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By Charles Kennedy

Acknowledgement: Muchas Gracias to AWCA for allowing the use of this space to publish these findings. This report was rejected by every scientific ornithological journal in North America including Dick E. Bird News and Birds and Blooms.

Brain-sucking Hyena or Chat-Oui? - Good Question.

Do you recognize this critter? We are trying to decide if it is a BS Hyena, Chat-Oui?, or some other critter entirely. We know it isn't a Woodcock. Suggestions are welcome.  

This all started a long time ago. Somebody got the notion that they could take a group of birders out to the edge of a pasture above a swamp and show them a woodcock (Philohela minor) dancing. Foolish notion. This went on for a couple of years. The size of the group of woodcock watchers dwindled to a few intrepid "damn the torpedoes" types. This crowd started to get testy and made semi-public displays of castigating the "somebody who got the notion". The poor wretch was reduced to mumbling " I just can’t understand this, there were 2 woodcocks here day before yesterday". My wife kept telling me not to take it so hard, but gee whiz guys, the Pres of AWCA has certain standards to live up to.

Then my good friend Tommy Pratt came to my rescue. Almost. If you’ve been birding with T.P. more than once you’ve heard about Brain-sucking Hyenas (Hyenus succupus). These are the critters that are the source of all the strange, unidentifiable noises you hear in the forest, especially at night, and certainly if you are in a cemetery. Being in a cemetery at night with Tommy Pratt is not really all that uncommon. On 25 May, 1998 at a meeting of the South Alabama Birding Association in the Dixon Family Cemetery on the Solon Dixon Forestry Center Campus in the Conecuh National Forest at app. 8 PM CST my friend proposed to the assembled group a theory to explain the inability of yours truly to produce a woodcock sighting. It was his belief that at least one, and maybe several, Brain-sucking Hyenas were on the loose in south Alabama. It/they had acquired a taste for woodcock brains and being possessed of insatiable appetites were decimating the woodcock population south of the fall line. His evidence was twofold: over a three year period we had not been able to find a woodcock which certainly lends credence to the premise that the population has been decimated, and he had found, what he believed to be, a footprint of Hyenus succupus in Bear Swamp in Autauga County Alabama. In April of 1998 Tommy had overheard two old guys in a general merchandise store in Autaugaville discussing strange noises coming from Bear Swamp in the dead of night. This was serendipity at its finest. Who, but one of the World’s few authorities on Hynenus succupus, would have recognized this statement for what it really was?

The events of 7 days in May, Tommy revealed, were the most harrowing and frightening experience of his life. On 7 May, 1998 at midnight, amidst horrific caterwauling and continuously having to crouch to avoid being struck by fleeing, terrified woodcocks, Tommy marched forth into Bear Swamp. Night after night he peered cautiously into the darkness investigating all the nuances of the sounds from unseen creatures. On those occasions when he thought he was about to shine a light on his quarry, the culprit would make a hasty retreat (this was probably related to the fact that Tommy had been subsisting on pork and beans, sardines, vienna sausage and Pepto Bismol). Since Hyenus and Philohela are nocturnal, the days were spent investigating footprints and the remains of decapitated woodcocks. This ordeal was into its seventh day when a remarkable turn of events occurred. Just before dawn on 14 May, 1998, Tommy spied a rust colored, somewhat cat-like creature crouched beside a small pool. A solitary feather was dangling from the beast’s lower lip. Tommy was prepared for the occasion but not the excitement. In his haste he dropped his camera and spooked the animal. No picture! All that remained was the solitary feather floating to rest in a perfect footprint near the spot where the creature sprang into the thicket. It was a woodcock feather and Tommy is convinced that he was witness to the final few moments of a repast of woodcock brains by one of the worlds least known and least understood mammals Hyenus succupus. Shortly after dawn he made a stone cast of the footprint and prepared to leave Bear Swamp. As he drove home, his mind was racing through the events of the past seven days and the pre-dawn hours of this remarkable day. A great question was nagging at his mind as he nervously chewed his lip. "How will I ever get the Records Committee to accept this sighting?".

As Tommy concluded this story, he casually removed a stone cast from his pocket and revealed the outline of a perfect paw print. The usually quite noisy and boisterous members of S.A.B.A. were reduced to silence, and furtive glances into the thickets surrounding the cemetery. I was jubilant. Here at long last was my redeemer. My good friend Tommy Pratt had provided me with the perfect alibi for not finding a woodcock. My jubilation was short lived. T.P. attached a leather lanyard to the stone and hung it around my neck. He announced to all that I was to wear it until I found a woodcock.

A few days later I was sitting on the porch with an aching neck. To relieve the weight for a few moments, I lifted the albatross stone and held it before my eyes. I could not believe what I saw. I ran to the bookshelf for a magnifying glass and a copy of Animal Tracks from 1999 to the Present. The glass revealed that I had indeed seen faint striations between the third and fourth toe. The book revealed that this was Not! the track of Hyenus succupus but the track of Fellini cajunitus the infamous Chat-oui?2 (pronounced sha-wee?) of southwestern Louisiana. I danced with joy as I removed the stone from around my neck.

There are some remarkable circumstances associated with the Chat-oui? The creature was first described in the early 18th Century but was not given a common name until 1947. The common name was assigned by Lafayette. (this was obviously not the Marquis De Lafayette who died in 1834, but Thibodaux Fontaineaux Lafayette (who has the distinction of being named after 3 cities in southwest Louisiana). T. F. Lafayette, sometimes referred to as the Godfather of Cajun Cuisine, was reportedly instrumental in developing the recipes for Jambalaya, Crawfish Pie, and Filet Gumbo. His fiancee Yvonne lived in a remote backwoods bayou of Louisiana. Thibodaux traveled many miles by pirogue for his first meeting with Yvonne’s family. When he arrived he found his future in-laws gathered around a fire pit. On a spit above the fire, with a rutabaga in its mouth, was Fellini cajunitus. T. F. carved off a hind quarter, took a big bite, and, culinary genius that he was, declared Chat Oui? The name stuck. T. F., his brother Joe, and Yvonne would later be immortalized by legendary country singer Hank Williams in his song Jambalaya. I find it quite surprising that Hank didn’t mention the Chat-oui? in the song.

I know you are thinking that there are no records of the Chat-oui? in Alabama. It is well documented that the Nine-banded Armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus) walked across the bottom of the Mississippi River to reach Alabama and the Coyote (Canis latrans) migrated through Canada and down the Eastern Seaboard to reach our borders so it shouldn’t take but a small amount of imagination to place a Chat-oui? in Bear Swamp. There is also at least one record of a Jaguar (Automobilus britannica) making it from Lafayette to Montgomery in less than four hours.

Shortly after discovering the truth about the footprint I sat at the computer preparing to send Tommy an Email message advising him to forget about Brain-sucking Hyenas and get on with his life. I decided to surf the net a bit before sending the message. I opened up the search engine Google and on a whim typed in Brain-sucking Hyena (Hyenus succupus). A few moments of grinding later I got a hit on 800,932 World Wide Web Pages. This was a bit more than I had bargained for, but I decided to look at a few of them anyway. The third item was a report from the American Journal of Animal Related Mental Disorders. What caught my eye was one word in the second sentence: Autaugaville. It was serendipity all over again. This was a report concerning a mental patient who was born and raised in Autaugaville, Autauga County, Alabama. He claimed that his insanity was due to an attack by a Brain-sucking Hyena. He had been squirrel hunting in Bear Swamp when this happened. In the ensuing scuffle about a third of his brain had been sucked out through his left ear. This of course left him somewhat mentally deranged and quite fearful about returning to Bear Swamp.

I deleted the "get on with your life message" and started anew: Dear Tommy, the fat lady is still in the wings. Hyenus succuppus lives!

In conclusion: There is a remote possibility that lurking somewhere in their life histories there may be at least an occasional symbiotic relationship between Brain-sucking Hyenas and American Woodcocks. This relationship may extend to include the Chat-oui? Investigations are continuing. We would be quite interested to learn of Woodcocks that are not killed by having their brains sucked out. Please report all sightings of Hyenus succupus, Fellini cajunitus, Philohela minor and any other unusual Woodland creatures to the proper authorities. One word of caution: Do not confuse Hyenus succupus with Fellini terribulus. Fellini terribulus is a Wampus Cat. You better leave those rascals alone!

1. symbiosis (adj. symbiotic) - The living together of different species of organism which is usually to their mutual benefit. See also: mutualism , parasitism. (back)

2. Chat-Oui? In case you are a little rusty on your French.
   Chat – Cat    Oui? – Yes? (back)

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