Tuesday, March 09, 2010

The Battle Between Fur and Feather


It's one of my favorite words, as it explains why most predators are so cautious in the wild, and why so many prey species appear to be so lucky.

To be too bold or too aggressive is to be maladaptive. "Too bold is soon cold."

A predator cannot afford damage to muscle, joint, bone, tooth, wing, or talon.

And yet a predator cannot afford to be slow, and cannot always be cautious. At some point is has to eat.

And so the great game begins.

Every flight or run holds within it the possibility of great tragedy -- a torn cruciate ligament, a ripped claw, a shattered beak, a lost eye.

Is it any wonder that lions, tigers, and bears are generally so cautious around men? Most of the time, we represent the unknown, and the unknown always represents the chance of great harm.

It does not take much to undo a top predator. And yes, they somehow know that.


Retrieverman said...

I've always this interesting.

In the Sundarbans of West Bengal and Bangladesh, there are these tigers that are notorious maneaters. The Sundarbans are these extensive tracts of mangrove forest. People go there to collect fire wood and wild honey, when these forests are not totally flooded.

Every year, at least someone gets eaten by a tiger. The cats have even been known to invade boats to catch people.

These animals are so into hunting people that it was thought that something about the Sundarbans environment was making them do this. Perhaps drinking the saltwater was damaging either their teeth or kidneys to make them disabled. Disabled tigers are more likely to hunt people. But when these animals have been shot, they often turn out to be healthy animals.

Then, some historians started looking the history of tigers in India. It turns out that during the days of the Raj, tigers were hunted extensively in India. Tigers that were not afraid of people wound up dead, so now the vast majority of tiger left have a tendency to run from people.

However, there was one area where British tiger hunting did not happen.

And that was in the Sundarbans.

The cats have not received selective pressures on their populations to avoid people, and they don't.

Mark Churchill said...

In the first year of my falconry apprenticeship, I struggled to get my redtail going on grey squirrels. (There were few rabbits where I lived, and those few kept to impenetrable briar fortresses.) My sponsor kept repeating "weight control" but it wasn't until another falconer put it in Darwinian terms that I really got it: "Redtails know that squirrels are tough, and can put them out of commission. They have to be much hungrier to hunt squirrels than rabbits." On the basis of that explanation, I cautiously reduced my tiercel's weight a bit further; once a bit sharper-set, he began hunting squirrels in earnest.