You hear a lot of crazy stories living in the islands. About eight or nine years ago, while living in the Bahamas, I once heard about the local supply store being overrun by a herd of hogs. Supposedly, a local resident had let them loose. After they ran in (right through the front door, of course), customers climbed shelves and sought refuge on counters, allowing the animals to destroy every last can of creamed corn and jalapeño Spam in the place. We’re talking complete and total destruction brought to pass by an enraged herd while customers feared for their lives. I have no idea why the hogs were enraged. It’s just how the story went. When I expressed my slight disbelief in the truth of the story (because I knew of no one in the area who actually raised pigs), I was told that the former pig woman had washed her hands of pork after that unfortunate episode and was now raising pit bulls. Back then, new to island ways, I still had my doubts. But now, after living over a decade on these crazy little rocks, I would not be surprised at all by that story.
All the wild tales that float around really increase your gullibility factor. Not because you’re easy to fool, but when you find out things like your friendly neighbor who often brings over fresh-baked cookies and grouper loaf once tried to poison his entire 20+ man fishing crew with rat poison, you start to believe anything. This was the same guy that showed us the rooster he’d taught to sit on his shoulder and smoke a cigarette (and likely other substances). This story was incredible and mind-blowing. But in fact, I was told that story not because it was incredible or because I was being warned he was a psychopath, it was just a friend simply warning me to perhaps be careful about the grouper loaf offerings. He was still a generally well-accepted member of the community. Because everyone makes a mistake every now and then, right? Hence my capacity for island crazy is pretty high.
A few years back, my Facebook feed blew up one afternoon with local island friends bidding everyone to beware of a tiger, loose on the northside of St Thomas. Some friends were asking if anyone had seen it, while others were letting the general Facebook world know that we shouldn’t expect them to leave their homes until the creature was caught. And after the number that years of island-crazy has done to my head, my first thought wasn’t, “That’s ridiculous.” It was, “How did a tiger get to St Thomas?” There are no zoos here and tigers certainly aren’t native… I’m not saying I 100% believed there was a tiger on the loose, I’m just saying I didn’t not believe it. My theory was that someone may have snuck it here as a cub and raised it in one of the more remote areas of the island. It might sound like a wild thing to do, but I know people of that level of insanity and they exist in higher concentrations in the islands (my theory is that the real world population won’t tolerate them, so they all migrate south).
In the end, all the hubbub was shown to arise from a misprinted ad in the local newspaper. Someone was looking for their lost cat. It had stripes like a tiger. Or they called it a tiger cat. I can’t remember. But something along the lines of “lost tiger” was what got printed in the paper (because when you lose your tiger, the best way to have it returned to you is to list it in the Classifieds). That was enough to cause 24 hours of Facebook panic and a follow-up article in the newspaper, all on the tiger worry. Like I said, when you’ve lived here long enough, you’re a lot more likely to believe stuff.
And now I bet you think I’m done talking about tigers, don’t you? Because how much tiger drama can one island girl have? More than that, let me assure you. Just last week, my Facebook feed was again suddenly overrun with tiger madness. Not from St Thomas friends this time, but from my Bahamian friends. Except this time, I wasn’t buying it. There was no way there was a tiger on that tiny island. I learned my tiger lesson once – I wasn’t falling for that one again. Yet this time, people were talking about multiple tiger sightings. That’s how their tiger madness began. Not with a misprinted newspaper ad, but with people actually seeing a tiger wandering around in the bush. Then friends from other Bahamian islands started posting. Then an online news publication, which even went so far as to include a generic picture of an angry tiger (for any online news readers who had no idea what a tiger looks like, I’m assuming). This time, the time I thought I had learned my lesson, there turned out to be an actual tiger on the loose. Sort of.
In the end, it was a Siberian-something or other. It had tiger-ish stripes on parts of its body and leopard-ish spots on others. And it wasn’t as big as a tiger. It seemed to have come off of one of the many yachts that pass by the island and anchor for a while. Some say it swam to shore. Some say the owners brought it to shore to give it some exercise. Either way, we’ll never know. When the owners discovered it was missing, they yachted themselves right out of the area, so as not to get caught. My guess is that they’re now sipping on Cristal and riding their illegal ostrich around the lido deck somewhere in the Turks and Caicos, talking about what a close call that was.
And so my beloved little Bahamian island now has an exotic resident. The police were out stomping around in the bush for awhile trying to locate it, but from what I hear, that didn’t turn up anything. The general public seems to assume it has no desire to rip their faces off the same way a tiger might, although I doubt they’ll be running around in the bush at night after heavy rains trying to catch crab for dinner anytime soon. And I don’t feel so bad about believing that there may have actually been a tiger the first time around. Because these stories aren’t crazy. In most cases they’re actually somewhat, if not completely, true. So if you’re going to protect yourself from roaming tigers, rat-poisoned grouper loaf, and enraged hogs, you have to be ready to believe pretty much everything. Otherwise you can expect to pay the unfortunate island consequences.