…In my nearby national park at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, white-tailed deer have been baited and shot for many winters. A decent policy would call us to respect both the deer and the area’s free-living predators. They are the Eastern coyotes—animals trying to fill the vacuum we created by extirpating the wolves—and the bobcats. Long ago, bigger cats roamed this same land.
Beneath Valley Forge National Historical Park, in an ancient fissure, is a trove of fossils. In Pleistocene times, the land was home to Miracinonyx inexpectatus, or American cheetahs, and Smilodon gracilis—sometimes called sabre-toothed tigers.
These cats died out in a major extinction event some 12,000 years ago. The event is sometimes attributed to climatic change and the cats’ narrow range of prey. But some researchers believe the die-off resulted from the pressure of Homo sapiens, who arrived on the continent around then, and likely dreaded the trouble and risk of competing with these apex carnivores. We are not at the top of the food chain, except through artifice, deliberate cruelty, and sprawl.
Unlike the sabre-toothed cats, the tigers of the world are still with us. Barely.
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Image source: Alekvelez.