In search of ponies: Story behind quack attack

Sharna Johnson

Molesting a zoo visitor during a dedication ceremony elevated one hard-luck duck to marginal fame this week and earned him a new name.

But there’s more to Merv the… Oh never mind, we’ll just stick with Merv… than meets the eye.

He waddled into the spotlight during the dedication of a newly-donated water fountain Tuesday morning.

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Oblivious to the reverence of the crowd as they listened to a speech, Merv found his target in Claire Burroughes, Clovis community development director, who stood among a row of spectators from the city.

Thankfully for everyone but Claire, CNJ photographer Tony Bullocks was on hand to document what happened next.

“It was a very serious moment. (The donor was) making a speech, and here comes the duck,” she said as she recalled a moment immortalized through Tony’s lens.

“(The duck) wouldn’t leave me alone. He started yanking on my skirt.”

But Merv was interested in more than her skirt and eventually gave up tugging on the hem so he could nibble on her toes.

In all fairness to Merv, it was Claire’s laughter that disrupted the event.

“He was biting my toes, one after the other. He was like yum, yum,” she said.

“I was trying to figure out why me and nobody else,” she said, theorizing it might have been the glittery polish on her digits, or more likely the smell of her honeysuckle lotion.

Eventually Merv did drift away and the event was a success despite the hubbub.

But it certainly wasn’t forgotten, especially by the next day when the photo surfaced in the paper.

“They’ve been teasing me unmercifully,” Claire said of just about everyone she has run into since.

Zookeeper Mary-Lou McAnulla heard about it too.

“All I know is I walked in (Wednesday) and they said look what your duck did,” she said.

“He doesn’t like people, but he’s smart enough to know that that’s where the food comes from. They’re saying that the reason he went after Claire is because Claire and I look a lot a like.”

And Merv equates Mary-Lou with food.

You see, Merv has only been wandering the zoo’s grounds for about a week.

And he’s not just any duck, even if he is an odd duck, according to Mary-Lou.

The way the story goes, Merv was an Easter duck — a fuzzy little hatchling purchased by a family from a local feed store for their kids this spring.

After a $1,200 surgery to repair injuries he received in a dog attack, his family decided to take him to the zoo to live.

The zoo has a partnership with a duck rehabilitation program, but Mary-Lou said the family asked that Merv stay on the grounds so their children could visit him.

But lacking full feathers and unable to defend himself against the bigger ducks, Merv wasn’t ready to integrate when he arrived three weeks ago, so Mary-Lou kept him in a cage and cared for him until his feathers grew in.

His first day out in the park, she said she took him to the water where the other ducks were and set him free.

That was when she discovered Merv doesn’t like water.

“He just ran out like he was on fire, then he hid for a couple days,” she said. “He’ll walk in the water, but he won’t swim.”

She finally found him and relocated him to the front of the zoo where she could keep a better eye on him and he disappeared again until they discovered he had moved in with the tortoises.

Merv did find a family of sorts, bonding with “Mommy” duck and her babies, but he continues to disappear and resurface around the zoo.

He went into hiding again after his disastrous attempt at courtship — or pandering, depending on how you look at it —