Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My!

In 1972, when I majored in Game and Fish Management at Arizona State University, Cleveland Amory and his Fund-For-Animals had a convention to drum up support for their anti-hunting cause. Me and some other characters decided to take advantage of the situation. [note to editors; I know proper grammar is supposed to be “a couple of guys and I”, but please don’t ruin my persona by correcting the lousy cowboy grammar.] We set up a table on the sidewalk with a sign having a cute caricature of a little woodchuck-looking animal and the caption, SAVE the NAUGAS. BAN NAUGAHIDE. We explained that a Nauga was a cute furry little animal which lived in remote wilderness areas. The ‘capitalist pigs’ were exploiting them for obscene profits and were hunting and trapping them to extinction just to tan their skins and make Naugahide. We had a donation jar for our cause. Our impassioned pleas garnered sympathy and even a few donations from gullible attendees. I believe we collected about $17, which we promptly blew by sitting on the naugahide-covered stools at the Sun Devil Dive quaffing root beer and snarfing burgers and fries. We justified our lavish depletion of Nauga funds by calling it a ‘board meeting’. We moved, seconded, and passed a resolution to do all in our power to save the Naugas. In spite of our best efforts, Naugas rapidly became extinct and were the inspiration and poster-critters for the Endangered Species Act which was subsequently passed by Congress the following year.

At the Fund-For-Animals convention I signed up for their free newsletter and sample magazines. After two issues they hit me up for a paid subscription. I declined, writing them a letter that I was very disappointed in their magazine because they only wanted to protect the predators—lions and tigers and bears, Oh my!—which eat the helpless deer and bunny rabbits. I suggested they protect those loveable species and work to eliminate the predators which have fangs and claws and eat the helpless and weak. They didn’t reply. The newsletters quit coming.

Since that time I have found most animal protectionists to be enamored with predators at the expense of prey. They are also a bit gullible, believing that complete protection of wolves and grizzly bears won’t have a negative impact on prey specie populations, in spite of the evidence.

A case in point is the crash in the population of moose in Yellowstone National Park. Moose were once one of the most visible and photographed animals in the Park. Moose jams were common. No more. You can drive Yellowstone for days and never see a moose. This past summer I was there and asked a Park Ranger where I could find a moose. Under questioning he confirmed there are few moose left, but blamed the decline on the ’88 fires, parasites, and loss of their preferred willows. I asked if the increase in grizzlies and wolves had anything to do with the decline. “Perhaps to some extent,” he admitted, but hastily added the decline began before introduction of wolves. I observed, “The decline. Not the extinction.”

The moose population between the Park and Jackson has also dropped dramatically. G&F counts of the Jackson Moose Herd show a steady and precipitous reduction in numbers. In 1994, the year before introduction of wolves, they counted 975 moose. In 2014 the count was 241, “88% below its postseason management objective.” I continue the quote from a recent Game and Fish study on moose management: “…the population underwent a dramatic population crash beginning in the early 1990s. In spite of hunting season closures… this population has not responded to management changes.”

Most of the moose counted are close to town. If the decline is primarily because of parasites, drought, and starvation from the decline of willows rather than predators, then why are moose populations without grizzlies and wolves still viable? Yes, moose numbers in adjacent areas have gone down to some extent. But moose who live in wolf and grizzly country are drastically reduced in number. They are on the verge of extinction in Yellowstone.

I don’t deny that parasites have some impact but moose populations are fine near civilization. Wolves and grizzlies generally avoid town but parasites have no such aversion. Moose are very sedentary animals, moseying (mooseying?) from here to there. They are not normally hyper-vigilant as are deer and elk. Could the stress of wolves killing their calves and frequent encounters with large federal canines cause them enough stress and anxiety that they become more susceptible to parasites? Just wondering. Don’t dismiss the possibility.

Where is the outrage about the destruction of native moose in Yellowstone National Park? Come on you wildlife advocates. Stand up for the moose and not just your precious predators. Demand predator populations be reduced to protect the moose. Cowboy common sense says the drastic decline in moose populations, which began at the time wolves were introduced, isn’t mere coincidence. Those who believe this is coincidence need to throw some money in my Save the Naugas jar.

Remember, “Life is always better when viewed from between the ears of a horse.”

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