This summer, treat wild animals with respect
Creatures are not there for our entertainment, Shannon Moneo says.
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.