Not long ago, a news story went around the world about a weasel that shut down CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, forcing the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) to go offline for a few days.
As it turns out, it was actually a beech marten (Martes foina), a cousin of the weasel. The animal gnawed through a cable of an open-air electrical transformer, causing a short circuit.
From time to time we hear stories of animals – usually small mammals – that wreak havoc on large-scale, technologically developed installations.
Almost always, these stories are told with a kind of breathless David versus Goliath glee at a victory of the tiny over the towering, the power of the small over the great.
At the same time, there’s also a tone of uncertainty and bafflement – shouldn’t we be better at protecting Very Important Human Things against wild creatures by now?
As if the animals were intentionally trying to take us down a notch or two by showing how fragile our machines really are.
But I think the uncertainty speaks more to how we see ourselves and our achievements – it seems like complex structures that supply so much energy, or which are so advanced, demonstrate just how far removed we are from other animals on the planet.
Until we realize how easily these structures can be inadvertently rendered useless, at least for a while.
It also shows how close we still live to other life and animals for whom our fences are obstacles that don’t pose much of a challenge.
If we need protection from their intrusions, there’s probably no way to reliably protect them from wandering into the wrong tangle of wires.
For better or worse, we are all in this together.
*I suppose in the interest of full disclosure I should mention that beech martens are also regular criminals at our place, chewing through cables in car engines and generally making mischief. They’re protected, so no trapping allowed.
We live close to CERN in rural France on the border to Switzerland, so the only aspect of the news story that surprised us was that the animal was first reported to be a weasel – everyone around here knew right away what kind of culprit it must have been.