Monday, August 07, 2006

When carnivores kill

Possibly for the first time ever, a British wildlife documentary has recently shown an uncensored kill by a big carnivore. Prompted by this, Darren Naish discusses the sometimes horrifying cruelty of carnivores.

Big cats like leopards and lions are often very good at killing their prey quickly, but sometimes things go wrong, and even the most skillful killer had to learn how to kill efficiently and quickly, and some species of carnivore just don't bother. They simply eat their prey alive.

While nature isn’t all red in tooth and claw as some people like to say, predation is often decidedly unpretty, and compassion is a human trait. We might not like the idea that predators sometimes start eating their prey while it’s still alive, but the fact that it happens is an interesting facet of their behaviour as worthy of knowing as any other.

It is also a literally bloody reminder of the fact that human civilization is a constant effort to get away from nature. Nature is cruel and uncaring, and filled with actively hostile species out to eat you. "Getting back to nature" would be, if taken literally, almost certainly a slow and lingering death sentence. It is easy to admire "nature" when all the big carnivores and dangerous animals have been wiped out, when you don't have to stay there long enough to be troubled by parasites. What most people consider "nature" is little more than an untidy garden.

I am glad there are wild lions and hyenas. A world without them would be a lesser world. But I'm even more glad that I don't have to live amongst them.

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