Do we need to vilify animals in order to explain natural predator-prey dynamics and dispersal behavior? From the tone of a recent snippet by SF Chronicle writer Tom Stienstra, it would seem so. His rather sensationalistic piece was written as a belated follow-up to the dramatic story of puma 46M's recent trip to Mountain View, which thankfully ended with the cat being safely tranquilized and relocated to the Santa Cruz Mountains by the UCSC Puma Project.
|Puma 46M under a car in a parking garage. From UCSC Puma Project.|
Pumas aren’t wiping out California’s deer population; on the contrary they are bringing it into check, providing a natural control that other parts of the nation (such as the deer-ravaged Midwest) could desperately use. Furthermore, the author fails to address the basic ecological principle that as prey populations are reduced, predator species will decline as well – if there are fewer deer, there will be fewer puma births.
Unfortunately, natural systems don’t always agree with anthropocentric interests, such as managing prey species for hunting (black-tailed deer) or preserving a species pushed to the brink of extinction by resource extraction (fisher). The question for us, then, is how we will respond to these wild systems when they don’t necessarily agree 100% with our interests.
|How will humans respond to increasing interactions with large animals such as pumas as we push into their territory? From UCSC Puma Project.|
What Mr. Stienstra might have said was as HUMAN populations continue to expand and disperse, we are more and more likely to encounter natural systems at work, such as the young male puma in Mountain View who was fortunate enough to be contained by police and wildlife biologists – unlike many pumas who die at the hands of landowners or, worse yet, on the bumper of an automobile.
What will the lions eat next? The same things they have always eaten when deer aren’t available – smaller mammals such as raccoons and various rodents. And perhaps sensational journalists.