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Davis, California

Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Humor: The Squirrel-Duck War of 1998


A retrospective on campus history.

Edwin Starr, the performer, once asked, “War! What is it good for?” Absolutely nothing. But that hasn’t stopped mankind from causing the most violent events to ever occur on Earth, including the Crusades, World War I, World War II, the Cold War, The Expendables movies, Grand Theft Auto and partisan Youtube comments. However, there was one event that took place at UC Davis that suggests not only are we not the most warlike species on the planet, but we’re not the most warlike on this campus.

March 2, 1998. Biology professor Roger Lee was told by an Arboretum gardener that the local squirrels and ducks had become increasingly aggressive. He also added that lawns surrounding the creek were littered with furs and feathers. The professor didn’t think anything of it at first, but after a week of observation in the Arboretum, he came to a controversial conclusion. The ducks and squirrels had declared War.

Lee delivered his report to the University Chancellor in a 200-page file that was written hastily over a two-day period. In it, he included pictures, statistics, written witness statements from students and even pieces of weapon grade acorns the squirrels were developing in secret tree caches. One section of the report gave a vivid description of how violent the conflict eventually became.

The following notes are from Prof. Lee’s report on the day of April 3, 1998:

“12:30 p.m. – A large squad of up to 20-30 squirrels have taken residence in two trees outside Wright Hall. One of the squirrels is loudly squeaking and waving his tail. The rest seem to be watching his moves in a submissive yet disciplined manner. He might be the leader of this warband.

12:34 p.m. – Six mallards have entered the premises. They have landed outside the tree and are unaware of the squirrels’ presence. Several of the squirrels have launched acorns on the ducks. One was hit on the neck and has run away into the creek.

12:37 p.m. – The rest of the ducks flew away after a bombardment from the squirrels. The tree is loud with a high-pitched screeching that I now believe is the squirrel victory cheer.

12:51 p.m. – A large flotilla of ducks, up to 200 in strength, has landed and surrounded the trees. They are collectively making a loud quacking noise that is too loud for my audio recorder to pick up. Squads of them are making attack runs by flying into the trees and knocking the squirrels down to the ground. Picnicking students in the area have evacuated for cover from the noise and threat of being pecked to death.

12:54 p.m. – I am now being attacked by ducks who may have mistaken me for a giant squirrel. Ending observation log of 04/03/98. If anyone finds this, please tell my family I love them and tell my children to stay away from the Beatrix Potter books.”

Lee was later rescued from the Arboretum in time to heal from his injuries, finish his report and have a relatively late lunch seven minutes later.

Following Lee’s observations, the entire Arboretum was sealed off to student access. Refugee animals were denied access to resettle in the greater campus area. Protesters demanded that the Chancellor bring an end to the violence. Peace came on June 19, a little over two months after the conflict started. When the Chancellor announced that the Arboretum was once again open to the public, few students knew about the ultimate fate of the warring animals. What they did notice was a suspiciously large surplus of mystery meat being served in cafeterias and that there were far less animals in the Arboretum than before.

As for Professor Roger Lee, the event gave him such a mental shock that he moved to Baghdad to conduct study abroad programs. As of early 2003, he believed this was the right decision for him.

“I came here to get away from the damn violence,” he said, responding to questions on the Squirrel-Duck War of 1998.  “Every time I read about a war happening in some corner of the world, my mind goes back to the horror of the squeaking and quacking. Then more squeaking and quacking. Then more, and more, and…”

He ended the interview to continue staring off into the horizon.
You can reach EVAN LILLEY at etlilley@ucdavis.edu



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