04RatLet us now praise famous rats. Rats come in all shapes, sizes and species – both the rodent and the human variety. There are way too many human rats for this column to ponder more than briefly in passing; Benedict Arnold, Jane Fonda and Tokyo Rose, just to name a few. Today’s focus will be on the wonder and lore of the rodent variety of rats.

A recent article in The New York Times breathlessly described the discovery of a new variety of rat – the mysterious and now famous Vangunu giant rat. Just when you thought you had too many things to worry about – North Korea’s Little Rocket Man, the indictments on Manafort Monday or whether diet Coke is worse for you than regular Coke – along comes the Vangunu giant rat.

Once more elusive than Big Foot or a good nickel cigar, the Vangunu giant rat was rumored to exist on the island of Vangunu, which is part of the Solomon Islands way out in the South Pacific. You may recall that Lt. Commander Quinton McHale of the 1960s TV show “McHale’s Navy” was stationed in the South Pacific along with Ensign Parker and Capt. Binghamton during World War II. It is unclear if McHale ever confronted a Vangunu giant rat. We can only hope there is a video somewhere in the vaults of ABC that can solve that mystery.

But I digress. Back to the Vangunu giant rat. VGR, as his friends call him, is the royalty of the rat family. He is one big rat. VGR can weigh in at about 2 pounds, stretching 18 inches long from his nose to his scaly, bald tail. His dental prowess is legendary, despite never having been known to floss, use fluoride or participate in a regular program of professional dental hygiene. VGR can crack open a coconut using his bare teeth. He will drill a hole in his coconut and scoop out the coconut meat, discarding an almost completely empty coconut shell. If Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones had trained a pet VGR to retrieve coconuts, he would have never fallen out of that coconut tree, landing on his head in Fiji back in 2006. Like cockroaches and Twinkies, one day only Keith Richards and Vangunu giant rats will survive the coming nuclear apocalypse. It’s time we began to seriously think about the kind of world we want to leave behind for Keith Richards once we all have crossed the great divide.

Until very recently, VGRs were just rumored to exist on Vangunu. The only evidence they were real were the drilled, emptied coconuts and unidentifiable rat droppings that appeared on the jungle floor.

Enter professor Tyrone Lavery, the Indiana Jones of rat detectives. Lavery spent years of his life searching for proof of the VGR to no avail. The professor was the Inspector Javert in pursuit of the VGR. He was no quitter. He laughed at the danger of falling coconuts. He used every trick in the rat detective playbook to try to confirm the existence of the VGR; traps, cameras and hanging out under coconut trees at all hours of the day and night. A lesser rat detective would have given up years ago and gone back to studying the effect of gallons of caffeine on lab rats. Not our intrepid professor Lavery. He persevered in his rat detection.

On one tragic day in the jungle, a particularly unlucky VGR, Rodney, was imitating Keith Richards in a coconut tree when the tree itself fell to the ground. Rodney was seriously injured and unable to scamper away to the Rat Rehabilitation Clinic.

Lavery discovered the injured Rodney while on his daily rat patrol. Lavery attempted to nurse Rodney back to health. Unfortunately, the professor was fresh out of the tiny little rat veterinary instruments necessary to save the Rodney’s life. After a few hours of rodent hospice care, Rodney expired. Rodney went to dwell in the land of his ancestors in the Peaceable Kingdom of the Rat Havens, which is filled with soft-shelled coconuts and music by Keith Richards.

Rodney’s body was interred for the traditional 10-day period in a stone tomb, after which the stones were rolled away and his mortal coil was sent to the Queensland Museum in Australia where it remains to this day. If you have enough mileage points, you can fly Qantas and see Rodney.

The mystery of the existence of Vangunu giant rat is solved. We are left only to ponder one final question. If a coconut tree containing a Vangunu giant rat falls in the jungle and Keith Richards is not around to hear it, does it make a sound? As the King of Siam once said, “It is a puzzlement.”


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