Predators And Prey - And People

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Published on: Nov. 2, 2001

Last revision: Nov. 9, 2010

and rearing habitat.

In California, cougars might not threaten bighorn sheep and humans if hunters and trappers were allowed to help manage cougar numbers.

In Missouri, otters might not be so destructive if our abundance of stocked ponds didn't provide them such easy targets.

People's attitudes and behavior also have a direct affect on predator and, therefore, prey populations,

Trapping river otters, for example, is a logical and natural way to handle Missouri's river otter problem. However, anti-trapping activists oppose managing the population this way.

Fur prices are another way in which humans affect otter populations. When fur prices decline due to decreased demand, many trappers don't bother to target otters.

Others oppose hunting as a method of thinning deer herds, despite studies that show that in suburban areas where hunting is not allowed, deer quickly overpopulate and eat all available food, including expensive backyard flower gardens. The deer eventually suffer from malnutrition. Their growth is stunted, and they become vulnerable to disease. The deer also consume food needed by other wildlife, such as squirrels and songbirds.

Although our human presence results in predator problems, people can also become the solution to controlling animal populations. Although many people ignore this fact, in most places human hunters are safer, more predictable predators of deer than are cougars or wolves. It falls to us to harvest deer at a rate that keeps deer populations in check.

Finding ways for animals and people to coexist is one of the most complex problems facing wildlife management professionals in the 21st century. As greater numbers of people move to urban areas, they have less contact with nature. For them, nature's animals become either something too alien to tolerate or too cute to hunt or trap.

Any action to solve wildlife population problems, must recognize that

  • Wildlife must have homes.
  • Without checks on their numbers, wildlife will overpopulate.
  • Humans have replaced grizzlies, cougars and wolves as the predators most capable of naturally controlling animal populations.

Trapping, Politics and Game Management

Throughout history, people have trapped animals for their meat and hides. Trapping has long been one of the mechanisms that maintains nature's balance between predator and prey. Well-funded, politically active animal rights groups, however, oppose trapping as a wildlife management tool, and they pour money and manpower into ballot initiatives and advertising campaigns that allow the general public to vote on how, when and even if wildlife management and conservation agencies can use trapping to manage wildlife.

Such efforts have resulted in the banning of steel leghold traps in Massachusetts, Colorado, Arizona and California. Although these efforts came about through the legal, democratic process, they point out a widespread lack of understanding of population control mechanisms in the natural world.

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