This week a pair of black bears slipped into the open door of a Krispy Kreme Doughnut delivery truck and laid waste to about a jillion doughnut holes. If there is a pre-hibernation bear-Heaven this was it; like a stream of sedentary boneless salmon dipped in sugar! Those bears are now changed and will be fantasizing about their windfall for years.
Why would any nearby bear NOT go in that truck? Why is this even newsworthy? It is a caricature of the broader phenomenon of carnivores at our doorstep. Oh there have always been a few bumping into civilization but until the 1960’s they generally died of lead poisoning pretty quickly. That was unfortunate but expedient. Firearms were omnipresent and few people on civilization’s fringes had conscience qualms about the lethal removal of porcupine, raccoon, skunk, black bear, weasel, or fox that crossed the invisible human/wildlife territorial boundary. Later, we learned we could live with a lot more overlap than we thought, though England’s abundant peri-urban foxes have led to an occasional Rabies outbreak that needed some population reduction. I mean, they like wildlife and all but do not -DO NOT -do anything that jeopardizes the Brit’s precious pets health!
As a wildlife biologist, I tolerate wildlife better than most but draw the line at life-threatening habituated predators. Those individuals are products of a failed system with little or no chance of individual re-training. They have lost their bear-ness or cougar-ness and become focused on humans (and their stock) for subsistence. It is the fault of humanity but the animals don’t have much of a future.
As humans press their civilization up against prime wildlife habitat and simultaneously restrict predator hunting & aversive conditioning (defense dogs, rubber bullets, etc.), why would anyone expect anything other than trashed garbage cans, mangled bird feeders, and a perfectly understandable assault on a Krispy Kreme truck? Hell, as a drunken 19-year –old, that could have been ME gorging out inside that truck!
And these problems don’t appear a direct result of habitat conversion to development; the previous occupants of those developed areas disappear quickly. I think the friction comes from humans living in proximity to reservoirs of wild animal populations and those animals losing their fears through habituation. Couple that with a lot of fruit, garbage, pet food, pets themselves, bird seed, fertilized plants, and water and we become their grocery store. Some predators actually move in and become urbanites like the coyotes of Vancouver’s Stanley Park or Edmonton, Alberta; the urban deer of Boulder, Salt Lake, Missoula, Victoria, Washington, DC and many others.
There should be an English word for such situations where ignorance allows humans to continue down a path of problems to a predictable crisis result (I am talking wildlife here, not politics). I wish no individual human harm but logically, a State or Province’s bear policy will change only for a series of crises and human harms. Maybe it requires a politician’s loved one to get mauled by a black bear or cougar. All the lovely Bambish sentiments go out the window when a threatening reality appears.
Witness the lovely female Hollywood star (Vegetarian, pet advocate, and generally sensitive individual who is unnamed here but is Googleable). She purchased a prime piece of real estate just outside a popular Montana town. The wildlife bios asked her not to build there as it was a well-known wolf corridor and rendezvous site between two packs. Her comment? “I love wolves and welcome them as fellow benign travelers on this earth” (I took imaginary license there, but the upshot was she refused to change the building location). Shortly after construction, she returned to see her beloved pet dog being dismembered on her doorstep by a pack of territorial wolves bent on eliminating competing canines. It is just what real wolves do. She became an instant supporter of wolf control and moved out not long after this traumatic event.
I admit, this story is 3rd hand so I might have some details wrong. However, I see the same misplaced sentiment with the lovely deer in the yard (lyme disease, tulip-eating, and antler polishing can change those sentiments); the regal and mellifluous elk around the National Park town sites (where an aggressive bull can morph into a screaming monster with impaling antlers); and the cute chittering yard squirrels with flashing tails (who are dwelling-terrorists that chew wiring, nest under car hoods, and stuff intact baby birds into their mouths).
We humans carry some cultivated and projected view of wildlife that is deeply colored by our experiences and individual lenses. We see not only “what is” but “what we want it to be” by embedding animals in the stories we tell ourselves. This is done, in my opinion, without sufficient hands-on experience and attempts to see life-needs from the animal’s viewpoint. Consuming flesh (deer, cat or human) is necessary for cougars to survive; a bull elk’s territorial defense of breeding females is essential for gene transfer; maximizing food resources is imperative to carry deer fetus’ to parturition, so eat these tulips and plums; and that metal tree trunk full of Krispy Kreme lard, sugar and flour is just what hibernation needs!
Unfortunately, for most people, wildlife attractiveness gets scored on how it affects that particular human’s life. Ironically, this is the same life calculus used by the very animals we are in conflict with.
It is wrongheaded I know; it is karmic-thinking with no small shred of vindictiveness or schadenfreude, yet, such thoughts creep in sometimes.
Why can’t we think our way through these eventualities? We need a word for the people who refuse to try and lazily live to endure the fallout.
Finally, a linguistic polymath friend told me the Germans actually do have words for shooting yourself in the foot. Are you ready? Verschlimmbessern (verb) and Verschlimmbesserung (noun).
“Dear Krispy Kreme delivery guy, you are such a verschlimmbesserung! “
Now I feel better.