Thursday, May 21, 2015

Respecting Wildlife: Human and Wild Animal Interaction

I was reading the news and came across this story about a tourist who was gored by a bison in Yellowstone National Park (link 1). It is revealed that the girl was standing a mere three to six feet from the animal, posing for a photo. It occurred to me that this situation was not an exception to the rule. From approaching too close to wildlife (link 2 , link 3 , link 4), to poking and prodding (link 5 , link 6), to outright manhandling and riding - yes, riding - (link 7 , link 8 , link 9), examples of wildlife harassment are bountiful. And these only represent recorded occurrences. So the question is why? What is it that compels people to abandon common sense and hassle wildlife?

One possibility is sheer ignorance. We grow up in a society that builds an invisible wall between ourselves and wildlife, between "civilization" and "wilderness". For most of people, the only experience they have with wildlife is through mostly anthropomorphized culture such as story books and television/films, zoos where non-human animals are separated from humans by a safe barrier, and harmless creatures that are generally ignored such as city-dwelling birds, rodents, and insects. In a way, we draw a non-existent line between ourselves and other wildlife, a line that seems to come equipped with a protective bubble inflated by ignorance. And perhaps these tourists take that line with them when they venture out into the wilderness, seeing a bear or bison as harmless as the caricatures they grew up with, and likewise themselves harmless toward the dolphin and sea turtle they grab at like toys.

Another theory is based on something all of these situations seem to have in common. It is not just about the interaction, but about documenting and sharing that interaction. All these cases involve people posing for a photo. It is as if their need to show off - "Hey! Look at me! I'm practically touching a real-life bison! I'm so cool!" - overrides any consequences of their actions. Unbridled vanity and a need to flaunt it.

If I had to guess, I would say this behavior stems from a combination of these factors - obliviousness to the reality of the situation as well as vain attention-seeking aimed at upping oneself in social status. And I am not saying that we should not interact with wildlife at all - we are also animals who share this world too. But it is one thing for an animal to mutually interact with you and another thing to force your interaction onto it. Perhaps if we spent more time experiencing and observing real wilderness, as vulnerable as a fawn in the presence of a wolf, that invisible line may begin to fade with our ignorance and we may develop a healthy respect for the life we inhabit the world with.

TL;DR: Don't be stupid, respect wildlife.

1 comment:

  1. I totally agree with your standpoint about respecting wildlife. Going into their environment, one should know the dangers that lie ahead especially since they are wild animals. I also believe some of the ignorance persists because of anthropomorphism. I believe some of the interactions people here about animals are somewhat of a "fairy tale" story, therefore unrecognizing the actual study and facts of these animals. If people were to study these animals more I think the sheer ignorance would dwindle. I believe animals are like humans. I don't think anybody would be happy if someone was threatening and getting in their space or environment.