Aphelion Issue 290, Volume 27
December 2023 / January 2024
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by John DeLaughter

Welcome to the Puhsan Wildlife Refuge! As a visitor to this special place, you will be able to observe the Puhsan in their native habitat as they eat, sleep, engage in courtship rituals, mate, and (if you are very lucky) maybe even as they give birth and raise their children. Scientists have been studying this species for more than one hundred of their generations and have learned quite a lot from this amazing animal.

Unfortunately, past over-harvesting nearly caused the extinction of the vibrant, endlessly entertaining creatures you will see today. Some thirty-five generations ago, more than a third of the breeding population was destroyed in less than one of their generations leading many to ask if the species could ever recover. Tragically, most of the harvest was for what we would consider to be trivial reasons today. Puhsan meat was ground up into pet food, their pelts were turned into hats and coats, and their young were used for medical experimentation. But thanks to new regulations and the establishment of preserves, such as this one, across the globe, the species is off the endangered list and more plentiful than ever!

Thanks to that recovery, a small number of Puhsan are taken every generation as part of a sustainable harvesting program. Some are used in scientific research, often as part of a catch-and-release program. Others are selected for the commercial trade based on a variety of factors, such as health, age, and number of offspring. They are caught and killed as mercifully as possible with their meat and pelts sold at government auctions; the money raised from this program helps fund the wildlife refuge, reducing your tax burden.

While we know you are eager to see the refuge and interact with the Puhsan and many other species in it, we ask that you familiarize yourself with the park FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) first. Doing so will increase your enjoyment of the refuge and help us keep you and the animals that live here safe!

What does ‘Puhsan’ mean?

To be honest, we don’t know. Some of our early explorers heard a breeding pair calling it out to each other and the name stuck. It is probably a territorial call meaning something like “this is my tree”.

Can Puhsan speak?

No. Though there have been claims by some fringe elements that Puhsan can be taught to use language, such as in the case of Klaatu, no reputable scientist agrees. Instead, they say the Puhsan is simply mimicking the desired behavior in hopes of earning a treat. Independent researchers have watched tapes of Klaatu’s paw movements and definitively state that the “sentences” it formed were pure gibberish (e.g., “Hurt cold me hot house hot me”).

How many Puhsan live here?

This refuge is the tenth-largest concentration of Puhsan on the globe! More than eight million breeding pairs of Puhsan call this home. Including their offspring, that is more than twenty-one million individuals, all in this tiny space.

Why do Puhsan live so closely together?

To be honest, we don’t know. Not all Puhsan live in large colonies like this one; many live in smaller groups of fewer than a thousand breeding pairs. However, the number living in large colonies has increased dramatically over the past few generations which may be a result of some thus-far undetected evolutionary pressure.

Do Puhsan mate for life?

We used to think that they did. However, modern research provides a much more nuanced view. Though a few Puhsan do mate for life, it is far more common for them to form multiple temporary breeding pairs over a lifetime.

How are Puhsan young raised?

Strangely, child-rearing duties are mainly left to Puhsan females, with the males frequently being responsible for little more than food or shelter. Scientists think this is due to the male being more fragile than the female and less capable of providing the attention needed to ensure the young make it to adulthood successfully. Interestingly, the males of some breeding pairs have been observed becoming exceedingly protective of the young that were born during their pairing, but only after their former partner has found a new mate. Scientists believe that this may be an attempt to keep the new male from eating the young from previous matings.

Do Puhsan actually make buildings?

While they aren’t buildings the way that we think of them, Puhsan ‘cities’ such as this one often include impressive, multi-story edifices. As is the case with many of the lower animals, the ‘buildings’ are frequently grouped by use; for example, the food will be stored in several structures that are grouped next to each other, while nests will be grouped together in another set of structures. Primitive visual clues often allow the Puhsan to distinguish one set of structures from another, reinforcing scientists’ low opinion of their intelligence.

Why do Puhsan carry trash everywhere?

Scientists think that Puhsan carry elaborately decorated packets of trash as part of their mating rituals. They exchange these packets many times a day, often swapping small packets for larger ones. Both males and females have been observed to exchange packets. Younger Puhsan are given packets several times a year in order to train them in the ritual; as the Puhsan get older, they gain more experience by exchanging smaller packets with each other and their ‘parents’.

Do Puhsan use tools?

Surprisingly, the answer is yes. Not too many years ago, it was thought that animals were incapable of using tools. However, close observation of Puhsan and other species have shown conclusively that they are capable of making crude tools and using them to get food or make carrying it easier.

Are Puhsan safe to pet?

Puhsan are wild animals. As such, they are unpredictable and unsafe to approach. Even experienced ‘Puhsan wranglers’ have been seriously hurt or killed by these animals. Do not get close to Puhsan, as they can and will knock you down and trample over you. Do not try to take their packets as this can enrage the Puhsan. Do not try to pet or ride the Puhsan.

Now that you are familiar with the Puhsan, we hope you enjoy your visit to the Puhsan Wildlife Refuge. Please remember to turn your holographic disguise on before entering the refuge as Puhsan are easily startled and look very different than we do, with adults having just one nose and two eyes. Also remember that the entrance and exit are camouflaged in order to keep from disturbing the Puhsan, or “Yumans” as some call them, while they are being observed.  If you get lost, just set your map to find “New York City Grand Central Station”.


2022 John DeLaughter

Bio: John E. DeLaughter is a geophysicist, paranomasiac, and world-famous bad sailor. His work has taken him to all seven continents where he always meets the nicest people. Currently retired, he lives on a sailboat with Missy the cat. Among the stories he's had published are "A Fluke So Rare" (October 2018, Aphelion Webzine), "The Terran Game" (December 2021, Aphelion Webzine), and "The Day the Rockets Flew" (Strange Wars, 2022).

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