Tuesday, January 06, 2015

When Man Becomes Prey

Cat Urbigkit's newest, When Man Becomes Prey, is extremely relevant to the matter of the home- invader coyote below.* I rather thoughtlessly quipped "Ask Val Geist" because I have been corresponding with him on such matters for years, and the old zoologist's theories about too- bold urban predators are bedrock.

But Cat is a pastoralist and writer whose life and work are inextricably interwoven with-- I won't say "urban", but modern predators. She deals more with coyotes (and bears and wolves and lions) than anyone I know, and she is dedicated to finding "win- win" solutions to problems most people don't know exist. She has now written the first text on how people in our civilization can co- exist with big predators.

I hadn't realized that her book was not getting the attention that it should; perhaps it is too biological or realistic for the kind of pop Greenies who think that wolves are spiritual, and too accepting of the predator's role for traditional "shoot, shovel, and shut up" varmint killers. The more loss for them, especially the first; Prey is THE text on the dangers of taking too naive a view of these wonderful but not entirely benign "new" and ancient neighbors. Even the most  pro- predator advocate must realize that, if enough people are attacked by any carnivore, it will lose its protection.

This sounds as calm as Cat is when she discusses the potential problems on the wild/ human "interface", so let me reprint what I wrote to her a while back when she asked me for a blurb:

"Jeez, you write a revolutionarily sane book that goes against all trends in the world outside of Africa, takes brisk notice of the stupidity of rules made by sentimentalists in cities who think that all animals can be reasoned with (you don't HAVE to get gory to elicit the horror as that poor woman gets eaten for half an hour because she thought Timothy Treadwell was a reliable guide to grizzlies), remind people that not only will coyotes eat your dog but, just as happily, your kids (and show why the first publicly eaten kid will be in California, where runners should just sacrifice a woman a year to the Cat Goddess); and why even if that happens the residents of Boulder will give their dogs and children to lions rather than allow hunting or GUNS to be used in their peaceful city (and I have read details of the kid who got et, and it wasn't pretty)...

"And all this all without blinking, in a serious tone that still can be devastatingly if blackly funny when you come up with predictions of what will happen if idiots stumble on making the  same mistakes ("... and the idiot's twice- burned finger/ goes wabbling back to the fire..."**)

"You expect me to sum it up in three sentences???"

So I took one more.

"Cat Urbigkit is a scholar and a rancher and above all a writer, a woman who has lived with her flocks in the wildest ranges we have left, watching and admiring, and sometimes without rancor killing the great predators who share her home. In When Man Becomes Prey, she documents the increasing conflict as animals big enough to eat your pets, your children, and even you, come to live in close contact with people who do not believe that anything beautiful can be dangerous. In this lucid, sane book she brings her years of experience and study together to suggest the unthinkable: that if we live in intimate contact with big predators we must regain our ability to scare them, the heritage of a primate who only survived by knowing that when predators think you are harmless, you will become food. That hunting may both preserve predators and make the wilderness safer for humans may be counterintuitive, but it is as true now as it was in the Pleistocene."

Eventually, our big predators, through both learning and the elimination of aggressive individuals, may behave more like the ones in Europe. Ours MAY be less aggressive than those in Africa; if so it may be, as Valerius Geist suggested, due to the ubiquity of firearms on our frontier (Africans and Siberians generally were far less well- armed than our pioneers and frontiersmen).

But we aren't there yet, not when runners are eaten by lions, students by wolves, and Canadian folksingers by coyotes. If you like predators, enjoy the wild, and believe that we must find ways to live with more of it around, read this book. It is also a treasury of good up- to- date natural history backed by real- life experience, and full of first- rate photos, most by Cat. Buy it!
* People have been asking how it got in. A door was slightly ajar-- but what non- acclimated coyote would test doors like a burglar?

** Kipling, "The Gods of the Copybook Headings"


Anonymous said...

Yeah, anyone interested in realistically living with predators will certainly miss out not reading this book--one of the BEST on the subject I've read(and I read a LOT on this subject!). This from a died-in-the-wool(ahem!) predator hugger, too--but I am a predator lover that loves them warts and all--I at least understand that sometimes they DO want to EAT you--nothing personal, of course! That's just a reality you have to consider living or traveling in predator territory. I still feel safer wandering on foot in the bush in Africa with lions or the Rockies with grizzlies than I EVER do in any large urban area chock full of murderous primates! One thing people(for or against predatory critters) need to realize, too, is that their behavior is NOT static--it's always evolving. It was considered a set rule(in the U. S., anyway) that large predators need huge tracts of undisturbed wilderness to survive, and although I'm also for preserving huge tracts of wilderness, some of the suburban cougars, bears, and urban coy-wolves are contradicting that notion regularly! So it is high time a book about living alongside them is written(and read)--it is an historical part of this ever evolving phenomenon. I learned about it's publication over on J P's blog--promptly got a copy, and already gave my critique on Amazon! Yeah, HIGHLY RECOMMENDED--whichever view of predators one has. It is NOT easy writing a fair, balanced, realistic(unsensational) book on these controversial critters, and especially considering Cat's regular less-than-happy actual experiences with ALL these North American predators, I salute her excellent efforts here.....L.B.

Moro Rogers said...

I feed rattlesnakes in my backyard. I am a rattlesnake shaman! (Not really.)