I have just submitted the abstract below to the organizers of Minding Animals Conference 4 (Mexico City, January 17-24th 2018).
The Semiotics of Predation and The Umwelten of Large Predators
This paper aims to present fundamental findings related to the semiotics of predation, and point out a few typical features of the Umwelten (lifeworlds) of large predators.Carnivores are emblematic of the brutality of nature in that, apparently, in order to live, they have to take lives – as most animals do. Carnivores are generally associated with predatory behaviour, although not all carnivores are predators. Predators thus form a subcategory of carnivores, and are correctly associated with killing – causing death, fear and, to varying degrees, suffering.In general, when preying on other animals, predators intend to kill, but they do not kill because of any malicious intentions. Nevertheless, historically, predators have a reputation for being beasts ruled by hunger and are still, perhaps unfairly, looked upon as iconic murderers.What all carnivores have in common is that they eat meat and that they hunt and/or scavenge. As a subcategory of carnivores, besides eating meat, large predatory carnivores have in common that they hunt and kill other animals. In terms of the four main functional cycles referred to by Jakob von Uexküll in his Umwelt theory, predators are thereby characterized by the functional cycle that involves food. The key contrapuntal relation involved in the Umwelten of large predators is, from this perspective, that of predator and prey. Whereas for predators, prey have the functional tone of food, for prey, predators have the functional tone of an enemy – a lethal threat.These common features of large predator Umwelten indicate selective empathy. However, as any social animal, large predators also, to varying degrees, engage in a number of positive social relations.