This sum­mer, treat wild an­i­mals with re­spect

Crea­tures are not there for our en­ter­tain­ment, Shannon Moneo says.

Ottawa Citizen - - OPINION -

When will we stop turn­ing wildlife sight­ings into Dis­ney mo­ments where we treat an an­i­mal like a play­thing, or pull out smart­phone cam­eras, ea­ger to get a YouTube­wor­thy video that just might go vi­ral?

Ear­lier this month, on a Victoria-area beach, a moult­ing ele­phant seal was ha­rassed by a va­ri­ety of crea­tures. Hu­mans, who came by bus­loads, threw wa­ter­melon and bread at the fast­ing an­i­mal. Some dumped wa­ter on her. And oth­ers let their dogs run up to tor­ment the seal.

When chil­dren taunted the marine mam­mal, a vol­un­teer, who was help­ing to en­sure the an­i­mal’s safety, asked them to stop. But the par­ents of the chil­dren be­came bel­liger­ent, go­ing so far as to throw drift­wood at the vol­un­teer. Po­lice were called, ac­cord­ing to Fish­eries and Oceans of­fi­cer Mandy Lud­low. “There’s a sense of en­ti­tle­ment so peo­ple do feel that this is their beach and they would like to do as they please,” Lud­low said.

It’s a sad story that shows a lack of un­der­stand­ing about wildlife, a tail tale that will get in­creas­ingly re­played across Canada as wild an­i­mals be­come more ac­tive in con­cert with ac­cel­er­ated out­door sum­mer ac­tiv­ity by Cana­di­ans and tourists alike.

As I learned dur­ing sev­eral train­ing ses­sions at a wild-an­i­mal res­cue fa­cil­ity, the an­i­mals we see in na­ture al­most all do not take kindly to hu­man in­ter­fer­ence, save for, per­haps, cu­ri­ous rac­coons who have be­come savvy city-dwellers. Deer will thrash them­selves to death if trapped in an en­clo­sure.

Rab­bits, with no de­fence mech­a­nism other than run­ning, can suf­fer heart at­tacks when un­der threat. And now we have black bear-bait­ing, as peo­ple pur­posely leave out garbage and food to at­tract the an­i­mals.

In 2017, al­most 500 bears were de­stroyed in British Columbia after en­coun­ters with hu­mans, many of those in­ter­ac­tions due to bad trash etiquette.

But food-lur­ing is not con­fined to bear-bait­ing. Hik­ers have been spot­ted of­fer­ing food to the wolves who fre­quent Pa­cific Rim Na­tional Park Re­serve, look­ing per­haps for a glory snap, not jaw snap.

Yes, the vast at­ten­tion that comes from a vi­ral so­cial me­dia post is at play, but could there be some­thing else? As Cana­dian so­ci­ety be­comes ever more ur­ban, an ap­petite for con­nec­tion with the wild is stoked.

Liv­ing in a city can lead to na­ture deficits.

In fact, there are terms such as “na­ture knowl­edge deficit,” which re­fers to our lack of un­der­stand­ing of the nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment. The short­fall makes us less ob­ser­vant of the nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment and more prone to de­pres­sion or other men­tal health prob­lems. Yet deep down, we re­main drawn to the nat­u­ral world, al­beit with a lack of knowl­edge.

It’s why cam­pers leave food on their pic­nic ta­bles and then won­der why Yogi vis­ited. Or why hik­ers let their small dogs run free on trails and are dev­as­tated after a cougar cap­tures Cali. Not de­lib­er­ate acts, but ones that are, nev­er­the­less, rooted in a lack of re­spect and a na­ture knowl­edge deficit.

Be­cause much of what we see is fed to us via a screen, some­times what we view on that screen is an am­a­teur video of a bear feast­ing at a bird feeder, a cougar sit­ting in a back­yard or a seal shed­ding its fur.

How the an­i­mal got to be there is also part of the story but usu­ally a tale not fully told. Just as video of po­lice take­downs only show parts of the in­ci­dent, we may not see what led to the an­i­mal’s ap­pear­ance, the mo­ti­va­tion of the per­son cap­tur­ing the im­age and the fi­nal con­clu­sion. But it still makes for “en­ter­tain­ment.”

But it is not a Dis­ney movie, a fairy tale or an Amer­ica’s Fun­ni­est Home Videos. The an­i­mal is a sen­tient crea­ture who de­serves the chance to live, but as we con­tinue our su­per­fi­cial in­fat­u­a­tions with wildlife, we di­min­ish their al­ready threatened ex­is­tences. Shannon Moneo is a writer and me­dia mon­i­tor who lives on Van­cou­ver Is­land.

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