Curious how the memes of “Re-wilding” and that of animal fear (scroll down and see Reid on sharks; I hope soon to post on Timothy Treadwell) seem to be multiplying on the news pages. For Re-wilding see this good commentary in Slate, and this article on Paul Martin from the Arizona Daily Star, showing him holding what is probably the same lump of sloth dung he once graciously placed in my hand. (How’s that for an unlikely sentence?)
But the “rewilders” are going to have to deal with the attitudes of people who seem to think they can purchase absolute safety. Consider this NYT article on hysterical California billionaires and their terror over cougars who haven’t done anything, and this slightly more tempered essay wondering how to deal with our situation , where predators come up against the edge of the suburbs.
The Californians are– almost– just plain silly, and seem prone to that syndrome peculiar to certain rich folks of thinking they can buy immortality. Most cougars– I have lived in an area where they are common for over 25 years– are no threat.
“Wildlife experts say that residents are overreacting to the presence of a stealthy animal that has been part of the landscape for as long as there has been a California. They say that mountain lions – also known as cougars – present an infinitesimal threat, especially if people avoid behavior like jogging alone at dawn or dusk close to the reservoir on Atherton’s western border. (My emphasis).
Of course we do have one important cultural difference here– we hunt them; though I have always been mildly skeptical of whether it actually changes the cats’ attitudes, it makes people, even joggers or mothers with children, a bit less fearful. Unlike Californians, we can even carry unconcealed handguns without special permits. While jogging.
The second article seems saner, but it manages to lump “Timothy Treadwell, Assaulted by Bears” (apologies to the late Edward Gorey) with New Jersey suburban trashcan- raiding bears, skulking California cougars, and African lions that routinely dine on poor African farmers. Sorry, those are at least three and probably four different things.
First: treating grizzlies like teddy bears is…..let’s be kind and say foolish. Most people have better survival instincts than Mr. Treadwell. I have no problem with the bears and probably would not have killed them. In his saner moments even Mr. Treadwell knew he was likely to attain his apotheosis as grizzly scat.
Black bears are garbage raiders. Deal with, meaning kill, real problem bears– otherwise, get a life, or simply a better garbage can. Stop leaving bird seed on the ground. You are the same people who want the deer gone but hate hunters. Don’t be such babies.
Cougars: real predators. But what is with the one destroyed by Park personnel in Colorado because it “looked at people”? Why not require all campers to stay on roads, and no climbing? Oh, right, they’re already thinking about that in Yosemite…
Lions in Africa: deadly predators that have been eating us since before we were human. Ever have a lion look at you, even in a zoo? (I have worked in zoos). Ever see one after dark in Africa, gray in the edge of the headlights? Ever try to sleep as one worked the brand new electric fence twenty yards away, roaring for hours? A suburbanite in the Bay Area should not compare himself to a peasant in Africa whose life and livelihood is endangered by what is to him– in fact not fancy– a real “monster”.
I support long- range Re- Wilding. I think the plains will never have a real population again– no civilization has ever taken root on shortgrass plains or steppes, and it was a mistake– an understandable one– to try. Courageous men and women who have a prudent sense of what is dangerous and the attentiveness to live among dangerous animals may one day live lightly on the restored savannahs of North America. But they won’t be the descendants of those who fear the cougar. And it is likely that they will fence the cats out of their yards the way I saw in Zimbabwe, not “confine them behind fences”. It doesn’t work that way.