Somewhere between protecting our domestic animals from predators and valuing nature and all of its inhabitants lies coexistence — and coexistence begins with knowledge.
Our first interactions with wild predators took place in 1976, when we moved to our small farm in Michigan and bought a box of chicks at the local feed store. We learned very quickly that we weren’t smarter than a raccoon. Confronted on several mornings by the grisly evidence of this hard-learned truth, we began a daily battle of improving the birds’ coop, their run, and the door locks. This skirmish was followed by “The Great Weasel Massacre” of our ducks. Obviously, we needed to change our approach.
We began with a fluffy, white Great Pyrenees pup, a livestock guardian that enhanced our protection efforts. But to really improve our safeguarding strategies, we needed to learn about the predators that were having their way with our poultry.
Here in North America, an important factor in the growing frequency of encounters with animal predators is a shift in the numbers and ranges of these animals over the last fifty years. The larger predators — coyotes, wolves, bears, and mountain lions — get most of the press, but smaller predators such as raccoons, skunks, opossums, and foxes have also moved into our neighborhoods. Recovering raptor and owl populations increasingly prey on our poultry. Feral or free-roaming animals also threaten our stock. Whether we live in rural, suburban, or urban areas, whether we call ourselves ranchers, homesteaders, or backyard animal-raisers, predators are increasingly a part of our daily lives as they learn to live ever-nearer to us.
While intellectually we may understand that predation is an essential part of a healthy ecology, it is enormously upsetting to discover an animal killed in your coop or farmyard. In addition to the feelings of attachment we often have for our animals, we suffer an economic and genetic loss to our flocks or herds. Our first response is usually deeply emotional. But I know from my experiences on our own farm, as our interests expanded over time to include rare-breed poultry, horses, sheep, and goats — each with their own predator protection challenges — the answer is not to succumb to anger or fear. We have to be prepared and proactive in preventing unwelcome interactions.
Both protection and coexistence begin with knowledge of the animals around us. Only then can we identify and implement sound prevention techniques. The Encyclopedia of Animal Predators is purposeful in its mission: to humanely and effectively protect livestock, poultry, pets, and people through understanding the predators we may come into contact with. For each of the more than fifty predators in the book, there is information such as natural history, preferred habitat, traits and behaviors, predation and movement patterns, seasonal changes, legal issues, and guidance for human interaction and safety. To assist with identifying a possible culprit in the aftermath of a predator’s visit, there are range maps, track and scat drawings, and typical signs of damage.
The book also provides protection guidelines and strategies, from the backyard and farmyard to adventures in the wilderness. Predator-proof fencing is always a first line of defense, along with well-designed housing and the use of scare tactics. Good husbandry practices and management including human observation and the use of livestock guardians will also reduce predation. The most effective protection programs combine these various strategies.
Dealing with predators to protect our animals and ourselves is an ongoing challenge, but gaining knowledge and developing an appreciation of the wild animals that live around us is both rewarding and vital. It is my hope that readers find The Encyclopedia of Animal Predators both practical and inspiring.