Forty-eight years ago this month, Duluth, the state and to some extent the nation were captivated by the plight of a little mongoose named Mr. Magoo.
Long before Lily the bear, Windchill the horse and any number of other animals in the news in recent years, Mr. Magoo’s story spread like wildfire across the country and all the way to the White House.
Here is the story of the mongoose that put Duluth in the national spotlight…
The first story on the mongoose apparently ran in the News-Tribune of Nov. 13, 1962;
TOUGH ON COBRAS
Tea-drinking pet feared
By William F. Thompson, News-Tribune staff writer
There’s a tea-drinking mongoose at the Duluth Zoo. tea with sugar, that is, which might make the little weasel-like animal sound pretty tame, but in India the deadly cobra fears only one animal: The mongoose.
And with good reason. In a fight, the mongoose, usually no more than 16 inches long, will kill the six-foot snake, breaking its neck after a furious struggle.
The zoo had the rare good fortune to acquire the animal when a foreign ship docked here and a sailor donated his pet to Lloyd Hackl, zoo director.
It is the first mongoose ever on display in Duluth, and Hackl thought possibly it is the only mongoose in captivity in the United States.
Its life at the zoo thus far has been without the hazards of jungle survival. In fact, Hackl said, “this is really a house pet. It eats a little meat and vegetables and drinks a little milk. Its favorite is warm tea with sugar.”
“It has the coloring of a squirrel, but with yellowish-brown eyes and the reddish cheeks and a throat all mongooses have in common,” Hackl said.
But in its native habitat, it is anything but a house pet. On the Indian peninsula, where some 20,000 persons die annually from snake bites, the mongoose is highly esteemed as a serpent killer, for it will attack the most venomous of snakes without hesitation.
Hackl said the mongoose is not immune to the cobra’s poison, which can kill an elephant, but by its agility and quickness of eye it avoids the snake’s fangs.
When they meet, the cobra strikes out again and again, but despite the snake’s lightning speed, the mongoose is quicker. Its hair becomes full, forming a protective shield as effective as its already thick skin.
Soon the cobra becomes dazed and uncertain in its movements, and at just that moment the mongoose flashes in, grabs the cobra behind its great hood and breaks the snake’s neck.
The public can see the mongoose, at rest if not at war, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily, the zoo’s winter hours.
Then things got interesting. Tipped off to the mongoose in Duluth, customs officials got involved. Here’s a story from the Nov. 15, 1962, Duluth Herald:
MONGOOSE SEIZED AS UNDESIRABLE
The Duluth zoo’s tea-drinking mongoose has been nabbed by the U.S. government as an undesirable alien.
Actually, he has been impounded on orders of customs officials as a violator of a 1909 regulation of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service barring the importation into the country of Herpestes Auropunctatus — mongoose.
The speedy animal, a native of India and noted for its ability to outfight a cobra, was given to the zoo by a foreign seaman.
Customs officials acted after hearing that the zoo had a mongoose, the city is fighting their action.
Harry Nash, head of the city’s recreation department, which runs the zoo, has appealed to the Fish and Wildlife Service for permission to keep the animal.
He said in a letter to F.H. Davis, Minneapolis, regional director for the wildlife service, that the animal has been “very popular with adults and children and is clean, healthy and well-mannered.”
Nash said he understood the reason the mongoose isn’t allowed in the country is because “it is such a prolific animal.” He pointed out, however, that the animal, a male, is minus a mate. Further, he said, the city will have him de-sexed if permitted to keep him.
The mongoose, who has a fondness for tea, isn’t even aware of what’s going on. For want of a better place to keep him, customs officials have him impounded right where he’s always been — at the zoo.
Unless the government relents, the mongoose will be put to death. …
On Nov. 16, 1962, the News-Tribune reported that Floyd H. Davis, the federal fish and wildlife official, “said he had no choice” but to issue a death sentence for the mongoose (who was not yet referred to as Mr. Magoo in print).
“The Wildlife Service agent in Grand Rapids was instructed to go to the Duluth Zoo, pick up the animal, kill it humanely and ship the body to the Minneapolis office,” the paper reported.
The next day, Nov. 17, 1962, the News-Tribune had this update:
DULUTH MOBILIZES TO SAVE NEW PET
Duluth mobilized Friday night to save its pet mongoose from the federal executioner.
Petitions were circulated. The mayor sought a court order and a stay of sentence. Citizens wired their congressmen.
Lloyd Hackl, zoo manager, padlocked the little snake-killer’s cage with his own lock to ensure — at least for the moment — the safety of his gift from a foreign seaman whose ship called at the Twin Ports last week.
The mongoose, known here as Mr. Magoo, is in the country illegally, the federal government claims. Floyd Davis, U.S. Fish and Wildlife supervisor in Minneapolis, has ordered Mr. Magoo’s execution under a 1909 statute which outlaws the animal, a native of India. …
Mayor George D. Johnson sent a telegram Friday night to Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall, requesting a stay of execution. Johnson also requested City Attorney Harry E. Weinberg to obtain a restraining order to prevent the Fish and Wildlife Service from killing Mr. Magoo.
Davis said other appeals have been made by Robert B. Morris, executive secretary of the Duluth Chamber of Commerce and Rep. John A. Blatnik. He informed each that the “law is unequivocal.” …
(Weinberg) said an amendment adopted in 1960 makes it possible for the Department of the Interior to make an exception on the request of a mayor. …
Also on Nov. 17, 1962, the afternoon Duluth Herald offered this update:
DULUTHIANS GO GA-GA OVER ALIEN MR. MAGOO
Mr. Magoo, the alien mongoose, has turned out to be the greatest drawing card at the Duluth zoo since a baby hippopotamus arrived four years ago.
Zookeeper Lloyd Hackl said thousands of persons — most of them adults — have some to see the little animal since its case came into the public eye during the past few days. …
Hackl said he was up until midnight Friday answering calls.
“Many people have been advising me to take the animal and hide it out until the thing blows over,” he said. “Others want me to disappear with the keys to the cage.” (He has the only keys to the animal’s cage.) …
There was little new news in the Nov. 18, 1962, News-Tribune, although the St. Paul Automobile Club sent a telegram to Mayor Johnson, offering to pay to fly Mr. Magoo back to India if the animal was spared.
Here’s the news from the Nov. 19, 1962, Duluth Herald:
MR. MAGOO, AND EXECUTIONER TOO, VERY MUCH AT HOME
The executioner stayed home today. It looks like Mr. Magoo’s life may be spared.
Mr. Magoo, the Indian mongoose at the Duluth Zoo whose fate has reached the level of President Kennedy’s cabinet and won him thousands of friends throughout the country, was enjoying a temporary stay of execution.
Harry P. Pinkham, game management agent for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Mr. Magoo’s designated executioner, said “it would be foolish of me to act while the secretary of the interior is still studying the case.”
The interior secretary, Stewart Udall, has ordered his legal staff to “take a good, close look at the law to see if there isn’t some way of sparing” Magoo. A 1909 federal law bans the importation of mongooses to the U.S. for any reason, including exhibition at zoos. Mayor George D. Johnson appealed to Udall to try to save the mongoose.
In direct charge of the investigation is Udall’s top assistant, Orren Beatty, who said his department is hopeful that the execution can be stopped.
“From what we hear, Mr. Magoo seems to be a good, progressive, new Frontier-type mongoose,” Beatty joked. “After some preliminary checks with some of the experts here, we find it may not be necessary that the mongoose be executed.”
News of Magoo’s plight has spread from Duluth to all parts of the country. At the Minnesota-Purdue football game Saturday in Minneapolis, some of the many students who have taken up the fight unfurled a huge banner reading “Save the Mongoose” at halftime ceremonies in Memorial Stadium. …
Magoo was given to the Duluth zoo by a seaman from a foreign ship that had called at India.
A representative of the federal plant and animal quarantine service said Magoo was one of a pair of mongooses on the ship. The other died while the ship was at Montreal, but Canadian officials refused to allow it to be brought ashore for cremation. They did, however, seal it in a plastic bag.
When the ship arrived in Duluth, the federal inspector telegraphed his superiors in Washington asking permission to land the carcass for cremation. Permission was granted, but the captain of the ship specified that the sailor who had brought the mongoose aboard illegally be required to pay the cremation costs, according to the inspector.
The sailor was so incensed over being forced to pay for the cremation, that he gave the mongoose to the city presumably to “get even,” the inspector said.
Meanwhile, a Minneapolis department store wishing to cash in on the mongoose boom has offered the city “any amount” for the right to display Magoo in their store.
(Zoo manager Lloyd) Hackl pointed out, however, that Magoo is legally impounded at the zoo and cannot be moved, at least for the time being.
Finally, a real breakthrough to report in the Nov. 20, 1962, issue of the News-Tribune (note the byline!):
MR. MAGOO’S LIFE SPARED; UDALL COMMUTES SENTENCE
By Walter T. Ridder, News-Tribune Washington Bureau Chief
WASHINGTON – The mongoose has been saved!
Late Monday evening the Department of Interior announced that a temporary residence permit has been issued to the animal. In effect this commuted the death sentence under which the animal has been so uneasily living for the past week or so at the Duluth Zoo.
The matter of the mongoose was settled by the personal intervention of Secretary of Interior Stewart L. Udall who signed the reprieve upon the recommendation of the Fish and Wildlife Service under whose jurisdiction the mongoose falls.
No time limit has been placed upon the residency of the mongoose, but Udall’s order does suggest that when the children of Duluth have sated their appetites for gazing at the mongoose that he be deported to India.
The mongoose’s difficulties, as it was explained here by Interior Department spokesmen, is that it has no natural enemies. Every other animal apparently likes the mongoose, so he propagates himself at a rate which rapidly puts him in the pestilent class. While other animals don’t attack him, he does not return the favor. Interior Department officials who are responsible for the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico reported sadly that mongooses (mongeese) in those U.S. dependencies ate or otherwise did bodily harm to singing birds, ducks, and other of our fine-feathered friends. they therefore don’t want any more mongooses than necessary.
Under the prevailing circumstances, they don’t mind giving the Duluth mongoose a temporary home, but it was clear from their tones of voice that they hope he’ll soon go back to India.
And here’s a little more detail from the Nov. 20, 1962 Duluth Herald:
POPULARITY MAGOO’S KEY TO LIFE
Mr. Magoo, the bachelor mongoose, can stay at the Duluth Zoo as long as he’s popular, but if and when he loses his popularity, it’s back to India for him.
Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall, who personally interceded in the Magoo case, said a clause in the federal law barring mongooses from this country was stretched a bit for Magoo.
“The legal background for this commutation is quite lengthy, but it goes to the point that the law’s intent was to prevent a population explosion among mongooses,” Udall said.
“This threat is obviously not an issue in the Duluth case, as was pointed out in one informal staff opinion which read: ‘There can be no threat of an excess of the mongoose being loosed in Duluth as long as Magoo is not two.’ ”
Udall said Magoo may remain in Duluth as long as he’s a major attraction, but when his popularity wanes he must be deported.
Just who will be the judge of Magoo’s popularity wasn’t made clear. Presumably, whenever he is threatened with deportation, there will be a new surge of popularity to keep him here.
Udall, aware that there is the danger of setting a precedent by allowing Duluth to retain Magoo even temporarily, said his case is not to be interpreted that any future importation will be permitted. …
So Mr. Magoo won his reprieve from deportation (or worse), at least for a little while. I’ll pick up the story from there in my next post.