May 3, 1996

Nature's Balance

Mother nature is a bitch!

Author unknown

When many people hear about "the balance of nature," they think that there is such a thing as, for example, a certain number of deer and a certain number of mountain lions existing in some kind of harmony. That can never happen. What actually happens in nature in what is known by the experts as "balance," is that as deer herds grow, mountain lion populations also increase. The lions increase to the point where the number of deer diminish. When the number of deer diminish, lions go hungry or leave the area, and many die. When enough lions die, or leave an area, the deer herds increase again. and the cycle starts all over again. If there were no lions, the herds of deer would increase until they use up their food supply and large numbers of deer would die all at once of starvation. That very cruel dynamic process is what is called "balance." In other words, it isn't balanced at all, as most of us understand the word "balance." The only place that you will find what most people imagine a balance of nature to be, is in a zoo. What exists in nature is a "dynamic equilibrium." And it is brutal. Nature has no conscience at all. To the game managers, this poses no problem unless it is in a small area and, instead of deer, it involves an endangered species of mountain goat and cougars. This type of balance is what occurs with all forms of life -including man. I repeat: including man.

Whenever the subject turns to hunting, the word "cruelty" always comes into play. It is cruel to kill Bambi's mother by shooting her. Of course, it isn't cruel when a mountain lion, or a pack of wolves or coyotes kill Bambi, or Bambi dies of starvation. That's natural.

The Mongolians deal with their snow leopard problems, which are similar to the problems that we have here with mountain lions, in an interesting way. They allow limited trophy hunting only of leopards that are known to have preyed on livestock. The very high fees charged the hunters are used mostly to reimburse farmers who have lost livestock. I assume that the hunters use professional trackers with dogs, because it is virtually impossible to find a big cat in any other way. The difference between Mongolia and California is that in California, the tracker shoots the lion; while in Mongolia, a foreign rich hunter pays for the privilege of shooting the leopard, and he gets to keep the carcass. I assume that they figure that if some rich and foolish capitalist wants to pay big bucks to shoot a cat, they'll gladly take his money. Does it make any difference to the cat? Of course not -dead is dead! Is it less cruel to be shot by a professional tracker than by a rich trophy hunter? Of course not. In any case, being shot is a quicker way to die than being mauled by another lion, and is much better than starving to death.

I have as much contempt as anyone for someone who will shoot something as beautiful as a big cat in order to stuff it, or who just kills a cat that is minding its own business. Yet, from the perspective of the cat, one hunter is the same as another. To the cat, the tracker who kills it because it is a danger to livestock or people, or the contemptible trophy hunter are all the same.

While we're dealing with myths, I would like to punch a few holes in the one about the mountain lion killing the weak and infirm, while the hunter kills the prime animals. The fact is, as I was told by one of my profs at Berkeley who was a world authority on deer, the hunters rarely get the big bucks. Mostly they take younger inexperienced deer. That buck with the gigantic rack of antlers didn't get that way by being stupid. If you check out a deer herd, you will find that the big bucks disappear with the first shot of hunting season, and re-appear when the season is over. In other words, both man and the lion take the young and foolish and the old and infirm. Mountain lions get a big buck in prime condition about as often as hunters do -which is not very often at all. It is true that there are a few hunters who manage to get a decent sized buck almost every year, but there aren't enough of those expert hunters to even dent the natural selection process. And more power to them. Someone has to help to give a young buck a chance with the ladies.

A friend of mine was brought up in a hunting culture. He gave it up. He told me that what made him abandon hunting was having to look into the big beautiful brown eyes of a wounded deer and finish it off. In the hands of an expert who can make a clean kill with one bullet every time, hunting isn't cruel. For the rest of us, it is better not to hunt at all. The number of hunters has been steadily declining, while the number of nature photographers has steadily increased. It makes for a nicer and gentler world.

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