This guest post is by Victoria S and entry in our non-fiction writing contest.
While as we all know that as preppers we should be preparing for all sorts of disasters, including the everyday disasters like losing a job or a snowstorm, there is an undeniable interest in the doomsday type events. With some effort, it’s not that difficult to be prepared for most common events. So, after you’re ready for that, most preppers at least think about some of the more “out there” scenarios that could bring society to a shuddering halt. This article isn’t going to be concerned with any one type of “doomsday” scenario; it will discuss something that could apply to all of them – wild animals.
By “wild” animals, we should include animals such as feral dogs, cats, cattle and other domesticated species who were either feral before the catastrophe or went feral afterwards. Also included should be animals such as rats, mice, and other pests that live in symbiosis with us people. Lastly, we should consider escapees from zoos, refugees, private ownership, and other “non-native” animals that might pose problems to our hypothetical survivors.
First – statistics on animal ownership in the U.S.:
According to the American Pet Products Association in 2012 (see http://americanpetproducts.org/press_industrytrends.asp ) there are 16.2 million birds, 86.4 million cats, 78.2 million dogs, 7.9 million horses, 13.0 million reptiles, and 16.0 million small animals (ferrets, etc).
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (see http://jerconsultingllc.com/US_Pet_Population_Estimates_2-2010.pdf for stats from 2010) the statistics are roughly similar, except they give only 3.5 million reptiles and no statistics on horses.
Note these statistics do not include animals that are already feral. Estimates for the number of feral dogs are impossible to find easily – neither the ASPCA or HUS have a guesstimate – and one scholarly study throws up its hands and says no estimates are known.
More traditional livestock statistics come from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and state there are 97.8 million cattle in the U.S. as of July 2012. Hog populations are a bit more difficult to find – U.S. hog production is estimated to be 117.8 million but that is production and not how many are alive at any one time. Feral hogs, which are expanding rapidly across the U.S., are estimated to be 5 million. Horse population in domestication is given above, but the BLM says there are 31,500 feral horses on BLM lands. Donkey numbers are unclear for domestic ownership, but the BLM says there are 6000 on public lands. Sheep number about 5.3 million in the United States. Llamas and alpacas number at least 100,000 but only llamas with some estimates for llamas in North America reaching 160,000 and perhaps as many as 100,000 alpacas.
Other animals are also in private hands. Foremost among these are bison, which are ranched across the U.S. The National Bison Association estimates there are 200,000 bison in private hands, and 20,000 wild ones in the U.S. The Defenders of Wildlife has different numbers – 500,000 in North America. Ostriches and emus accounted for about 11,000 ostriches and 6500 emus in 2007 (I couldn’t find more recent data easily). Other game animals are also raised on farms – especially deer and elk, but statistics on the number of animals held by ranches is hard to come by.
Deer in this case includes the native whitetail and mule deer but also caribou, axis deer, fallow deer, red deer, and sika deer as well as more exotic varieties. Of those, there are free-ranging (i.e. escaped) populations of axis, fallow, and sika deer in the United States. Other game animals have also established themselves in the wild – with the gemsbuck in New Mexico, nilgai and Barbary sheep in Texas.
There are large numbers of a variety of antelope and other grazing animals resident on game ranches throughout the United States, and estimates of their numbers and what species are represented are hard to come by see this page for some examples but not an exhaustive list. This doesn’t count the numbers of large non-carnivores owned by zoos or circuses throughout the U.S. – for example, the Ringling Brothers circus has an elephant breeding facility in Florida.
Besides the grazing animals, there are also a number of other animals in private hands in the U.S. Tigers are probably the most populous big game animal in private hands in the U.S. Estimates of their numbers range from 5000 to 10,000 . Estimates for other types include 15,000 total big cats, 15,000 primates, 2000 bears and 1000 canids. These numbers, of course, don’t include zoos. Luckily no large carnivores or primates have established themselves as feral populations yet (there are small colonies of monkeys in Florida).
Besides these animals, we have our “native” species of wildlife – of which the big dangerous ones are bison, cougars, bears (black and grizzly – I’m ignoring Kodiak bears and other Alaskan wildlife for now), elk, moose, deer, bighorn sheep, wolves, coyotes, and caribou.
Short-term concerns following a black swan event:
Now that I’ve overwhelmed you with numbers … let’s think on what would happen if human society collapsed, for whatever reason. Say a pandemic hit and the population was halved or worse. Or an EMP? Or any other “black swan” event? Obviously, if hunger was a problem for people, a lot of wildlife and privately held animals are going to get eaten, but a number of them will probably be released by their owners and left to fend for themselves. Which animals would prove the most dangerous right after the event? 5 years after? 25 after?
Likely, the most dangerous animals immediately after a black swan event would be feral dog packs followed by any domesticated pigs let loose and any feral hogs. Neither of these animals will be afraid of humans and if there are corpses available, they will both freely eat human flesh. Unless you live near a game ranch, a zoo, or a private owner of big cats, it’s most likely that you’ll be facing dog packs and sounders of pigs as your main wildlife problems. Don’t discount them – pigs will not only attack people but they are incredibly destructive of forests, farms, and gardens. They are also dangerous because they often will charge someone shooting at them and the feral ones are difficult to kill. You can find out if you have feral populations near you here.
Feral hogs are already a problem in the United States, especially in the south. Combine that with any escapees and there is a ready population of animals to expand quickly and fill empty spaces. Hogs can double their numbers in as little as four months, if conditions are good. After a black swan event, doubling of feral hog numbers in a year could very easily happen.
As for dogs, obviously the little house pets won’t be that much of a concern, but anything from about cocker spaniel size on up can and will be a danger in a pack. Luckily, dogs are easier to kill than feral pigs. The main concern will be the large numbers of them and the fact that they can and will interbreed with coyotes, but that behavior is rare. Unfortunately, it’s less rare in cases of rapidly expanding coyote populations, such as would be expected after a black swan event.
To a lesser degree, other animals that are currently found in close proximity to people could pose a problem soon after a black swan event. Generally these will be coyotes and deer.
As for coyotes, they rarely hunt in packs, which makes them less dangerous to people but they are much more commonly found in close proximity to people than most other predators in the United States. If a black swan event occurs, coyotes will be right up there preying on livestock and making life difficult for humans. Luckily, they only breed once a year, so although they reproduce often, they don’t breed throughout the year like dogs or hogs.
Deer (speaking here of the white-tailed deer, we’ll discuss the more exotic species later), while not often dangerous to humans by attacks, are dangerous in that they damage crops and gardens. The white-tailed population in the United States is about 30 million, and is capable of doubling their numbers every two years. While certain black swan events would result in deer numbers falling from hunting, other black swan events would probably result in even greater numbers.
Other animals mentioned in the first part of this article would have a more limited effect, mainly only being a concern if you are near a concentration of them. If you live near a big cat refugee/rescue group, however, you may need to worry about being visited by tigers!
What should the prepper take away from this in regards to short term planning after a black swan event? My biggest concerns would be with controlling dog packs and hog sounders. Lesser concerns would be coyotes and deer, unless of course you happen to have a neighbor (within 100 miles, worst case) raising more exotic animals or you happen to be located close to a game park or a state or national park with reintroduced big game animals. (For more details on that sort of thing, see further down in the mid-term and long-term outlook sections)
Fencing will help with dogs, but hogs are quite capable of destroying most fencing. Deer fencing would need to be a bit higher than that against dogs, but it’s not that difficult to do. Coyotes are also kept out by fencing. Obviously, then, fencing gardens, yards, and livestock pens against animals is a good first step. Although fencing might keep some hogs away, it won’t completely keep them out. The best you can probably hope for is that hunting will keep the numbers down enough in your area to keep the damage within bounds and hope that natural predators come along to keep the piggies in line.
Besides the “big” animals (I’m including anything bigger than a mid-sized dog here), there is also the absolutely huge explosion that would occur among the “pest” animals. Those would be the mice, rats, roaches, and vermin that live in symbiosis with humans. If society broke down, all these vermin would have greatly expanded possibilities of population growth. The main concern with these animals is their capacity for spreading disease. A secondary concern is their habit of spoiling and stealing stored food.
The primary methods of handling these pests have always been trapping, using other animals to reduce their numbers, and poisons. After any black swan event, these techniques will remain important and special consideration should be given to taking in small abandoned pets that could help with these pests. Besides the typical cats and dogs (terriers were originally bred to hunt rats and other small vermin), consider ferrets as a possibility.
While I’ve never liked them as actual pets, they are effective at vermin reduction. One thing to remember, however, with using small animals for vermin hunting – you cannot just expect them to feed themselves. If at all possible, they will hunt better and more effectively if you feed them on top of what they catch. Anything you can spare will be more than repaid in pest elimination.
Unfortunately, pets won’t do much for roaches and other smaller insects. These will need to be either poisoned or trapped. Don’t forget to lay in a supply of things that can be used for this, as well as researching ways to create your own.
Medium term consequences:
Further out from a black swan event there are likely to even more wildlife problems. Obviously, if the human population goes down, the animal population will increase. Animals will return to areas that they have been pushed out of by humans. Animals that are currently in zoos or game parks, if released (either by human causes or through failure of fencing), will have a chance to establish themselves also. Within 5 years after a black swan event, a number of species of wildlife could very easily have come back enough to impinge on survivors’ lives.
For example, bison. We noted above that there are at least 200,000 bison in private rangelands. In the event of a black swan event, bison probably can release themselves. This doesn’t include the populations that are on national park lands that are currently controlled by capture/hunting. Population growth rates of close to 25% have been recorded for bison, meaning that they could theoretically double around every three or four years given good conditions. (The rates of 25% are from populations released into new favorable grazing grounds, thus closely approximating conditions after a black swan event.).
Defenders of Wildlife has a range map of bison that shows them spread across the western United States. (Another map from 2003) This doesn’t show any private herds (there is one not that far from my house, in fact, here in central Illinois) Within 5 years, assuming not much hunting (which, given the calibers that are required to hunt bison, is probably a safe assumption!) there could be close to a million bison roaming North America.
Remember that bison are 6 to 12 feet long, stand 5 to 6 feet tall and weigh anywhere from 700 to 2200 pounds, with exceptional bulls reaching 2800 pounds. They are also capable of running as fast as 40 miles per hour and will charge humans if bothered (not just threatened!). Killing bison is just more difficult than killing deer or smaller animals, and typically requires a higher caliber rifle than most people own.
Given that constraint, I think it’s clear that within 5 to 10 years after any catastrophic event that might reduce the human population by over 50%, the bison population would probably approach a million, if not more, still only a fraction of the 20 to 30 million that once lived in North America, but still enough to provide a danger to humans.
Feral cattle would also pose a danger in some situations, along with exploding populations of deer and other native animals. Two predators would have a good chance of establishing themselves through North America within 10 years after a black swan event. One is already quite widespread and would likely expand more, the black bear. The other is the cougar, which wanders greatly and still exists across the United States.
The cougar population in Southern Florida could expand northwards (although since it’s starting from a population of about 100 individuals, that would be slow). The western population of 30,000 or so could expand eastward and any in Canada would likely expand southward. They do not have the explosive growth in numbers that wolves or herbivores boast, but they make up for it in their large range and the dispersion that young animals undergo to find new range. Given the right conditions, it would be not difficult to imagine cougars throughout the Midwest and Appalachians within 10 years of a black swan event.
Black bears already exist in the Ozarks and Appalachians, as well as the Northern Midwest and across the west. There are an estimated 600,000 in North America and 300,000 in the United States. Although not nearly as dangerous as grizzly bears, they do pose a danger to humans if provoked. Males are usually 150 to 300 pounds, with females a bit smaller. They mainly eat fruits, nuts, small animals and carrion, but can kill deer and other herbivore calves also. They would pose a danger to small livestock besides the danger they might pose if threatened. Black bears are primarily restricted to wooded areas, which means that the plains states will likely remain black bear free.
Otherwise, most of the new dangers in this time period would likely be regional. If you’re in the south, escaped reptiles and snakes could be a problem, while in the north wolves would start posing a danger to livestock. Southern swampy areas have their own dangers – with escaped snakes and other reptiles adding to the fun. Southern Florida and an island off South Carolina both have colonies of monkeys of various types. There are feral populations of exotic hoofed mammals all across Texas and New Mexico, which would probably expand gradually.
During this time period after a black swan event, the main dangers would remain the feral dogs and hogs, with bison and more exotic dangers thrown in depending on the region. The monkey concern would be not just damage to crops and gardens, but diseases that could spread from them to humans. Wolves would be a danger to livestock, added to the dogs and coyotes. Bison would pose a major danger to crops and gardens, as bison-proof fencing is expensive and difficult to construct. Obviously, no one wants to wake up to find a boa has slithered out from the nearby swamp and has taken up residence under their porch or chicken shed! One advantage of the increasing numbers of traditional predators would the their ability to take on the feral dog packs and the feral hog sounders.
Hunting would remain one of the primary methods of control during this period, along with fencing. Choosing calibers for hunting these game animals is a bit different than dealing with human predators. The best advice I’ve seen (although I’m happy to take other suggestions!) are from http://www.chuckhawks.com/restrictions_hunting_big_game.htm and http://www.chuckhawks.com/rifles_dangerous_game.htm and http://www.chuckhawks.com/dangerous_NA_game.htm.
As before, we need to briefly consider the “smaller” pests here. 5 to 10 years after a black swan event, not only will you be dealing with rats, mice and other crawly things, you’ll also have small carnivores preying on your livestock and birds and other small varmints raiding your crops and gardens. There shouldn’t be any surprises in exotic birds, but expect an explosion in numbers of things like mink, weasels, polecats, as well as any surviving feral cats and dogs. More exotic pets, such as ferrets and snakes, could also have established themselves and start preying on small livestock.
Birds can be dealt with by hunting (slingshots would be excellent for this!) and netting over trees and gardens. Small varmints can also be dealt with by hunting, but any small dogs or cats will also help with eliminating them when found. Remember again to feed your helper animals – they will repay it by increased hunting efficiency. Traps and poison will also work, but need to be balanced against the risk of poisoning small pets and children or catching them in traps.
These would only likely show up 25 years or more past a black swan event. This is where things get a bit more difficult to predict, as it would depend a lot on what animals manage to actually establish themselves in the wild. Conceivably it’s possible that any animal that is in a zoo or wildlife park could establish itself in North America. Much more likely, however, is the expansion of native species or already established exotic species. Most of these would be herbivores but the expansion of range of cougars and black bears would continue, and be joined by the expansion of the range of grizzly bears.
Grizzly bears are now present in the western United States and Canada, but they used to range throughout North America including the Great Plains and as far east as Ohio (see http://www.defenders.org/grizzly-bear/basic-facts). Grizzlies are dangerous animals and not at all afraid of humans or large game. Historically they would hunt bison calves as well as elk, moose and caribou, so they would have no problems taking on humans (and winning!).
Wolves would also spread widely across North America, as their historic range was throughout the continent. Bobcat and lynx would likely have expanded their population enough to be noticeable once more, although they don’t pose much threat to humans themselves. Their damage would mainly be to livestock or possibly small children.
Elk and moose would join the native deer population explosion. There are 700,000 or more elk in the Rocky Mountains, and there are introduced populations in Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia, along with Nebraska and Pennsylvania. Moose are present in northern New England and the northern Midwest, and would spread slowly to suitable habitats. Both of these animals can be dangerous to humans if provoked, but would be mainly of concern due to crop damage. Luckily, they are less likely to live near humans than deer, so would be of less concern. Hunting them, however, takes a bigger gun than hunting deer and that should be borne in mind. Horses would also have established themselves out on the great plains once more, but they are not forest-dwelling species, although there were mustangs east of the Mississippi prior to the westward expansion of the United States, it’s not clear if they actually bred there in great numbers or if they were mostly escapees that bred with occasional wanderers. This would likely continue to be the case for horses – occasional pockets of breeding animals in the eastern part of the continent with larger populations on the plains and the western coast.
Smaller herbivores are of less concern. Caribou could spread to the upper Midwest and the upper Rocky Mountains as well as Maine, as historically they were found in those areas. Besides the native deer, there are a number of introduced species that could spread across the continent – likely fallow deer and red deer, both of which are native to cooler climates. Fallow deer have already established themselves in parts of western North America and could spread. There are a number of antelope that could also spread, either locally or across the Great Plains. Luckily, most of these are small enough that they pose little more danger to humans than the native deer and can be treated as whitetails for most purposes.
Exotic herbivores such as elephants and Cape buffalo could be an extreme danger to humans and their crops, but luckily, they do not appear to be present in such numbers or concentrations in North America that they stand a good chance of establishing themselves after a black swan event. Nor, do they like the cooler temperatures that hold true for much of the United States. This is a good thing, because I’d really rather not face a bull elephant in must, thank you very much. However, as I remarked above, there do exist a couple of places breeding elephants in the United States, and given the long life spans, it’s possible they might be able to locally establish themselves. There are also a couple of ranches in Texas that offer Cape buffalo hunts (along with an amazing number of other things – yikes!) so that would be a “possible” but not likely thing. Rhinos do not appear to be present in any sort of large numbers in North America, so the main worry would be any that were released from zoos. Their habitat requirements, like elephants, are not an exact fit with most of the United States, luckily, so the chances of them roaming the Great Plains isn’t that high. Zebras, Przewalski’s horses, Bongos, Kudus, Wildebeests, Yaks, Impalas, Elands, and other more exotic animals are also present on numerous game ranches and could easily establish themselves on the Great Plains.
Carnivores, on the other hand, could be a problem. We mentioned above the guesstimates of the number of big cats that are in private hands in the United States. Once again, like with the elephants, the problem is going to be concentrations of them, not the numbers themselves. Most reputable big cat rescue organizations neuter the males they rescue, which would prevent any animals that were either released or escaped from that sort of situation reproducing. However, most zoos and private breeders obviously do not fix their animals, and it’s the private breeders that would likely provide the numbers that would have the best chance of establishing populations in the wild after a black swan event. From my reading and research, the mostly likely carnivores would be tigers, followed by lions, and then you get into the “who knows, anything goes” territory. If I had to bet on any carnivores establishing themselves in the U.S. after a black swan event, I’d go with tigers as the most likely, followed by lions. Cheetahs are harder to breed in captivity, and leopards have never quite caught on with private owners, so they would appear to stand less of a chance. Jackals have never been considered a “game animal” so their chances of establishing a population would depend on how many were released and where. This would be the case for most zoo animals – and their chances would not be good, as most zoos don’t have large numbers of carnivores for breeding purposes.
So, what should we take away from this exercise is “what if”? First – the most and biggest danger is likely to be from the most familiar animals – dogs, pigs, deer, and coyotes – especially in the short term. Most of these can be managed by fencing and hunting. Your rifle needs won’t likely be much bigger than what you’d need to handle human nuisances. Obviously, fencing your garden and yard isn’t a bad idea at all. And it will pay off even if a black swan event never happens – as it’ll still work to keep out deer and coyotes and feral dogs from your property.
Longer term, however, it wouldn’t hurt to have larger caliber rifles and bullets in order to deal with native predators as well as native herbivores. Luckily, anything that will deal with bison will also deal with any of the large carnivores that might be able to establish themselves. Check around and see what calibers and ammunition are recommended for various large game animals and consider picking up at least one rifle that can handle that as well as reloading equipment for those calibers. Picking up a cheap book on commonly encountered wild game park animals wouldn’t hurt either. Also, research if there are any large zoos, game parks, wildlife refuges, or private breeders near you or your retreat location, so you can be prepared for that sort of problem. If you live in a climate that would be congenial to large reptiles that are commonly kept as pets (yes, I’m thinking the python/constrictor people here!) – know what to look for as far as the dangerous snakes that might be let go in a collapse situation (and keep a big machete sharpened!).
Don’t forget the small vermin too – they’d likely undergo a large population explosion, and will need to be combated also. Traps, poison, nets, and the usage of small animals as free-ranging hunters should help control the vermin. Consider learning how to use a slingshot or sling to help control these small pests without having to use guns and ammunition.
This contest will end on December 16 2012 – prizes include:
- First Place winner will receive a Go Berkey Kit water filter valued at $150 and a copy of my book “31 Days to Survival: A Complete Plan for Emergency Preparedness ” and a copy of “Dirt Cheap Survival Retreat“.
- Second Place: $150 gift certificate for Magtech Ammo.
- Third Place: $50 Cash.
- The Prepper's Guide to Surviving the End of the World, as We Know It: Gear, Skills, and Related Know-How
- The Prepared Prepper's Cookbook: Over 170 Pages of Food Storage Tips, and Recipes From Preppers All Over America!
- Dirt-Cheap Survival Retreat: One Man's Solution
- 31 Days to Survival: A Complete Plan for Emergency Preparedness