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Learning about wild predators can help people peacefully coexist with them

Image from Storyblocks

The biggest, most carnivorous predators have been demonized throughout history, from the big bad wolf of children’s stories to the great white shark of cinema legend. Wildlife educators spend  a lot of time dispelling myths and fighting fears, helping people and predators move from conflict to coexistence.

Every corner of nature, from your backyard garden to the open sea, has its own food chain. Even the tiniest sprout has an important role in this circle of life, a sequence in which every organism is predator, prey, or both. 

Hundreds of years ago, the East Coast was teeming with predators like wolves and mountain lions. But European settlers regarded them as a threat to their families and livestock, and set out to kill them until they were extirpated from the region.

In recent years, as we have learned more about these animals, humans have come to understand the important role of predator species: They control the population and movement of prey animals, which protects the habitat they all share and even prevents dangerous inbreeding. Because of these changing attitudes, populations of black bears and bobcats have bounced back from the brink.

Despite not being native to the East Coast, the coyote has also had a recent population boom. Arriving in Virginia in the 1970s, these highly adaptable predators came from Canada and the West Coast and have settled into every corner of the Commonwealth. Their predation of livestock animals and startling appearances in urban areas have inspired a significant number of calls to Virginia’s Department of Wildlife Resources.

Despite these conflicts, there are ways for even the coyote and its human neighbors to peacefully coexist. Through its Coyote Friendly Communities program, Project Coyote works to educate the public about ways to “move from conflict to coexistence” with these wild canines. By taking small measures to reinforce the coyote’s healthy wariness of humans, it’s not hard to keep them at a safe distance.

The coyote isn’t the only predator with a natural fear of people: One study revealed that when hearing the sound of human voices, even the fearsome mountain lion proceeded with visible caution, or avoided an area completely. 

This certainly supports the reassurance we’ve all heard at some point: “They’re more afraid of you than you are of them.”

What You Can Do!

  • Learn about the wildlife around you, including the native predators and the role they play in your ecosystem. Knowledge can really help to conquer fear, and help people and predators coexist.
  • Eliminate predator attractants around you. Don’t leave garbage cans where they are easily accessible, and don’t leave pet food out overnight. These things can be irresistible to many animals, including predators.
  • Monitor your pets, especially if you live in an area where predators may roam. 
  • Never feed a predator, and keep them at a safe distance. Their fear of humans helps to keep everyone safe.
  • Get involved in wildlife conservation. Big decisions related to hunting, fishing and habitat management are always brewing. Take advantage of opportunities to add your voice to the conversation in your town, or at the state or national levels.
  • Check out The Wildlife Center of Virginia to learn more about the wild animals around you, and how you can help keep them safe.