Since we’ve thought our way to the top of the food chain, I suspect we’ve forgotten what it’s like to be prey. All our top predators are pretty much under control—so much so that when a lion, tiger, or bear kills a person it makes the news. Even sharks are in decline. This thought comes to me while on my morning constitutional I spy with my old eye young rabbits. Lots and lots of rabbits. During the summer they appear in such profusion that I suspect most of us don’t stop to look at them any more. We don’t really eat them any more (and besides, I’m a vegan), so what use are they too us? They’re here to be prey animals.
A lot happens in the dark. I’m an early riser and sometimes I hear the animals cavorting in the night. Sometimes I find what’s left of a bunny in the back yard—evidence that someone was hungry during the wee hours. What must it be like to be a food animal? Rabbits have a reproductive biology that permits a doe to become pregnant before she has born the litter she’s already carrying. This seems to be evolution’s way of ensuring survival for creatures so often eaten. Emotional ties between parent and child must be passing at best. When I see the young out on their own I often wonder how they can care for themselves at such a tender age. Of course the average lifespan of the eastern cottontail is only 15 months with merely a quarter of the population making it to two years. After that they may have one more year. They rarely ever die of old age. No time for emotional attachment. Either that or it’s brief but very intense.
We take a fairly long lifespan for granted. It’s sometimes difficult to realize that for most of human history life expectancy—for those who survived childhood (not many)—was the forties. For women it was more likely the twenties. Young couples started families early and kept the kids coming. We were not exactly prey, but like the rabbits we had to learn to say goodbye too soon. We’ve thought ourselves to not only the top of the food chain, but to the point of prolonging our lives so much that deaths can be utterly devastating. I look at the rabbit nibbling the overgrown grass in my backyard and smile. The only yard nearby without a dog, I like to think they feel safe here, even if just for a little while. From the perspective of prey, every second counts.