February 4, 1994


Anybody who says that he's been et by a wolf is a liar.

John B. Theberge, 1971

I recently watched a TV special produced by a foundation that is collecting money and actively campaigning to re-introduce the wolf. If these people were the ones who re-introduced the wolf, it would be a matter of time before those wolves would have to be trapped and either sent to zoos or killed, and we would have a repeat of the extermination of the wolf in the west.

What they did, under the rubric of research, was to build a large enclosure, into which they introduced some wolves. They fed them with road killed deer. It seems that the only thing they wished to accomplish with this was to produce a film with which they could solicit money. They created a very large outdoor kennel and stocked it with wolves. Those wolves bore little resemblance to wild animals. They were kennel raised dogs.

It doesn't make much difference to the world of wild animals if someone wants to feed the birds or squirrels, or even deer, but when you start being kind to a large carnivore, you're asking for trouble. You have to either domesticate it completely, incarcerate, it or kill it -there is no compromise. Keeping them wild means that you stay away from them and that you do all sorts of mean things to keep them away from you.

We have a healthy population of mountain lion in our local forests. They feed on the abundant population of deer. It is good for the cougars and for the deer population. Occasionally, a lion develops a taste for sheep or young cows. When this happens, it is hunted down and killed. This is not hard to do for a skilled lion hunter and a trained dog pack. While I do not approve of lion hunting which kills animals that know their place in the ecosystem, I approve of killing wild animals that no longer avoid people and their stock.

Killing them or putting them in zoos seems to be the only way to deal with the problem. Relocating a large predator that doesn't avoid man simply takes the problem from one neighborhood and transfers it to another.There was a program in some national parks that relocated bears that had become pests, to other areas. They became pests in the areas where they were relocated. The only answer was to either kill or incarcerate them them, usually in zoos.

Places like Yellowstone Park have a constant problem with their ever growing elk herds. The only significant checks on the elk are starvation and hunters. Hunters are not allowed in national parks. During a severe winter, the elk are fed, only to require that some have to be shot later.

The science (or is it an art) of game management tries to keep animal populations at reasonable levels. They are hampered in their efforts by many well-meaning people who either want to preserve every single living thing, or to shoot anything that moves.

The situation hasn't been helped by the fact that societies to preserve wildlife have become big business. Their executives really rake in the dough. All that has to be done is to find an unfortunate species such as the harp seal, and you can get a large number of people to contribute a lot of money toward saving them. This is not all bad, because a few organizations have brought back a few species from the brink of extinction.

However, re-introducing a carnivore is fraught with peril. It should not even be attempted without a large amount of research, by people who understand both the problems and their possible solutions.

It is a paradox. The bear illustrates the problem. If no one sees the bears, they are not interested in their preservation. If lots of people see the bears, as they do in our national parks, the bears lose their fear of humans and become very dangerous pests. Bears have maimed and killed visitors. It's just a matter of time before a whale capsizes a boat filled with whale watchers.

The way that things seem to be going, we can expect that wild animals will be kept in immense zoos, where they will be gawked at by caravans of tourists. This has already happened in parts of our national parks and in parts of Africa. You might say, with some justification, that it is better than their extinction.

I shall never forget the time that I rounded the corner on a path, and there lying under a tree, was the largest buck that I had ever seen. This summer Lu saw a bobcat on our road. I wish that I had seen it too. Of course I have seen bobcats in zoos, but there is a great difference between that and having one cross your path. It is hard to explain that difference, but those of you who have experienced it will know what I mean.

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