Is it an escaped pig?
Or maybe a giant rodent called a capybara?
Or possibly a giant beaver?
Tessa Barnett and her son, Austen, don't know.
All they know is they both saw a strange, reddish, barrel-shaped creature very early in the morning in the New Danville area on two separate occasions in the past six weeks.
"My son and I are totally freaked out by it," says Mrs. Barnett, 50, of Conestoga. "He said, when he saw it, 'I don't want to see that again.' "
Both mother and son saw the animal between 2 and 4 a.m. while passing the Cherry Hill Orchards property in Pequea Township. Mrs. Barnett saw it about six weeks ago, while on her way to pick up Austen, 20, at his job working nights at Executive Coach bus company near Willow Street.
Mrs. Barnett remembers her encounter vividly.
"The animal crossed the road in front of my car," Mrs. Barnett says. "It started out slowly, then it scampered.
"The way I described it is it slithered, it moved so strangely. It was almost like a bear with four broken legs. It looked like a giant beaver."
It had red, coarse fur and a long, straight tail, says Mrs. Barnett, who did not get to see the animal's head.
"I thought, 'What was that?' It wasn't a dog. At first I thought it was a pig. It had short legs."
Mrs. Barnett then wondered if the animal was some sort of escaped exotic pet, perhaps a capybara, the world's largest rodent. A native of South America, it can be seen in some zoos.
Mrs. Barnett works as an executive administrator for an accounting firm in Manhattan during the week. No stranger to either the big city or to Lancaster County, she knows her story sounds a little, well, crazy.
In fact, she did not report her sighting to the police or local officials.
"I told my family about it but I never told anyone else about it because it's weird, right?" she says.
But she also is firm that she didn't dream the animal that passed in front of her car's headlights.
"No, I don't think I'm seeing things. I definitely saw something," she says. "I know animals pretty well. It wasn't a pony or a miniature horse. It was more bearlike."
Mrs. Barnett might have chalked up her experience as one of those once-in-a-lifetime events that can't be verified. But then, she says, her son came home with a similar tale.
Austen saw the same creature on his way home from work early one morning last week. He was sleeping early today and not available for comment.
Mrs. Barnett said her son told her at first he thought the animal he saw, which was standing by the side of the road, was a bear. Then he saw it move.
"The way it moves is so weird," Mrs. Barnett says. "It creeped him out."
Mrs. Barnett saw the animal near the Cherry Hill Orchards store. Her son saw it along the orchard property on the New Danville Pike.
Cherry Hill officials did not return several calls today for comment.
Calls to local police, game commission officials and area residents did not turn up any reports of escaped pigs or pets, but generated some theories on what the animal could be.
"It could be a domestic pig that is escaped and is feral," said Jerry Feaser, state game commission spokesman.
He also said it could be an escaped Vietnamese pot-bellied pig, which some people keep as pets.
Feaser also wondered if the animal could be a nutria, a beaver-like rodent found in Maryland. However, nutria grow to be only 20 pounds, and the Barnetts described the animal as much larger.
Feaser said it is sometimes difficult to estimate an animal's size and not unusual for someone to overestimate weight.
Local game warden Dennis Warfel, who covers southern Lancaster County, said he has received no reports of anyone sighting the animal or any reports of escaped exotic pets.
He agreed with one of Feaser's theories.
"I would think this is most likely a domestic pig that has gotten away from somebody and the farmer hasn't found it yet," he said.
Southern Regional Police Chief John Fiorill said he periodically gets calls about loose pigs but has received none recently.
In the past, some of those calls were in relation to a pig that sometimes wandered from a farm on Slackwater Road.
But a call to the owner of the perambulating porker, named Smeagol after a character in the movie "The Lord of the Rings," revealed it could not be that pig.
"It's been in our freezer at least six months," said Rebecca Francis.
Residents who live along Long Lane, where Cherry Hill Orchards store is, said they had not seen any strange animals.
Clyde Thomas owns a lawn care business across Long Lane from the orchard store. His front window looks out on the property.
He hasn't seen anything but noted that between 2 and 4 a.m., when the animal was sighted, "I'm in the horizontal position."
Lavonda McClafferty, who lives across from the orchard, also has seen nothing.
"I'll be working in the yard all day today," she said, "so I'll be watching."
Mrs. Barnett admits she's a little worried people won't believe her story.
But she notes, "If two people in my family saw it, we can't be the only ones to see this creepy thing."
She does have a sense of humor about the whole strange experience.
Her family watches the television show "South Park," which featured an unusual creature called ManBearPig, described as "half man, half bear, half pig."
"That's what it looks like," she says, laughing. "Maybe that's what it is."
Cindy Stauffer, "Strange-looking, 200-pound creature sighted here"
Monday, August 17, 2009
A capybara in Lancaster County?
From the Lancaster New Era, March 12, 2009: