Dec 17, 2013
Who are the Wanton Killers?

Guest Commentary by John Laundré, Cougar Rewilding Foundation

John Laundré reflects on some of the great conservation achievements of his time, only to be disgusted that many are actively being undone by current anti-predator policies and attitudes. Lions, wolves, bears, coyotes and countless other species are being painted as evil, bloodthirsty killers. Unable to control their violent urges, these creatures are destroying our ecosystems and must be eliminated. These views couldn’t be any more backwards. Man is the only out of control killer, the only one who kills for fun, the only one who needs to be stopped.

After several decades of what I thought was well overdue enlightenment regarding predators, it seems we are rapidly approaching another dark age.

After realizing our ancestors were wrong to remove predators, especially top ones like wolves and cougars, my generation began correcting those errors.

We protected the remaining predators, at least top ones, with sensible game laws. We began to at least reduce the mass killing of medium and small predators such as coyotes. We even began reintroducing them.

Photo of park sign, text: Wolf Recovery Area, Info Ahead.

Bringing back the eagle, the peregrine falcon, and the wolf to places where they had been eliminated.

Yes, it was my generation and I am proud of what we did. We changed centuries old attitudes about predators and we gave our children and grandchildren things we were deprived of, the sight of an eagle, the howl of a wolf.

I had really thought we had rounded the corner on actually using science when it came to wildlife in this country.

I guess I was wrong….

It seems the next generation, those sons and daughters of my generation who now have the political say, wants to take that all away. They want to plunge us back into the dark ages of how we view wildlife, the dark ignorant days of my parents/grandparents. Under the guise of “management” they want to justify killing off some of the most valuable components of the ecosystems we live in…the top predators.

They are doing this with the age old technique of again demonizing predators. They are trying to verbally reduce them to sub animal life forms or as one “enlightened” person refers to them, as weeds in the garden. More and more I am seeing words and actions I thought we had left behind us in a civilized society. I am beginning to see predators being referred to as “bloodthirsty”, “vicious”, “cruel” yes, even “wanton killers.”

They are being portrayed as animals that truly hate their prey, killing them just for the joy of killing. Many argue that this wanton blood thirst is wreaking havoc on prey populations as these red-eyed demons filled with hate, kill everything in sight. As this archaic attitude concerning predators is again rearing its ugly head, I feel it is important to first SHOUT AT THE TOP OF MY VOICE….THEY ARE WRONG!!!

They are wrong to do this and if we as a society allow this demonizing of predators, we will again, out of ignorance, eliminate these animals and deprive future generations of what my generation fought so hard to restore: ecological sanity.

Why are they wrong? Are not predators bloodthirsty, vicious, wanton killers? Don’t they kill other animals? Sneak up on them, run them down, tear open their throats? Is this not “cruel”? And the “smirk”, the grin, they are often portrayed as having, are they not doing it just out of pure joy, bloodlust?

As predators have evolved to hunt and eat other animals, catching and killing their prey is not something they would do out of joy, a relaxing recreational activity, but rather a life or death occupation. If they did not kill, they instead would die. For them, it is not a past-time, it is what they do!

Ok, they have to kill to stay alive but do they still maybe enjoy it? Considering that all predators have to actually catch their prey with their teeth or claws, have to come into intimate contact with them and possibly suffer physical harm doing so, I doubt that predators get much “joy” out of hunting. Also, the fact that they miss catching something about 80% of the time, must, I would think, make hunting a rather frustrating thing to do. Surely it is not a pleasurable, enjoyable occupation, but rather one that is more akin to a duty. Given, they may not kill for joy but will they not continue to kill, kill, and kill some more?

This is another demonizing image many like to conger up. The killing frenzy of a predator, killing more than it can use at one time, killing, killing, until there is no more to kill. It is true that at times predators make multiple kills of wild prey. Because it IS so hard to catch a meal, if another one offers itself, would not a predator be a fool to pass it by? Don’t we easily fall for the 2-for-1 sale when one is all we need?

Photo of running sheep.
Most fencing is designed to keep livestock in, not to keep predators out. In a herd of wild prey, after one animal is attacked, the rest will flee the area. But in a confined corral, panicked sheep cannot escape and their quick movements may trigger a lion’s instinct to chase and attack. As a result, many may be killed until the movement stops. This is easily avoidable by bringing small livestock into a fully enclosed structure at night.
However, unlike that second widget that lays unused in the drawer, because it can be a long time between meals, rarely do these multiple kills go completely to waste. The lucky predator will eat as much as it can and often will bury, store the rest. Also, as many scavengers feed off of this excess, ecologically, rarely is anything gone to waste.

How about when predators kill whole flocks of sheep or other domestic animals? Does this not prove the wanton killing instinct?

Again, as most predators are geared toward few and far between opportunities, we have to allow them to go a little crazy if all of a sudden there are many such easy opportunities. Who of us, if shopping in a grocery store, would not go a little crazy if all of a sudden they announce that for the next 10 minutes everything is free? Would we not fill our carts with more than we could possibly use and, except for the grace of modern refrigeration, much of it would spoil before we could use it? Are we to expect other animals to have more self-control than we would?

Ok, but, apart from the occasional lucky circumstances, will not predators still seek out their prey in every corner, relentlessly hunt them down, and eventually kill them all? This is another myth that has been perpetrated by those who try to demonize predators, the idea of the persistent hunting until all the prey finally succumb. To this I say simply, predators CANNOT kill all their prey. There are two reasons for this. The first is evolutionary. IF a predator was so efficient in killing its prey, that predator-prey system would have died out long ago. The predator would kill all its food and then in turn starve, end of that evolutionary line! What have survived evolutionary times are the systems where predator and prey are balanced in their efficiencies of killing and avoid being killed. They are systems where the predator CANNOT kill all its prey. Why can’t they?

That is the second reason. There is no species of predator equally efficient in killing its prey in every type of habitat. Again, those animals would have died out long ago. What remains are predators with strengths and weaknesses. Habitats where they can catch their prey and habitats where they can’t.

Photo bear watching fish spawn up waterfall.
Even the biggest and best hunting bear cannot catch all the fish. Some will always make it up stream to spawn, and continue the survival of both species.

Take wolves for example. They are great for running down their prey in the open. However, give that prey some tree cover so it can effectively hold its ground, and the wolf does not do so well.

What this results in is a landscape where prey actually have refuges from their predator. These are places where they can escape and survive…to reproduce…to continue the system.

Thus, the basis for the survival of all these inherently stable predator-prey systems is the habitat, the landscape. This divides the prey population up into what is there and what can be caught and what can be caught is inherently a lot less than what is there.

Take for example, the teeming herds of ungulates on the Serengeti, before we started screwing it up. Why were there so many ungulates and relatively few predators? Did the predators make a “management” decision to not kill too many? No! They killed what they could. It is just that what they could catch was way less than what was there! This even worked for people. The Native Americans on the Great Plains lived at a much lower abundance than the millions of bison, elk and deer would support. Why? Again, at the level of hunting technology the Native Americans had, the number of ungulates they could catch was far less than what was there.

The result of the evolutionary pressures to NOT be too efficient and the unequal efficiency in different habitats lead to stable predator-prey systems that had persisted for hundreds of thousands of years in North America. To think that in an evolutionary blink of an eye, those systems would all of a sudden become inherently unstable defies any type of logic. So, no, not because they don’t want to but because they just can’t, predators CANNOT kill, kill, until there are no more to kill.

If predators can’t do it, is there ANY animal in this world that just kills for the joy, the “sport” of it? Is there any animal in this world that has killed and killed with wanton lust until there was no more to kill? Hmmm… the only animal I can think of is US!!

All those demonizing adjectives we apply to other predators only apply to us.

Our Pleistocene ancestors came to this continent and began a killing spree that wiped out the large slow animals, leaving only those too fast for them to catch. Much later, our European ancestors came to these shores and with advanced weaponry, continued the killing spree that saw the demise of hundreds of species. A big difference between these killers and the Pleistocene ones is that our European ancestors brought with them a lust to kill for killing sake (sport) and hate. Pleistocene hunters overkilled trying to feed themselves.

Photo of hunter in front of over a hundred hanging dead canines.
Ranger McEntire of the Malheur National Forest (Eastern Oregon), Winter 1912-1913.

Modern day hunters, overkilled for joy and economic gains. We killed the passenger pigeon until there were no more. We killed the dodo bird until there were no more. We almost killed the bison until there were no more. We killed and killed, not for food but for “sport”, the enjoyment of killing.

Ironically, modern “sport hunters” of the 1800’s disdained “pot hunters” (those who hunted for food) as somehow unethical, cheapening the “sport of the chase”. As is today, though many hunters say they only hunt for food, it is a lie because there is no-one in the U.S. who truly needs to hunt for food! They hunt for the “sport” of it. We are the epitome of what we despise in other predators, killing for joy, killing all that is there.

How about the notion that predators kill out of hate? Does the female cougar truly HATE the deer it is sneaking up on to kill? Is this hate her driving motive? Does she really despise and loath that deer? I doubt it. Can any human hunter, when he is about to squeeze the trigger at 200 yards, say he really hates that deer he is about to kill? I doubt it. Do we really hate that hamburger when we sink our teeth into it? Do we despise and loath that turkey at Thanksgiving?

I think you get the picture.

The female cougar is doing exactly what we are doing, trying to get food. We nor the cougar have to hate something to kill it! Why would anyone hate the food that gives it life? I cannot believe that any predator kills out of hate.

Oh wait, there is one…US!

When our European ancestors came to these shores, they not only brought with them an uncontrollable bloodlust to kill but they introduced hate to the equation. Though most humans don’t despise or hate that deer, many, even today, to the depth of their souls truly hate predators. And this hate has justified truly unspeakable atrocities against predators.

Out of hate, we trap, maim, kill, tens of thousands of predators yearly. We leave them in traps to suffer excruciating pain and slow death. We wire their mouths together to “teach them a lesson”, we hang their bodies on fences to “teach others the same lesson”. Even today under government sanctioned killing of “problem” animals, our killing agents have been accused of inflicting pain and suffering, just because.

Photo of four coyote carcasses hung on fence posts.

We kill not just to kill but to carry out a vendetta, a sacred mission of hate. When we do pull that trigger, we do pull it out of hate. We are capable of extreme hatred of other species and…even each other!

Beyond the pain inflicted, our hate for predators has also justified, sanctified, the continued behavior of uncontrolled killing of animals that we found so repulsive in our ancestors. The hunter conservationist of the late 1800’s lamented the years of excess and abuse of their ancestors regarding the wildlife of America. They talked sanctimoniously about controlling the hunting urge for the benefit of wildlife species. They distained the commercial hunter, the killer for profit. But when it comes to predators, we just as sanctimoniously kill relentlessly, year round without regard to age or sex, and we do it with the blessing of society.

The commercial killing of predators, via bounties, continued and continues today. Recently, the state of Utah has earmarked over $80,000 as bounty payments for the uncontrolled killing of coyotes. Why? Are there studies that show these bounties work? Are there studies that show we need to reduce coyotes? None of these exist, just the premeditated hate we have for this predator.

This hate for predators has allowed us today to satisfy that primordial urge to kill. This hate allows us to kill uncontrollably like our ancestors, except this time it is the predators. Most predators are listed as “varmints” by game agencies to be killed year round without limits or even reason. The predator hunter is told to, encouraged to, kill, kill, kill. There are “predator extreme contests” to see who can kill the most.

The good old days continue.

So, who is the wanton killer? Who is the species that kills for pure pleasure or worse for vengeance and hate? It seems we have not learned much since those good old days.

We have the knowledge to know better. There are literally thousands of studies showing that the growing anti-predator attitudes are just wrong.

Engraved John Muir Quote, text: When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.But, those game agencies continue to ignore the evidence, continue to pander to the irrational mob attitude of a small segment of society who is attempting to take away all that my generation has given. Attempting to again destroy species, ecosystems. We must stand up to these forces of ignorance and hatred and just say NO! The integrity of the ecosystems that support us depends on it.

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