Monday, July 28, 2008

People-chomping kitties

who are not in the least cute.
The other day had the chance to watch a show on Animal Planet about lions, specifically maneaters in Kruger National Park. It seems that a lot of people are crossing the border, and crossing the park, getting to South Africa. And some of the lions in the park have started treating them as a traveling buffet. This guy wanted to walk around and see how close he could get, and how they would react. Unlike a lot of the ‘Nature is our friend’ people, he fully recognized just how dangerous the cats are, and just how dangerous this was. Really, not a bad show. I’d just argue with one thing.

He kept mentioning lions having a natural fear of man, and wondering what overcame that for the maneaters. Going from what I’ve read, I don’t think they have a 'natural fear'; I think it was earned, through lions facing armed humans over a long period of time. And protected in the park, I think they lost what fear or respect they did have. Add to that humans being so much easier to catch and kill than buffalo or antelope, and you get an increase in bad table manners.

I remember reading about a study done years ago that showed that while most tigers that go maneater tend to be old or injured(or both), most lions tended to be in good health, just like leopards. However it begins, once one discovers the ease of chomping humans as opposed to fighting with a Cape buffalo, they simply continue. There actually are cases of prides where the cubs are fed on human kills, and continue the family dining tradition. In Maneaters, Peter Capstick writes of the pride that, due to a combination of WWII and politics, wound up having virtual free running over the Njombe district of Tanganyika(now Tanzania) for years; no exact number of how many kills due to lack of communications, the wide area, some people being scared to speak of it, and the fact that someone disappearing, in some cases, leaves no evidence; but the number Capstick quotes is 'better than two thousand'. And considering all the ways to die and disappear there… Hyenas and leopards and crocs and lions will kill and eat you; elephant and rhino and hippo and buffalo will stomp you into mulch and the aforementioned- along with the jackels and bugs and birds- will clean up what’s left. Kind of like some shark attacks: someone goes fishing or swimming and disappears, you may never know just what happened to them.

Yeah, that sounds like a lot. But, among other things, they believe this started in 1932 and it ended in 1947. Think about that: fifteen years. Considering how much a pride of lions eats, and that people are a lot smaller than zebra or buff, God knows what the actual total was.

On a much smaller(and happily less lethal) scale we've got some of the same problem in our western states with mountain lions. Many areas they’ve been completely protected from hunting, and as a consequence they no longer treat us as anything but some odd-looking animals with fancy dens. Who, on occasion, are used for munchies.

Just some thoughts on the kitty trouble and the show.


BobG said...

Mountain lions are in general spooky of humans. They are ambush hunters, and will usually retreat from an animal if the initial attacks fails and the animal fights back. We have a lot of them in this area, and they rarely cause problems. Almost every year we get a couple here in Salt Lake Valley that get chased around by kids and dogs before holing up in someone's yard and being carted off by animal control. Most attacks by cougars are on people who are running, setting off the predator reflex in the cats, and allowing them to strike without a fight.

Firehand said...

Happily, that seems to be the general case. To once again borrow from Capstick, he said that the only reason he can think of why the Americas don't have the same kinds of chomped-people totals from jaguar and puma that Africa and Asia have from leopard is that these cats have different attitudes from leopard. Simliar size- though big jaguar are MUCH bigger than leopard-, similar armament and strength, yet it's fairly rare for ours to turn people-muncher. For some reason they're much less likely to see us as normal prey, and it's a damn good thing.

Anonymous said...

I think the biggest difference has to do with the proportion of armed to unarmed humans out where the predators might snatch them, over whatever period (decades or centuries?) it takes for the avoidance habit to become inbred or be lost. In Europe and Russia, wolves would prey on disarmed peasants within historical times, and this stopped only when the wolves were hunted to nearly extinction. In North America, wolves simply don't prey on humans, even though the gray wolf of western NA is clearly the same species as those packs that even roamed the streets of Paris a few centuries ago. (They're still arguing about whether the eastern timber wolf is a distinct species.) But in NA until the 20th Century, almost any human found alone in the woods would have been armed with a spear, bow, or gun and experienced in using his weapon for hunting. Wolves that hunted Indian braves or white pioneers died; mountain lions could sometimes get into position where they could take a man by surprise and kill him before he got his weapon into play, but when an armed human faces a big cat, the best the cat can hope for is to retreat unharmed. (And unless the man is actually hunting big cat or is fairly stupid, he will let it go.)

Ever since the Romans concieved the idea of disarming subject nations, Europe and parts of Asia have often presented wild predators with "safe" human prey working around the edge of the forests, and only rarely intermixed with their "betters" who were allowed to carry arms and hunt. In other parts of Asia and nearly the whole of Africa, even if the peasants were allowed to carry arms, the best they could afford was a homemade spear - which can at least ensure that a lion who attacks frontally goes to Valhalla with you, but does little to discourage them from waiting until your back is turned.

Of course, now in North America the humans out in the woods may have been disarmed by order of an overbearing government, or brainwashed into thinking they shouldn't carry weapons by the liberal media. How fast is each kind of animal going to learn that long pig is relatively safe now?

(Coyotes, although too small to safely attack an "unarmed" human who quite likely will be able to find something to serve as a club, have already learned that there is little danger of a modern American carrying anything that will kill at a distance. They won't try to eat you, but in some places they'll come up on your porch and eat your dog.)