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4 Animals Who Made Trouble in DC Before the "Aggressive Owl"

Illustration by bazzier, via iStock.

In the last two weeks, several Bethesda joggers have reported being attacked by what is believed to be a large adolescent barred owl. The attacks took place at night on the popular Capital Crescent Trail. This nocturnal menace has apparently been swooping down and knocking into people from behind, leaving them bewildered and lightly scratched. The owl’s exploits have been covered by NBC, Fox News, and the Washington Post. Montgomery County park staff have issued a warning to runners and installed signs announcing that “An Aggressive Owl Lives Here!” The owl even has its own Twitter account.

This is an impressive amount of notoriety for a young bird to achieve. But the Aggressive Owl is only the latest in a series of misbehaving critters to capture Washington’s imagination. Every once in a while a local creature will act out, make headlines, and remind us all that as urban or suburban as our lives may seem, we still share our city with wild animals.

Here are a few other animal troublemakers you may recall:

1) The NIH Bear, 2014

This black bear wandered on to the Bethesda campus of the National Institutes of Health and was spotted in a tree. The so called “NIH bear” drew crowds both physical and digital, with many gathering to catch a glimpse of it in its 65-foot perch, and thousands following the Twitter accounts it quickly inspired. The NIH Bear was eventually scared down from the tree by police and tranquilized. Its 15 minutes may have passed, but it still has a fan in the Aggressive Owl, who has referenced @NIH_bear in several of its tweets.

2) Rusty the Red Panda, 2013

When heavy rain created an opening in his enclosure at the National Zoo, Rusty the Red Panda saw an opportunity and made a break for it. He made it as far as Adams Morgan before being spotted around 20th and Biltmore streets, Northwest, and recaptured about six hours after his disappearance was announced. Rusty’s escape so captivated the nation that news outlets followed up on his story a year later, when it was reported that he and his lady red panda Shama had welcomed three new cubs.

3) Macadamia the Agouti, 2015

You may not know what an Agouti is, so just call this one a copycat crime. Two years after Rusty’s Adam’s Morgan jaunt, this rodent chewed through his mesh cage at the National Zoo and escaped. Macadamia didn’t make it as far as his predecessor, being successfully recaptured within about half an hour, but his little adventure was enough to merit a press release from the Smithsonian and a flurry of local headlines about the large rodent who chewed his way to freedom. Sadly, Macadamia died in August, just a few weeks after his escape.

4) The Kicking Deer, 2014

Deer sightings are common in Washington, but the animals have a benign reputation as harmless garden-ruiners. This was not the experience of Dena Lyles, who was knocked out by a deer while exiting a Metro bus in the spring of 2014. The deer, apparently startled by the crowd of people near the bus stop, tried to leap over them, kicking Lyles with its back legs on the way down. “Just like a big white light hit me,” she said of the incident. “I fell to the floor and I didn’t get back up.” Lyles recovered and the culprit escaped, but the “kicked by a deer” story was widely circulated by sheer force of weirdness.

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