June 05, 2006

WILD ANIMALS: My sister lives on Knoxville's eastern fringe, almost in Sevier County. She says that just in the past year the number of coyotes, wild turkeys, and deer has exploded. People are also reporting bears.

That seems to be a trend. This article from the Wall Street Journal reports:

Nationwide, however, the real things -- wild animals and birds of many species, including such people-shy critters as bears, coyotes, moose, elk, cougars and turkeys -- are multiplying, spreading and learning to live near people. Conflicts are on the rise.

The cause, many people think, is sprawl encroaching into wild habitat. That's true only in part, say wildlife biologists. While sprawl is moving out, the forests in which many species once flourished is moving in, covering over millions of acres of abandoned farmland that once served as a buffer. Also, much modern sprawl is built, unconsciously, to be wildlife-friendly -- what wildlife biologists call "enhanced habitat," with more food, shelter, water, hiding places and protection from predators than exist in the wild.

People, meanwhile, make sprawl even more inviting, wittingly and unwittingly. They're increasingly ignorant of how wild nature works -- what author Richard Louv calls "nature-deficit disorder." Just as they treat pets as children, so to do many treat wild animals as pets, leaving out birdseed and pet food, tossing a cookie to a backyard bear.

We have a problem with bears leaving the Big South Fork and showing up at people's homes, too. I've written about this stuff before, (also here) and I highly recommend David Baron's The Beast in the Garden: The True Story of a Predator's Deadly Return to Suburban America, which reads like a thriller novel even though it's nonfiction.

Plus, there's this essay from Kirsten Mortenson, which defends animal rights. Specifically, the right of animals to be thought of as animals.

UPDATE: Related thoughts from John Hinderaker.

And Tom Spaulding certainly encountered plenty of wildlife.

ANOTHER UPDATE: More here, from not far from the setting for Baron's book:

A mountain lion narrowly missed taking a bite out of Shaffer Warner's legs as the man rushed through his front door on a recent night.

A week earlier, the mountain lion crushed Indigo, the family's Siamese cat, in its jaws in front of Warner's wife Carrie as she pummeled it with firewood a few feet from their home near Cub Creek Park.

But what disturbs the couple the most is that the big cat has crouched outside the bedroom window of their 6-year-old son Schylure and stared at the boy.

"We're scared out of our minds," Carrie Warner said. "There is something very strange about the way this lion is hunting us. I'm at the end of my rope."

The Warners are worried that, just as a boy was mauled by a mountain lion near a popular trail in Boulder about a month ago, their nightly tormentor will eventually attack their son or them.

My advice: Buy a gun, make a rug. (Via ChicagoBoyz).