Here, dear correspondents, is my ground rule on all carnivorous animal species: If it eats meat and it weighs more than 25 pounds, it should not be roaming around off a leash in any place that is (or has recently been) inhabited by humans.
That includes Sydney, the dog I've blogged about sitting--a lovable, intelligent, good-hearted animal whom I'd trust to protect my cats, or my Nephews when they were smaller, but I have no right to expect people who don't know Sydney to trust her. She is, in fact, an animal who could kill and eat a human baby. She is, in theory, an animal who might do that; who almost certainly never will harm any human, cat, chicken, or smaller dog, whose normal tendency as a beloved pet is to bond and nurture all of these species--but she might turn on somebody, some day. So she shouldn't ever be free to roam outdoors. (Even though, if you ever met Sydney and a bear in the woods, I'd expect that Sydney would protect you from the bear.) The voice of a human friend is the only leash Sydney really needs; if I walk with her, she's on a leash, anyway. Just so the sight of her doesn't scare other people into doing ignorant things that might cause her to act out of character.
The rule also includes Graybelle, the cat whose actual weight was only about 12 pounds when she was mistaken for a bobcat and shot--another sweet, gentle, friendly animal, but I had no right to expect people who'd never picked her up to believe that her intentions were good or, for that matter, that she weighed less than 25 pounds. She looked like something that might kill and eat a human baby. So she shouldn't have been roaming outdoors. I wouldn't have agreed to keep her as an outdoor pet if I'd realized, when I met her and saw her as a good-sized cat, that she was less than half the size she was destined to reach. Even Her Human came to realize that Graybelle, a throwback to her full-sized wild-predator ancestors, needed to be confined.
And the larger herbivores...are less likely to attack since they have prey-animal instincts. Deer, horses, and cattle never attack other animals for food--only in defense of themselves or their young, or once in a while when an unaltered male wants to impress other members of the herd. That doesn't mean they've never killed humans, either. Horses are most dangerous to humans when they panic and run away from us. Horses still don't need to be roaming around outdoors.
Now, about red wolves: Are they really an endangered species? Are they, in fact, a species? The genus Canis includes an incredible variety of DNA that produces individuals that aren't able to crossbreed with one another, due to size disparities, but can crossbreed with other individuals of intermediate size. The strongest, smartest, most successful type in the genus has traditionally been given separate-species status as Canis lupus, and isolation in Australia has given C. lupus dingo enough DNA-distinction that some patriotic Australian biologists still argue for separate-species status as C. dingo, but these, too, can hybridize with Canis familiaris. So can C. latrans, which, despite its distinctive look and voice, seems to be the degenerate form to which Canis species devolve when allowed to crossbreed freely. It has never been proved that C. rufus is anything but a simple crossbreed between lupus and latrans, or even between one of the hardier, more "wolfish" breeds of familiaris and latrans.
The biological bottom line: Even lupus, latrans, and familiaris don't fully satisfy the criteria by which creatures in other genera are defined as distinct species. If humans succeeded in extirpating every individual C. latrans alive today, and I wish we had, a few stray mutts' pups would manage to devolve back into "coyotes" next year. If every living C. lupus rufus were killed today, whenever and wherever one of those coyotes managed to mate with a wolf, the subspecies rufus would revive likewise.
A few years ago, I believe my Virginia home was visited by one of those precious "red wolves." It had a coyote-type tail (as do some things posted on Bing as Canis rufus). It was big--if not all of 80 pounds, itself (I didn't personally see the animal alive), it was bagged by a public-spirited neighbor who described it as having been the same size as a retired police dog known to have weighed 80 pounds. It was not part of a wolf pack. It was so lost and confused, and probably sick, that it was ridden and chivied by my fabulous formerly-feral house cats Mackerel and Polly. (Mac might have reached 12 pounds in his prime; Polly might have reached 5 pounds when pregnant, but she never lost touch with her Inner Lion.) I wouldn't have made that up; I didn't watch it, and wouldn't have believed it when then-kitten Bisquit tried reenacting it, if I hadn't seen unmistakable tracks in the snow documenting exactly how the canine and felines moved from my home into the neighbor's shooting range.
I call that kind of animal an overgrown coyote, or coy-dog, or straying feral mutt, and I say the sooner they're shot the better. When a predator attacks a much smaller, weaker member of a prey species, and the prey animal routs the predator animal, you're dealing with a weak individual who has nothing good to contribute to the predator species--and who, if it survives, is likely to hold a grudge and attack the domestic animal, and its friends, later on. No matter how much some people admire healthy, human-avoidant wolves or tigers or whatever, the ones who've threatened humans or livestock truly have no reason to live.
Sometimes people make pets of some of these animals. Wolves are intelligent, can be friendly, and can make good pets for some humans who are unusually strong, brave, and devoted. So can dingos. Coyotes and feral mutts are usually less intelligent, more often vicious, but also smaller and easier to handle if somebody wants to tame an individual who happens not to be vicious. That's all well and good as far as I'm concerned. Just don't ever let it get outdoors, off a leash, or out of sight of the human who's responsible for it.
Because, unfortunately, the nature of these big hungry carnivores is to roam in packs and attack more desirable animals, conceivably including humans. Wolves/coyotes, cougars/pumas, bears, and wolverines are smart enough to prefer attacking chickens to sheep, sheep to domestic cats and dogs, and domestic cats and dogs to human babies...but they will take what they can get, and they don't need to be allowed to attack chickens either. And that's not even considering their susceptibility to rabies--all the big carnivores are very vulnerable to rabies, and when rabid any of them can and will kill a man.
If you're in love with "large predators," like that unlovable character in Barbara Kingsolver's least satisfactory novel, please consider buying a large chunk of "waste" land--maybe an abandoned oil field out west, or on the Canadian Shield--where they can safely be allowed to live within walls that keep them from being dangerous to the species that can coexist peacefully.
And, when you read the e-mail quoted in part below, please bear in mind that this fellow is talking about a "species" that is "endangered" by not being, or having ever been, a true species.
Is he pushing a political agenda, as well? I don't know. There is, in fact, a political agenda that has called for destroying human communities, such as Gate City, Virginia, and parts of "the North Carolina wilderness" (otherwise known as "small towns and suburbs between Asheville and Cherokee Town"), by "re-wilding"--romanticizing the animals that became "endangered" because they're incompatible with humans, getting sentimental humans to support efforts to bring them back, then declaring places that have become infested with bears and cougars unfit for human habitation, and herding the farmers and nature lovers into city slums (where we can perish miserably from the plagues and disasters those people overtly hoped to see). This agenda has been openly printed and circulated, by people who don't like the United States much. It has an official name and number; it was "United Nations Agenda 21," and despite its ignominious failure, some people who still hope to put it into practice are still alive. But whether people who start petitions like the one below are supporters of "Agenda 21," or merely foolish enough to have bought into an individual bad idea that spun off it...all I know for sure is that they're wrong.
Red wolves are one of the most endangered species on the planet. These magnificent, shy predators once roamed from Pennsylvania to Florida, but now only about 50 remain in one corner of the North Carolina wilderness.
But these 50 wolves are actually a success story: in 1980, red wolves were declared extinct in the wild. Impressive efforts by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) saw their reintroduction in northeast North Carolina, and the numbers of healthy wild red wolves grew steadily. Unfortunately, the FWS has now chosen to put the brakes on its Red Wolf Recovery Program, saying it needs to re-assess its "viability and necessity."...
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service could be abandoning red wolves just as they stand at the brink of extinction, and their motives are suspicious. Recently, a powerful lobby of ranch owners and hunters launched a campaign against the wolves, claiming that they are a hazard to human safety. This is absurd, as there have been no documented cases of wild red wolves attacking humans, despite 500 years of coexistence....We must not allow the FWS to cater to the powerful anti-wildlife lobbyists. Please join me in demanding that they act in the interest of the endangered wolves and the public trust, and continue their successful Red Wolf Recovery Program.