By now you may have heard about this tragic bison story and perhaps read the numerous articles detailing the events and why they came about. If you haven’t, I’ve provided a link above that has some excellent information. The basic gist of the story is that tourist saw this adorable little calf, thought it looked cold and wanted to do what they perceived as the right thing. They put the calf into their car and drove to the ranger station for help. They were lacking in awareness and disconnected from how wildlife exists. They put their human thoughts and emotions onto this animal, instead of seeing the animal perspective and understanding how things work. Because of this, the park service was unable to reconnect the calf with it’s family. Animals may get rejected if they are covered in human scent. For this reason, the calf was put down. Such a cute little life was taken unfairly. This has caused outrage and a lot of people to ridicule the actions of the tourists. However, lashing out in a mean spirited way, won’t do much good. The truth is that this act isn’t really an isolated one. There are countless stories of people interacting with nature in ways they likely don’t see as harmful, but in fact are extremely harmful.
When the victim is adorable and the act results in a lost life, attention is drawn in a large scale way. The cause and effect are immediately apparent and clear, but there are a lot of much smaller scale ways that humans interact harmfully to nature that don’t get this attention. We might not see/understand the immediate cause and effect, and the victim might not be a cute animal, but let’s say a plant. Some things that immediately come to mind are feeding wild animals. We don’t immediately see issues like the food we consume being harmful/potentially deadly for them. For example, feeding ducks, geese, swan, etc. bread can cause a deformity called “angel wing,” which effects the wing joints and makes it so they can’t fly. This is their top defense against predators. http://www.onegreenplanet.org/animalsandnature/feeding-white-bread-to-wild-birds-is-killing-them/
We don’t immediately see the dependence that grows and makes survival a bit more difficult. We don’t immediately see things like sugar addiction being developed. The harm is there, but people aren’t connecting themselves with it. They are seeing cute and hungry, and doing what they perceive as harmless or even helpful. Another issue, that some not so knowledgeable climbers are guilty of, is ignoring access issues to improve their personal climbing experience. Chopping down plants/trees to make a certain rock more accessible, plopping down crash pads anywhere, leaving garbage, waste, or feminine hygiene products, etc.
These acts are all harmful, and most are done out of good yet misguided intentions, or lack of awareness. Possibly the worst and least justifiable offense, however, comes from the people who harm animals just to get selfies with them. I can’t understand this being anything but pure self absorption. It’s not done to help animals. In fact, sometimes it’s done with complete, blatant disregard for that animal’s life. One example is a group of men who saw an injured dolphin and decided to take a selfie instead of getting it help, or another group of people who pulled a dolphin out of the water to get photos and then just dropped it on the beach to die. You can read more about these examples and other’s here, if you have the stomach for it that is: http://www.alternet.org/environment/5-times-people-ruined-animals-lives-selfie
The list of examples could go on and on, but you probably get the point. As much as it feels good to rant and complain endlessly about this, and I sure could, it doesn’t improve the situation. Hearing a ranting and raving person, tends to cue people to tune out. So how do we fix it? Well, that question is sort of hard to answer. There are some definite first steps, but getting the information to everyone might require some clever thinking. One thing we do know is that many nature places have a plethora of information and warning signs, but these seem to be often disregarded. So people often don’t read. I mean think of all those instruction manuals you probably glaze over when getting a new product. The reading isn’t really exciting, and most people don’t want to bothered. So the approach needs to be a bit more exciting, attention catching, and perhaps something that holds a bit more accountability than a sign. Here are some things that might help:
- Make yourself knowledgeable. It doesn’t fix the whole problem, but it’s a start and it’s a start you are in full control of. Read up about wildlife in the areas you visit, be careful to follow the rules, and if you see someone doing something out of line, say something. If you see something wrong, but no one is there to inform, then just handle it as best you can. You can role model, spread the word, and at least be one less problem, right?
- Remind people that not everything follows human emotions, feelings, eating patterns, etc. What is cold to us, is not necessarily cold to an animal with fuzzy fur who is constantly outside and adapted to the terrain. Our favorite sugar coated, carb loaded treats, are not necessarily going to be great for a mostly grass eating animal that is not adapted to digest it. Feed animals you can feed, like birds, things that are appropriate, and just don’t feed the rest. They got this whole survival thing down, trust me on this.
- Educate people on what they can do. Everyone hates being told no, no, no! It’s a real downer topic and people hate being stopped from things. So what if instead of just pamphlets, signs, and lectures about “no,” we encourage safe ways to interact. For instance, feeding ducks bread is harmful according to science. Yet, the humane society says they love lettuce, kale, Swiss chard, and grapes. Maybe we could make positive postings about how happy our ducks would be with some yummy grapes. It inspires an idea, which is seen as more uplifting than the “no.” Maybe if friends see a picture of you smiling with a bunch of kale #offtofeedducks or whatever, they might jump on board with that over bread. I know you’re probably thinking this writer has no idea what makes a successful social media post, but you can do it in your own style as long as it’s not a stupid, harmful with duck selfie.
- Reach out to youth. If we reach kids early, like with literally every topic, it might have a lasting impact and just stick in their brain. Also youth are going to be the biggest perpetrators, because in a wide sweeping generalization, they are more likely to do things like take selfies and more likely to be out of touch with nature unless they have amazing parents. This doesn’t describe all kids, some are super smart, compassion, and great, but it does describe some common trends. The thing is, we can’t just pile this all on their teachers. I do work in schools and teachers have to handle everything! Even things like basic manners. So we need to relax on them a bit, and find other venues working with kids. Parks and recreation departments might be a cool avenue, or if you can find a way to make these kinds of topics super fun and cool, like sneak them into a bestselling video game or movie? More realistic might be youth groups in churches, climbing gyms, summer camps, etc. Maybe pair it up with a fun activity like hiking or snorkeling. It could be made into a great mentoring activity too.
- Donate/Volunteer: You can always lend a hand to organizations already doing this stuff. The Access Fund comes to mind with climbing. There are also a huge number of wildlife organizations that work to protect animals with legislation, rescue, etc.
- Be careful you are discouraging bad behavior instead of encouraging it. When people do things like talking selfies with wild animals, make sure you show your disapproval in a mature way. Let them know it’s wrong and why. You could also report it. Things like public shaming, however, are not the best approach. Unless you are sharing that picture with information about why it’s wrong, you might be doing more harm. First, you could be unintentionally giving that person more of the fame they crave. Secondly, if you are using mean words and insults, people might just dismiss you as not credible instead of understanding what ill doing happening.
- Along with discouraging bad behavior, encourage those doing it right. If you see someone doing a trash clean up, and that person isn’t serving community service or from the prison, but just willingly doing it, let them know it’s awesome. There is a woman that lives down my street that pulls a wagon with her bike and picks up all the trash she sees and collects it in the wagon. She is awesome and deserves to know it. You could also help out to show support. Or if you see someone sharing a status about feeding ducks lettuce and not bread, though this probably wouldn’t happen, give it a like and say that’s a cool idea. Support those doing it right.
- If you have the means, make it easier to do the right thing. The fact that some fast food places now put trash cans outside and within reach of those driving through, is pretty cool. It helps discourage throwing trash out your car window onto the side of the road. Though it might seem lazy and ridiculous, the people that throw trash out their windows often are, so you’re meeting them at their level to make things better. Or when places have clearly labeled recycle bins. Some people don’t know how to recycle and sometimes it’s a little confusing how to recycle certain objects because it’s not as clear cut as say a cardboard box. It helps make them more likely to do it, because it’s just so easy.
- Spread knowledge to those you can reach. Maybe post some inspiring tips or key information on social media. It might get people to “unfollow” you, but it might also get people to notice.
These tips are all pretty easy, and not nearly good enough to totally fix the issue, but it’s a start and starting somewhere matters. If you have ideas of your own, I’d be psyched to hear them and add them on to this list. Please leave a comment, if you do!