found himself sharing a “cell” with two other squirrels that had been obtained that same day under similar, but police-lacking, circumstances.
So what’s the deal? Why would a squirrel engage in such behavior? A lot of speculation depends largely on what type of behavior little Karl-Friedrich was engaging in: attacking, or merely pursuing, the man.
According to The Guardian – which gets bonus points for having “driving me nuts” in their article’s URL – squirrels can follow a person around when they are in need of food, particularly if they are young and something unfortunate has happened to their parents. The man consumed by panic, then, was possibly seen by the baby squirrel as a surrogate parent of sorts.
Although very cautious and preferring to avoid contact with people, squirrels can in some instances be aggressive little monsters too. They will defend themselves if threatened, but it appears that some can get a little bolder, and potentially aggressive, when searching for food from humans.
After all, we are living ever closer to them as their natural habitats are often encroached upon by urban expansion. Several animal control websites suggest that, as we happily feed them, they increasingly expect food from us – and if they don’t get what they want, they might lose their temper.
Individual cases, however, are difficult to directly link to this notion. Back in 2016, for example, a squirrel infiltrated a retirement home in Florida before going on a “rampage” that ultimately led to three people requiring medical attention. It wasn’t clear at all why this took place.
A rather remarkable article in The Atlantic, entitled “When Squirrels Attack”, gives a great account of squirrel attacks throughout recent American history. One 1921 New York Times report tells the tale of a squirrel that attacked some schoolchildren; when a deterrent in the form of a thrown bottle of milk failed to work, the rodent’s life was “ended with a bullet.”
There’s little to fear, though. Squirrel attacks do sound unnerving, but they are pretty rare. Besides, attacks – which involve bites, scratches, and sometimes a bit of parkour – aren’t fatal nor are they likely to transmit rabies, so they are seen as curiosities of urban living more than anything else by authorities.
Just be thankful you aren’t a squirrel yourself: they have been observed on several occasions engaging in both infanticide and cannibalism, proving that the cute and fluffy image hides a fairly monstrous core.