How Animals Die
by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, January 14, 2012.)
If you’ve done much walking in the woods, you’ve found the remains of a dead animal. And you’ve wondered how it died. The truth is there are lots of ways, and none of them are pleasant. Wild animals never die under the palliative care of a physician while family and friends hold vigil.
Wild animals never die under the
palliative care of a physician
while family and friends hold vigil.
Everyone who drives or rides in an automobile knows one way animals die. Deer don’t seem to obey those deer crossing signs. I don’t need to describe the aftermath because we all know it’s never a pretty sight. Tens of thousands of deer are killed on Pennsylvania’s roads. No one really knows the totals because many are not reported and some hobble off to die away from sight.
Cars don’t kill just deer. They kill every animal, domestic or wild, that ventures across a paved surface. You’ve seen them, you’ve probably killed at least a few, and you accept untold millions of road kills as a gruesome fact of modern life.
Predators kill animals. You might not know it, but you may have a predator living with you. The most popular pet these days – the common house cat – is also the most widespread predator. Even if your furry friend has been declawed, his cohorts kill millions of small animals and songbirds each year.
Domestic dogs are predators too, though not nearly as bloodthirsty as cats. Wild canines including wolves, foxes and coyotes, inflict deaths far less humane than deaths delivered by hunters or trappers. When a coyote, or pack of coyotes, catches a deer, they begin eating the deer while it’s still alive. Pictures prove it.
Animals also die from disease and malnutrition. When certain animal populations get too high disease can, and does, wipe them out by the hundreds. When food sources are scarce, it can mean difficult weeks during which animals are more vulnerable to disease, predators, and even starvation.
Finally, animals die by accidents, even without collisions with tons of high speed steel. They impale themselves on sticks. They dislocate joints. They drown. They fall. Birds of prey break wings in pursuit of fresh meat, then suffer while some other predator makes fresh meat of them. Animals of the same species even kill each other.
Virtually every way animals die in the natural world is horrible by human standards, even hunters’ standards. It’s a tough world out in the woods.
I recount these descriptions not for shock value, but to make one simple point: only one predator tries to minimize suffering in his prey. Only one predator cares enough for his prey to kill quickly.
That predator is man. Whatever means man uses to capture his prey – whether bullet, arrow, trap, or something else – he judges his success in part by how quick and humane the kill is.
Trappers especially want a quick kill. It’s to the trapper’s advantage to get to the trap as quickly as possible after prime time for catching the animal because he doesn’t want a bigger animal taking his catch.
Surprisingly often, trappers will find their prey lying there comfortably in the trap – maybe even asleep. Modern foot-hold traps are so well-designed that, when the proper size is chosen for the target animal, they rarely break a bone. And it’s a tired old canard that animals frequently chew their legs off. It rarely happens. So, arguments about the cruelty of trapping focus on exceptions more than on the facts of life in the wild.
Like it or not, man is a predator, and consumptive use of wildlife is not somehow less moral for him than it is for other predators. So I lay out these facts to show that man has a unique place among the many hunters in God’s creation. He’s the one predator who cares about suffering, seeks to minimize suffering in his prey, and finds satisfaction in a quick, clean kill.
Next time you find the remains of an animal in the woods and it wasn’t killed by a hunter, know this – no matter what happened, that animal almost certainly suffered before it died. That’s a fact of life in the wild.