Beware the abbagoochie, scourge of West Virginia
As the heat summer heat dies down and the bugs succumb to cool or cold nights, and more people get to hiking, hunting, bird-watching, or whatever, surely reports of the dreaded abbagoochie will again come out of the rurals of West Virginia.
Abbagoochies, something of a cross between a large badger and a coyote, arose from state wildlife management gone awry. Apocryphal stories of weird wildlife management crop up everywhere, often involving the secret introduction of some kind of animal (cougars, snakes) to control some other kind of animal. In the case of the abbagoochie, the story went like this:
Readers of the Webster Echo [newspaper] learned in February 2001 that officials of the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources (WVDNR) had recently introduced thirteen baby Abbagoochies from Costa Rica into their state in order to keep down the population of overpopulated predators such as coyotes and rattlesnakes. The Abbagoochies were described by the newspaper as being a fierce, carnivorous species. Costa Ricans referred to them as “dry-land piranhas.” But according to the Webster Echo, the WVDNR’s plan had soon gone horribly awry. The Abbagoochies had grown up and were now eating everything in sight, including “rabbits, coons, squirrels, dogs, cats, deer, and even bear.” Cows and horses had also been attacked. To make matters worse, the Abbagoochies, which had been imported to control the growth of overpopulated species, were themselves multiplying out of control.
Was it a hoax? Yes. And it went over so completely that when the editor of the Webster Echo printed a retraction, readers charged the paper with trying to cover up the nefarious activities of the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources (or “DNR,” in most states; what used to be called the “fish & game dept.”).
On top of that, post-hoax confession, reports came in from Webster-county residents claiming they heard the abbagoochies screaming at night. (This area borders the massive Monongahela National Forest — perfect habitat for abbagoochies.) I recall a report of one resident who kept the children home from school, afraid to let them wait at the bus stop in the morning, fearing the abbagoochies could attack them.
At the heart of this was a deep mistrust of state wildlife management, something that comes into play month after month, across the country. Some people are convinced that cougars did not rebound in the west because of renewed hunting restrictions, but because various DNRs actually set many young cougars free.
In one forum discussing these creatures, one outdoors person referred to the abbagoochie, perhaps in jest, as an “Okefenokee swamp monkey.” I’d never heard that before, but when you’ve got two names for the same pseudo-cryptid, that surely means the thing is alive in our minds, at least, because it has entered the lexicon.
As for that photo above, that figure is a piece of creative taxidermy that I would say is based on something referred to as a “Tennessee wild man.” Ask and I’ll tell you how to make one.