Five O'Clock Somewhere

Welcome to Five O'Clock Somewhere, where it doesn't matter what time zone you're in; it's five o'clock somewhere. We'll look at rural life, especially as it happens in Rio Arriba County, New Mexico, cats, sailing (particularly Etchells racing yachts), and bits of grammar and Victorian poetry.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

What eats you?

Some thoughts on predators

Yesterday, there was a headline on the front page of the local newspaper: “Animal Attacks Child.” Pat had the comment, “… as opposed to ‘Plant Attacks Child’ or ‘Rock Attacks Child’?”

Actually, the reason the headline was so vague was because it was unclear exactly what sort of animal attacked the child – the child’s family says it was a mountain lion, but the state Game & Fish officials who are investigating the incident say there’s no evidence of a mountain lion in the area; according to them, it was more likely a small bear or possibly a bobcat.

Meanwhile, in that same newspaper and in several others from the same week, there are many reports of people, all too often children, who have fallen victim to random attacks in cities, sometimes in broad daylight.

Quite frankly, I find the urban sort of predator much more frightening than the wilderness variety. I feel much more safe walking alone at night in the forest than I do in the city. Non-human predators are logical in their motivations; therefore, I can take actions to be less of a target. Human predators, on the other hand, are far from logical. That makes them less predictable and far more scary.

Take coyotes, for example. Or wolves. The image the general public has is that these canines are red-eyed, slavering monsters out to attack. That is far from the truth. While coyotes tend to be solitary, and wolves usually move in packs, they both have in common that they are into energy conservation – they want to get the most caloric intake for the least caloric expenditure. That means that no sane coyote or wolf will attack a healthy human. They will go for rabbits or squirrels, which they can easily overpower. A wolf pack might attack a fawn or a calf, but not if there’s a parent at hand to fight them off. The only documented cases of wolves or coyotes attacking humans are cases in which the animals in question had rabies and therefore weren’t sane.

Then there are bears. Bears have a temper, but they’re totally logical, too. There are two ways one can get on the bad side of a bear. First, mama bears are probably the most protective parents on the planet, and they have a hair trigger. If you see a bear cub, you can be sure mama is somewhere near, and no matter how innocent your intentions, she’s likely to see your actions as a threat – so your wisest course of action is to get as far away from baby bear as you can, as fast as you can. The second bear behavior to be aware of is that they’re always hungry – they spend all winter sleeping, and all summer eating to build up their fat reserves so they can sleep all next winter. Bears are severely nearsighted, so they find food by smell. If you smell like food, especially high-calorie food, they will want to eat you. But if you don’t smell like food, bears will generally leave you alone. Don’t use any sweet-smelling personal-care products (soap, shampoo, deodorant), and keep all cooking/food smells, especially fatty ones like frying bacon, away from the tent where you’re sleeping. If you don’t smell like you contain a lot of calories, a bear will decide you’re not worth the effort of attacking.

Mountain lions and bobcats are much the same. They, too, are looking for food, and they need to get food in a way that the calories expended in getting the food are less than the calories gained from the food they get. A bobcat is not going to attack an adult human, just because the chance of bringing down the prey is minuscule. A mountain lion might be a threat, but I’m not too worried, at least in Laguna Vista – the mountain lions there definitely have a taste for venison, and they help themselves to it on a regular basis.

The predators in the city, however, are much less predictable and therefore more frightening. They’re not seeking food, or to protect their offspring. They’re random. Often they are on drugs, which make them insane, the way rabies does with coyotes and wolves. I can’t protect myself against urban predators by making myself look or smell less like food, because urban predators aren’t motivated by food.

It’s sad that I feel much safer among wolves, coyotes, bears, mountain lions, and bobcats than I do among my fellow human beings.

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Anonymous tillerman said...

I never quite understood why bears associate smells like frying bacon and my deodorant with the natural smell of live meat in the wild. Surely a hiker who hasn't showered for 3 days smells more like his normal food?

Tue May 20, 07:04:00 AM MDT  
Blogger Carol Anne said...

The hiker who hasn't showered in a while may smell, but apparently he doesn't have a high-calorie smell.

Tue May 20, 05:16:00 PM MDT  
Blogger Pat said...

Getting wolves to not attack a human being isn't too hard, but getting them to actually respect and like you is a much tougher goal to meet.

Sat May 24, 11:28:00 PM MDT  
Blogger Dr. Know said...

Well, if it's any consolation, living in the largest southeastern city causes me to agree with your assessment of animals vs. human predators - the worst of which are politicians and their ilk.

Mon May 26, 04:34:00 AM MDT  

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