Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Leave No Trace: Respect Wildlife

In the spring of 2017, a video started to make the rounds. A little girl was sitting on the edge of a dock in Vancouver, British Columbia, "playing" with a sea lion. It appears that the girl and the family of the girl had been feeding the animal prior to what happened next:

The girl was pulled into the water by the animal. Thankfully, she was quickly rescued.

So why did the animal attack the girl...?

The answer is easy. The family had been feeding the sea lion. The sea lion wanted more and grabbed the girl to get more.

This is not a new story. Bears in many US states and in Canada have become habituated to humans and human food. The result is twofold. 1) There are more bear maulings where bears are habituated to human food and 2) more bears need to be put down because of this desire for human food.

It's no different with other animals. Squirrels fed in the Grand Canyon have to be killed or removed because they tend to bite people. Burros in Red Rock Canyon approach the road looking for food only to bite and kick people...while occasionally also causing serious car accidents. Gray Jay's -- also known as camp robber birds -- will land on people in the hopes of getting food, and thus unlearn how to find food themselves.

And the mice... Dear God, the mice. How many campgrounds and camp areas are overrun by mice because people have left food out or have been careless with their crumbs...?

The desert tortoise is incredibly fragile. Touching a tortoise can have a major 
impact on the animal. It may get scared and pee itself, which is a very big problem
for an animal with limited access to water.

Wild animals simply shouldn't be fed, whether on purpose or by accident. A animal that's been fed is a problem for people who might be around the animal...it might bite or harass them. And it's a problem for the animal. The animal might no longer be able to find food itself.

Food is only one problem with wild animals. Another is the idea that people can pet them or take pictures with them or touch them. None of these things are good ideas. There are many stories of people trying to treat a wild animal like a pet, and then being hurt or killed as a result.

The sixth principle of Leave No Trace is to Respect Wildlife. Following is a write-up from the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics page on this subject.

Learn about wildlife through quiet observation. Do not disturb wildlife or plants just for a "better look". Observe wildlife from a distance so they are not scared or forced to flee. Large groups often cause more damage to the environment and can disturb wildlife so keep your group small. If you have a larger group, divide into smaller groups if possible to minimize your impacts.

Quick movements and loud noises are stressful to animals. Travel quietly and do not pursue, feed or force animals to flee. (One exception is in bear country where it is good to make a little noise so as not to startle the bears) In hot or cold weather, disturbance can affect an animals ability to withstand the rigorous environment. Do not touch, get close to, feed or pick up wild animals. It is stressful to the animal, and it is possible that the animal may harbor rabies or other diseases. Sick or wounded animals can bite, peck or scratch and send you to the hospital. Young animals removed or touched by well-meaning people may cause the animals parents to abandon them. If you find sick animals or animal in trouble, notify a game warden.

Considerate campers observe wildlife from afar, give animals a wide berth, store food securely, and keep garbage and food scraps away from animals. Remember that you are a visitor to their home.

Allow animals free access to water sources by giving them the buffer space they need to feel secure. Ideally, camps should be located 200 feet or more from existing water sources. This will minimize disturbance to wildlife and ensure that animals have access to their precious drinking water. By avoiding water holes at night, you will be less likely to frighten animals because desert dwellers are usually most active after dark. With limited water in arid lands, desert travelers must strive to reduce their impact on the animals struggling for survival.

Washing and human waste disposal must be done carefully so the environment is not polluted, and animals and aquatic life are not injured. Swimming in lakes or streams is OK in most instances but in desert areas, leave scarce water holes undisturbed and unpolluted so animals may drink from them.

--Jason D. Martin

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