I have never met Cat Urbigkit, but she contributes to a blog I follow (Stephen Bodio’s Querencia) and she and I have communicated by email from time to time over the years. She knew that I had survived a bear attack and asked me to write a blurb for the book cover of When Man Becomes Prey. Normally, this would mean an advance copy would be sent out that I could read, and then write my blurb accordingly. In this case, however, Cat was pressed for time, so she emailed me a copy of the manuscript. I was duly impressed with her writing, as I have always been over the years, and I wrote that in my blurb. What I didn’t realize was how well and beautifully illustrated the final product would be. Those are her photographs in the book, ladies and gentlemen, and hers alone, and that by itself is reason enough to buy the book. It’s an extraordinary achievement.
Beyond that, however, I cannot recommend this book highly enough. As cities and suburbs metastasize over the American landscape, more and more people live, wittingly or unwittingly, in close proximity to wildlife. Most of the time, this is a benign source of pleasure: deer strolling across your lawn and nibbling on your roses; woodchucks and squirrels making free with your vegetable garden; that sort of thing. But where prey animals go, predators will follow, and the inevitable confrontations between man and large carnivore will occur, with equally inevitable and unhappy results.
What Cat does so well in When Man Becomes Prey, is not only to point out the potential dangers, but to give the reader tools to recognize when things are sliding down from chance encounter to something more sinister and potentially deadly. Most of us are smart enough not to walk up to walk up to a grizzly or a mountain lion and offer it our leftover hamburger, but what most people do not understand is the significance of simply seeing a predator. The rule of thumb, as Cat points out, is that if you do see a predator, and that predator does not immediately take off running, you have a problem in the making, because when a predator becomes habituated to humans and their presence, the next step is to regard those humans as dinner. And sadly, too many otherwise reasonably intelligent people think it is cute and exciting to have wildlife around their home, and they do remarkably stupid things–such as putting out food and water–to encourage said wildlife. Apart from the potential danger to humans, the usual result is death for the animal. Yes, I know the Fish and Game experts are always quoted as saying that the predator in question will be relocated, but relocation would really mean creating a dangerous problem for someone else in some other part of the state, and so “relocated” becomes a code word for “destroyed.” It is not usually discussed, because ignorant animal lovers and so-called animal rights advocates get hysterical when they think of anything being killed, but what choice is there? If that coyote didn’t actually kill your child, it will certainly try—and may succeed—with the next child in the area where it is relocated.
I live on the opposite side of a mountain from a small community where there are, unfortunately, a lot of remarkably silly people who think it is fine to break the law and put out food and water to attract wildlife. The completely predictable result is dogs killed in their yards, human/predator encounters of varying degrees of potential danger, certain canyons closed off to equestrians for long periods of time due to mountain lion sightings, and—more personally—my friend Dan Bronson (one of the most peaceable and kindly men in the world) doing his jogging with a can of bear spray in his hand. I only wish every single person in that community could be compelled to read When Man Becomes Prey.
Beautifully illustrated, and with well-researched and well-described true-life encounters, this a must-read for anyone who lives anywhere near wildlife.