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Domestic dogs and vanishing wildlife

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
Coast News
February 16, 2006


It seems the world has gone mad. Of course, when I say world, I mean humanity. The earth would be fine if a certain branch of hominids would stop wreaking havoc on everything. From quails to whales, nothing is safe from human interference on their ability to survive. Most animals struggle to find purchased and adapt to heavily disturbed habitats. As species slide slowly into oblivion, changes coming to fast and ecological pressures to intense, few thrive.

A biological hot spot is a natural environment with a high biodiversity that contains a large number of endangered species found nowhere else on Earth. Twenty-five known biological hotspots occupy only 1.4 percent of Earth's land surface, but are home to 35 percent of the world's vertebrate species, and 44 percent of the world's plant species. In North America, the biological hotspot is the California Floristic Province.

San Diego County is in the California Floristic Province. As a native, I find such news as cause for concern. Dwindling wildlife does not bode well for the rest of us, nor does our lack of ecological concern.

Pressures on Southern California ecosystems include expanding urbanization, pollution, habitat encroachment; large-scale agriculture; invasive alien species; road construction; livestock grazing; off-road vehicles; suppression of natural fires; logging; strip mining; and oil extraction. These pressures have put southern California at the top of the list of global extinction hot spots.

Crawling along Interstate 5, it's hard to imagine what the area looked like before it was covered in concrete and asphalt. Once teaming with wildlife, biodiversity has been replaced by a mega human monoculture. Pushed to the fringes, indigenous flora and fauna cling to hillsides and canyons along the coast. As native habitat is replaced with suburban development, reduced resources and increased competition for those resources negatively affect prey and predators.

As human development continues to encroach on remaining habitats, animals must adapt or die. Native plant species are no match for bulldozers and the whims of municipal bureaucrats. Sadly, along the edges of expanding human communities, interaction between human interests and non-human biology, always ends in the destruction of another piece of the ecological puzzle.

Consider the Coyote and human interactions. Human development has severely reduced the number of animals coyotes can hunt. The typical diet of coyotes consists of small mammals, insects, reptiles, fruit and carrion. Unfortunately, human communities have paved over the habitats needed to maintain a viable food chain. Without rabbits and other indigenous prey species, coyotes are forced to look elsewhere for sustenance. Unfortunately for small domestic pets they are now on the menu, due to alack of wild prey.

If encroachment and the crowding out of native species aren't bad enough, some selfish humans are seeking the eradication of species brave enough to look for food in human neighborhoods. Such assaults on the perceptions of suburban security will not be tolerated.

Let's be clear the pet owner carries as much responsibility for the death of Gabby as the coyote. The human was obviously not paying attention to his surroundings. Was the dog on a leash? Was Gabby being walked at dawn or dusk, during prime coyote hunting time? Will killing the coyote do anything to bring back Gabby? Of course not, killing the coyote would be nothing but an emotional band-aid for a man who carelessly allowed his dog to be dinner.

Domestic dogs and cats wouldn't be on the menu if other small mammals were still available in numbers capable of maintaining coyote populations. As long as humans continue to develop remaining open space for human use, coyotes will be forced to further adapt to life in the suburbs and an ever-increasing reliance on domestic pets for sustenance. Silly humans.

Killing wild animals to protect pampered pets, is arrogant, ignorant and downright myopic. No amount of hand wringing and anthropocentric anger will absolve people of their crimes against nature.

Coyotes are not the problem. People are the problem.

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