10 miles SE of Ajo, ArizonaMarch 11, 1988
ARIZONA: Pima County
In desert off AZ Hwy. 85 about ten miles SE of Ajo, just north of the entrance to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Scanning through the mammal field-guide's distribution maps for species that possibly can be found here, I find an embarrassment of potential mammal discoveries. Just among mice we have the Western Harvest Mouse, Cactus Mouse, Canyon Mouse, Deer Mouse, Southern Grasshopper Mouse... Also there are several rats, as well as a host of other critters. It's embarrassing because I'm not seeing these species. Of course they are mostly nocturnal. Still, a good naturalist should be familiar with them.

Therefore, today I resolve to build a nonviolent mousetrap -- a trap to capture small mammals in the night and keep them unharmed until daybreak, when I'll identify and release them. In the side of a plastic bucket recently bought holding five pounds of super-crunchy peanut butter I carve a mouse-sized hole. Then a door is hung across it, hinged in six places with dental floss. A match stick glued across the door's backside keeps any animal inside the trap from opening the door outwards. At dusk a carrot smeared with peanut butter is dropped into the bucket, a lid is popped on, and the creation is placed beneath a nearby Creosote-bush.

Daybreak's first item of business is to check the trap: The whole contraption lies upside down a couple of feet from its original position. Inside the bucket nothing remains of the peanut-butter-smeared carrot. However, a story is written all over the bucket.

Gnaw-marks around the door show where last night tiny incisors frantically chipped at the plastic. Five of the six dental-floss hinges have been gnawed apart, leaving the door hanging useless and lopsided. Beneath the Creosote-bush, markings in the dust reveal that during the night the bucket bounced all over the place. In my mind's eye I see a hysterical little mouse jumping about, gnawing here and there, jumping some more, more gnawing and pushing and pulling, more jumping... all night. Seeing that I've caused a creature such anguish makes me feel sad.

Of course, immediately I set about thinking up ways of improving the trap. However, during the day the vision of that upset little animal bouncing around inside last-night's trap gnaws at me, and then gnaws some more. In short, I'm not going to set any more traps.

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