Historical Attitudes and Images and the Implications on Carnivore Survival. (Opinions)

Article excerpt

Abstract

This paper examines how mythological images and historical attitudes emerge and influence our interactions with different predator species, such as the grizzly bear (Ursus arctos), cougar (Puma concolor), lynx (Lynx canadensis), wolf (Canis lupus), coyote (Canis latrans), and raven (Corvus corax). The author will compare the relationship between humans and carnivores, and how attitudes and beliefs have impacted different predator species. Do people regard certain carnivores as more fierce, dangerous, or problematic ? Is there more animosity and disparate levels of hostility or tolerance toward the different carnivores? Have these attitudes influenced concepts and ethics applied to wildlife management? How is the value of predators measured, considered or applied? Can understanding the different perceptions help resolve complicated issues, such as reintroduction, critical habitat, depredation conflicts, animal damage control, and management? The author believes scientific knowledge is not enough to achieve acceptance of carnivores. The purpose of this inquiry will be to discover if knowledge and education can develop understanding and tolerance of all predators, and thus enhance the commitment to co-exist with carnivore species

Mythical images and historical attitudes may still influence human interactions with carnivores such as the grizzly bear (Ursus arctos), cougar (Puma concolor), lynx (Lynx canadensis), wolf (Canis lupus), coyote (Canis latrans), and raven (Corvus corax). The earliest historic records, creation stories, and fables were examined. Notably, at the advent of agriculture, Akkadian literature delineates the split between humans and nature, and the god Ea predicts that from this time forward, nature will be hostile to man. He asserts that lion, wolf, famine and plague will not be removed from humankind's dilemmas, but provided "to rise up and cut the people low" (Gardner 1984). This division between wilderness and the tamed domestic lands that humans seek does seem to have taken place, and remains a current conflict among predators, wilderness advocates, and ranchers.

Historical attitudes and cultural beliefs have impacted many different predator species. From Viking bearskin wearers to the arrival of humans in the New World, most carnivores continued to meet the same fate. Most of the legends revolve around the fear of wilderness, the idea of good and bad animals, and the need to remove all that stands in the way of progress. Species with fang and claw that hunted the good prey (which humans wanted for themselves) are traditionally described as the bad animals. The predator is reduced to the status of marauder and thief, and hence subjected to extermination.

Do people regard certain carnivores as more fierce, dangerous, or problematic? Some species have been described with more vivid hostile imagery that did not reflect actual biological evidence of their threat to humans, but had more to do with deeply rooted bias and mythological symbolism.

The cougar is commonly described as the coward. Theodore Roosevelt described a cougar he had treed as "the big horse-killing cat, the destroyer of the deer, the lord of stealthy murder, facing his doom with a heart both craven and cruel" (Danz 1999; Worster 1977; Roosevelt 1913). The cougar is repeatedly described as a cunning, merciless, and sneaky cat. The portrayal is made with little concern that a trait like stealth is a necessary ability to survive as a cougar, and has little to do with intentions of mere cruelty for cruelty's sake. Predation is often perceived as murder, not as a pursuit of food.

The bear, however, is characterized more in terms of admiration, combining descriptions of its savageness with the animal's almost human dignity. Descriptions such as "unbelievable size of the brute" and "lordly intelligence" (Young 1980) serve as examples of the bear's more dignified status among the carnivores. …