August 05, 2005

The Pyramid of Life

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.

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?

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?

You betcha.

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.


Cap'n Marrrrk said...

Hahahah. Great post. Thanks for taking the time to write it.

The lifespan of an outdoor cat is 1/2. Keep em inside.

Moutain Lions...hell yeah! We have a big deer population in the suburbs and the the city gov has already opened up bowhunting the suburbs, and now they are talking the suburbs. Why? Because we are a yeasty folk who don't know when to die in our own waste.

Kay said...

I agree with you about needing predators.. My parents are the kinds of idiots who shoot at the coyotes if they see them in the backyard (well, back 5 acres...) They don't want their precious kitties and pansy dogs becoming lunch.. (minature daschunds). They had a golden retriever, my dog, that "mysteriously disappeared," tho think it was a mountain lion.. That, I'm not too down with, but I used to keep my dog inside at night, and they left him outside all the time; so I suppose it was only a matter of time...

amygeekgrl said...

Excellent post.
We don't kill spiders in our house either. Though we often put them outside. Is that just as bad?

Btw, love the name "furball" for a cat. ;)

Juliabohemian said...

I'm with you.
Don't go messing with the food chain.
We have coyotes here but they are very used to people.
We also have mountain lions.
I would never kill any animal unless it came down to a life or death type of situation.
The only animals in North America that are really apt to put your life in danger are pumas and wolves.
I think hunting is lame and totally unnecessary when they have huge farms of cows that are bred just to be eaten. We no longer have to hunt for food. Anyone who enjoys that kind of thing, as a sport - needs some therapy.

BadGod said...

I could not agree more.
The only prob is...coyotes need to be controlled, also. I have seen a lot of sick coyotes here in western Iowa, and it ain't pretty. Of course we don't have the wolves here yet. I have read in the paper that mountain lions are around now, and that can be good. the deer pop. is horrible. I love when my friends go deer hunting, because there is that many less that I will hit with my pick up.

I love that pic of you. That is you right?

B.O.B.I. said...

I kill anything in my apartment that is alive and non-human.

No exceptions.

Leigh Yung Lee said...

I would never kill an eagle or a hawk or any living creature for that matter (oh, with the exception of the large ant population that is living in my house, NOT helping with the mortgage, that my husband refuses for some odd reason to call an exterminator about!) So great that you wrote the lengthy and educational piece so that others can learn about the environment as well. But i am thinking... someone is now crying themself to sleep because Furball usually sleeps above his or her head, licks his/her nose in the night, meows when he is hungry, warms his owner's heart, and pisses on the shower bathmat when it's wet ...oh, wait...that's my cat, Smokey who does that. I am just worried about Furball, ya know. But that is exactly why my cats are indoor cats (although I don't love that pissing on the bathmat thing).

bryant said...

Well said. So sad that some ranchers will be eaten by predators though.