The source may seem unlikely, but sometimes the very best sources are precisely that. I am working through the excellent book Moose: Behavior, Ecology, Conservation by Valerius Geist (Voyageur Press, 1999), and the third chapter (Security) is illuminating far beyond what it teaches about the animals themselves. The book really is proving to be a gem all around; Geist has the gift to bring real life into a subject which could easily bore one to tears. Truly fascinating critters!
A couple of quotes just leaped off the page at me. First:
Because the survival of moose calves depends on mother's undoubted propensity for violence, calves have a most expressive "help me" call. Lone calves are unlikely to survive wolf predation. They depend on their big mothers for protection.
We've all heard the standard statements about a mother's instinct to protect her young, but this language is beautifully compact, and cuts right to the chase: survival depends on the unquestioned willingness to do violence if necessary. So it is for the cow moose protecting herself and calf from a pack of wolves; so it is no different for the human mother protecting herself and child from a gang of thugs*. No law, decree, edict, or social taboo will stay the wolves from their prey; nothing but the credible threat that they may not only not succeed in their attack, but may get killed trying, will give them pause. And Geist makes it very clear that the wolves do understand this, and go to great lengths not to press an attack on a cow moose standing her ground. Most of the time, they will go elsewhere for easier prey, and when they do press the attack they do not always succeed; plenty of shattered wolf skulls and ribs attest to the fact that Ma moose is not joking. She may go down by force of numbers or by sheer bad luck, but it will not be without a violent fight.
This of course sounds familiar and proper to those who believe in liberty and the natural right to self-defense. As Jeff Cooper said, when asked if violence does not beget violence, "I would certainly hope that it does!" What I think this example brings to the table is a wonderful illustration of how natural and innate the right and the beauty of self-defense is. I mean, can you imagine the over-civilized picking on a cow moose for her "undoubted propensity for violence"?
It has been said that humans are the only species that is smart enough to avoid violence, which may or may not be true, but it seems certain that we are the only species dumb enough to argue over not fighting back in the face of violent attack.
The punchline is, that quote was just the warm-up. This humdinger came a little later:
Wolf packs test moose and do not attack those that show some spunk and face the pack. Wolves pursue moose that show little confidence and run away, usually the very young or the very old. Since moose have difficulty defending themselves against packs of wolves, they need to choose favorable ground when wolves attack. It is likely that moose that flee will eventually be forced to defend themselves on ground not of their own choosing. They may become mired in snow, they may fail to find a conifer with enough stout, low branches to offer protection from the rear, or they may be hampered by shrubbery when lashing out with their powerful legs. Whatever the reason, fleeing moose may soon be bitten severely by wolves. The wolves then allow them to weaken until they can be taken down with little risk.
This nearly left me speechless, it is so beautifully rich with metaphor. Now with apologies to Geist, who quite possibly intended none of the entendres (although he certainly does present himself a pretty no-nonsense fellow), just consider the above paragraph--the whole thing--as it relates to each of:
- The mechanics of individual self-defense against human attackers.
- The mechanics of collective self-defense against an oppressive majority or government.
- The dynamics of "pragmatism" or appeasement with respect to an encroaching government.
There's a lot in there, isn't there? Other examples may occur to you as well. And who knows? I may end up referring back to this article later just because it says it so well and so elegantly.
I figured I had much to learn about moose, but I was not quite expecting to learn so much from them too. Nice bonus.
* The only thing I do not like about this metaphor is the comparison of human criminal miscreants to wolves. The behaviors may be very similar--not wanting to fight but merely to claim easy pickings, carefully selecting the most helpless victims, operating only on the promise of superior force or numbers, etc.--but with few exceptions, wolves strike me as far more sympathetic creatures.