At first, when the news story about Britain's amusement park squirrel went viral, it seemed a clear-cut case of "Squirrels Just Wanna Have Fun." After all, a squirrel determined to hitch a ride on a roller-coaster seems like a natural contender for News of the Odd.
Except when you look at the photos, and look harder at the situation, it isn't quite so funny.
Squirrels are nature's own athletes, and every branch is their roller coaster, every shrub their bumper-car ride, every birdfeeder or high wire their amusement-park adventure.
That said, squirrels need humans' roller-coasters like squirrels need humans: They don't. Not unless they are very ill or injured. And if you look at any photos of this squirrel, Sonic (as this unfortunate creature was nicknamed) does not appear to be a particularly healthy eastern grey. His eyes are sunken and his fur lacks a healthy sheen. If he was stealing food from workers at the park, as reports indicated, you can also be sure this is a young squirrel starved for food, and likely seeking attention as much as handouts.
"Alton Towers Bans Daredevil Squirrel from Roller Coaster Ride," screams the headline above the article in The Mail. "Squirrel Banned from Riding Rollercoaster," is the spin given in the Telegraph. This is the same British theme park that features a ride called Squirrel Nutty, in which thrill-seekers ride along an elevated rail in a small car shaped like an acorn. This little squirrel, however, chose to make his appearance on the Sonic Spinball.
All those news reports were supposed to be cute but while everyone was busy making light of the situation, no one really looked hard enough to see what was really going on. Young wild animals such as this one do not come this close to humans unless there's a reason. And it's not a happy one. Certainly not a funny one.
It is several days since these articles first appeared online and in print.
I have to wonder if Sonic is even still alive.
I wish more people had been on the lookout for the animal's welfare instead of just a good laugh.