This morning, I went to the mailbox and found this:
I’m not going to write about cats, or about this family’s plight. I’ll be sad if they’ve lost their pet forever, for I too loved a cat once. For their sake, I hope Furball returns home. I really do. But a sign like this gets my pulse racing and a deep place in me lights on fire, because I know what it means, and it makes me happy.
The coyote population is on the rise.
Wolves were all but extinguished in our country by over-hunting a hundred years ago; since then, the white-tailed deer population has grown out of control and contributes to widespread ecological havoc; young willows are unable to grow to adulthood, so stream banks are exposed and erosion follows. People sigh at the beauty of deer. I agree; deer are beautiful animals to look at (like most animals). There’s also way too many of them, and I for one am not afflicted with the Bambi Goggles that most of my neighbors seem to wear. When I see a deer kill on the side of the road, I’m not all that sad. Yes, the poor Bambi is dead, yes, it probably had fawns somewhere. A coyote will get the fawns, and the circle of life will continue.
When wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone 10 years ago, the ecology of the park began to re-balance itself. Now that the packs are multiplying and returning to the natural social order of a healthy wolf population, enormous environmental benefits appear. Many ranchers despise the wolf, and fear for their sheep and calves. Some will be eaten by predators; it happens. Build better fences, but don’t extinguish the wolves.
We don’t have many wolves in Connecticut. But the coyote population really took off in our state, as in much of the U.S., 10-15 years ago. Most people I know, including myself, have seen them. One of my friends saw one run across her lawn, with her neighbor’s cat in its mouth. The Sunday paper has pages and pages of missing cat ads in it. You do the math. Cats are easy prey; if you don’t want your cat to fall victim to the coyote, don’t let it outdoors. But do not fear and loathe the coyote; we need the coyote.
I am a lunatic about predation.
Predation is necessary; it is vital to the health of the environment. I kicked someone out of my house for trying to torch a huge spider that had built its web on my deck; his excuse? That he’s been bitten by a Banana Spider, some 7 years ago. Now, I hate spiders. On a personal, visceral level, I dislike the spider that decides to sit on my house. But as a biologist, I cannot in good conscience kill a spider. Spiders are the alpha predator of the little bug world, and the apex of the food pyramid.
Kill a spider, and you have just invited hundreds of bugs that could have died into your life and your home.
Kill a coyote, and squirrels run amuck.
Kill a wolf, and deer run amuck.
If you shoot at an eagle or a hawk, you are just an asshole.
Get the picture?
Recently, Mountain Lions have been spotted in my town. There has been some press about lions killing people throughout the country. Personally, I wouldn’t want to have my face eaten by a mountain lion. Especially when they team up and stalk you, as in one of the stories. I don’t walk alone at the state park for this reason, and especially not at dusk. I’m not stupid. Nor would I leave my fat little cocker spaniel out all night to fend for itself.
But am I happy & excited about Mountain Lions in Connecticut?
Nobody wants to be eaten, and nobody wants their pets eaten. But if nobody is eating the eaters, then the system breaks down. Maybe the return of these large predators will restore some much-needed balance. It is my hope that people will inform themselves and not act from a place of fear, ignorance and misunderstanding. We don't have to love these animals, but we must repect them. And we must coexist.
Respect the predators, and keep your beloved little kitty indoors.