From My WindowIssue Date: February 20, 2020
Jane Thibodeau Martin
The Big Bad Wolf Ain't So Bad
I was interested in an article I read recently in Fordor's travel online about the relative safety risks of various mammals, insects and reptiles you might encounter in North America.
According to their data, there are two documented human fatalities caused by wolves since recordkeeping started. I often hear people say they don't want wolves in our state because they are dangerous to humans; the data does not support that. So I was not surprised that their much smaller canine cousins the coyotes are also only known to be responsible for two fatalities.
There have been 41 fatalities documented in the U.S. from crocodiles and alligators since 1734. Cougars/mountain lions are known to have killed about 27 humans in the last 100 years. And all bears, including grizzly bears, have killed about 152 of us in that same time period.
People report being bitten by snakes about 7000-8000 times per year on average; and it is worth noting at least half the time the victim was known to be handling the snake when the bite occurred. Not all snake bites are venomous, but for those that were, our good medical responses result in only about five fatalities per year. So as a general guideline, avoid handling snakes " hopefully most of you did not need me to inform you of that.
Ironically none of these creatures, many of whom inspire great fear in some of us, are as dangerous as some little insects common everywhere. Bees, hornets and wasps of various species are responsible for 1,000 human deaths in North America since 2000. It is safe to assume many of these victims were allergic to bee stings; all the same, it's a bit of a shock to know that the tiniest of the creatures on this list are actually the most dangerous.
To put this whole thing in perspective, traffic accidents account for more than 40,000 deaths annually. The people worried about their kids encountering a vicious coyote would be better off being concerned about a distracted driver plowing into them while they are waiting to be picked up by their school bus.
The data I would like to see, and is not available, is how many of these animals humans kill every year. Most of the animals on this list have declined in population from their original numbers in North America " and the one I know where recent scientific documentation exists of a population crash is honeybees. The impact these bee losses will cause is enormous, as nearly all of our crops depend on honeybees for pollination. Without bees, we'd have no fruit and vegetable crops to feed ourselves, or our food animals.
The one animal on the list that I've read scientific evidence that populations have likely expanded, ironically enough, is the coyote. Despite decades of poison, trapping, explosive devices and hunting; funded by millions and millions of dollars of bounty hunter support from the federal government over those years, the coyote survives and even flourishes. According to "Coyote America," by Dan Flores, (which I highly recommend to those curious about our strange relationship with coyotes) when Europeans first arrived in North America coyotes were very uncommon east of the Mississippi. But as the Eastern forests were cut down and wolves totally extirpated, coyotes happily moved east into this improved habitat. (Wolves and coyotes are biological competitors; wolves kill coyotes in any territory they both occupy.) Coyotes are marvels of adaptation. They have spread nearly everywhere on the continent, and thrive even in New York City, easily able to find ways to adjust to widely varied environments.
The advice I got a lot when I was little was "they are more afraid of you than you are of them." This admonition applied to bats, snakes, spiders and any other creature I expressed fear of.
Turns out, this bit of advice rings very true. If you leave them alone, most of the time they will leave you alone.
The data says that about 140 humans die in the U.S. every year because their vehicle collides with what is probably the most beloved wild mammal of all to Wisconsonites " the white-tailed deer. I've never heard anyone in Wisconsin express fear of deer, yet they kill more people through vehicle collisions than wolves. Data says our worry about coyotes, snakes and wolves should be reprioritized to be much more concerned about the very real risks we face on our roadways, especially with cell-phone distracted drivers supplanting impaired drivers as a cause of fatalities. And keep an eye out for those deer while driving, too.
Cat owners; this is the time of year that cats start their reproductive activity again. The result is predictable; a veritable tidal wave of unwanted kittens and adult cats. Shelters like the one I volunteer at will soon be overflowing with them, and the phone rings constantly with people desperate to unload more litters of kittens. I understand that the people calling shelters are trying to do the right thing and that others solve their problem in less humane ways; all the same, please spay and neuter your cats. (Intact male cat owners; you are directly responsible for the problem as well, even if you don't end up with the kittens.) There simply are not enough homes for them all; altering cats is safe and effective.
You can reach me for commentary, alternative viewpoints or ideas at this e-mail address: JanieTMartin@gmail.com.
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