THE WILD ANIMALS IN OUR COMMUNITIES ENRICH OUR LIVES AND REPRESENT A VITAL LINK TO THE NATURAL WORLD. YET, AS OUR GROWING RESIDENTIAL AND COMMERCIAL DEVELOPMENTS FURTHER DISPLACE WILDLIFE BY TAKING OVER THEIR SPACE, WE ARE FACED WITH RESOLVING CONFLICTS WITH WILD ANIMALS WHO FIND THEIR WAY INTO OUR YARDS, GARDENS, HOUSES, PARKS, AND PLAYGROUNDS.
John Hadidian, director of urban wildlife programs for The Humane Society of the United States and primary author of Wild Neighbors: The Humane Approach to Living with Wildlife, believes that to peacefully coexist with wildlife, it is essential to understand the root cause of conflicts and the behavior of animals, so that appropriate and successful measures can be taken. His book addresses more than 35 wildlife species and presents humane solutions as morally and ethically correct concepts, grounded in logical, durable, and environmentally responsible views.
The following thought-provoking excerpt from the first chapter examines the larger issues that engage us as a society in our interaction with wild animals.
THE HUMANE APPROACH TO LIVING WITH WILDLIFE
Human beings may never have a better chance to live in harmony with wildlife than they do now. For most of the time we have spent on the North American continent, we have used (and often abused) the wild animals who live among us. Today, we no longer depend on them for food or fur, and the notion that they exist solely to provide recreation and diversionary pleasures for our kind is discredited. Once-decimated populations are recovering and on the move into what common sense would argue are the least likely places to offer hospitality – our cities and towns. To wild animals, an opportunity is an opportunity, and if we grow plants they like to eat or offer shelter in uncapped chimneys, that is fine by them. We now meet them again, after so many years of estrangement and unfamiliarity, hoping that it is with the understanding and the will to harmonize our lives with theirs.
Once we viewed wildlife as a “resource” there for the taking; now we see wild animals as members of living communities to which we also belong. These communities work in complex ways to form ecosystems, about whose well-being we have become urgently concerned. In acknowledging that concern, we are encouraged to reject an anthropocentric perspective (the idea that humans are the center of the living world) and accept a biocentric one (embracing the idea that we are a part of, not apart from, other living things). In turn, this leads us to give ever greater moral consideration to the animals and the environments that sustain us all.
Still, our lives are not likely ever to be free of conflicts with wild animals. In fact, as our population grows and expands, conflicts are likely to continue to arise. This does not mean, however, that we must choose lethal solutions in seeking to resolve them. It is not right to kill problem-causing wildlife simply because it is within our power to do so.
The term “environment” means different things to different people. To The Humane Society of the United States, it means a community of living things and the processes that sustain it. Respect for the environment tends to encourage us to intervene less often with natural processes and practice more often the art of patience in allowing natural laws to resolve conflicts. There are great powers in natural systems that human beings cannot control at all, and lesser ones that we can, but should not. The foundation of the humane approach is in working with natural processes rather than against them.
Tolerance and understanding are necessary prerequisites to fostering respect for the environment. Respect is essential to fostering the intent needed to commit to nonlethal conflict resolution. People are insatiably curious about the world, and this curiosity can be used in many positive ways. A small start would be to reject irrational fear of wild animals. No life should ever be taken out of ignorance and misunderstanding.
For many reasons human beings cannot currently resolve every human-wildlife conflict using nonlethal means. It is possible, however, to address each conflict intending to do so. We really have only just begun to investigate and understand the considerable arsenal of ideas, tools, and techniques at our disposal to resolve conflicts with wild animals without causing them, us, or the environment harm. Voices ranging from Walt Whitman’s to Albert Einstein’s have spoken with concern that human beings’ technological capability seems to outstrip our ability to grasp the moral implications of its use. That is certainly true with respect to how easily, and how completely, we can use lethal methods against wild animals. The ease and expediency of lethal controls demand that a much greater effort be expended to advocate and adopt the nonlethal.
Humane approaches to dealing with wildlife will not be created because we compose and publish books, brochures, or videos on the subject. They will only come about from the intent of a majority to adopt change. Some of the signs pointing toward this possibility are encouraging, others are not. It is our commitment to our wild neighbors to continue working to create a world in which we all can live in harmony.
From Wild Neighbors: The Humane Approach to Living with Wildlife by John Hadidian. Copyright ©2007 The Humane Society of the United States. Reprinted by arrangement with the publisher. To order a copy, please visit the Humane Society Press Web site at www.humanesocietypress.org.
HELPING OUR WILD NEIGHBORS
In spring and summer, people frequently find baby wild animals and assume they are orphaned and need help. However, whether or not an animal is orphaned depends upon the animal’s age, species, and circumstance. The following tips will help determine if an animal needs help. You can contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator by calling your local humane society or fish and game agency for a referral.
Nestlings (naked or with beginning feathers)
If a nestling has fallen out of the nest, try to return the bird to the nest. It’s a myth that birds abandon their chicks if a person touches them. If the original nest is destroyed or out of reach, get a woven stick or wicker basket (from a florist shop, dollar or garden store) and hang it as close to the original nest as possible. Make sure the basket isn’t too deep – parent birds will not jump into anything they can’t see out of. Watch for the return of the parents by gluing your eyes to the new nest. Parent birds can zip in quickly to feed their young. If no parents return within two hours, call a rehabilitator.
Fledglings (feathered, sometimes with tufts)
These are young birds who are learning to fly from the ground up, which may take several days. They are often misperceived as injured birds because they “can’t fly.” Telltale signs of a fledgling are a bird that is full-sized, fully feathered but has a short tail. Watch closely and you should see a parent fly over to feed the fledgling. If no parent appears for hours and the bird chirps nonstop, he’s probably in trouble and a rehabilitator should be contacted.
Rabbit nests are usually found in a shallow, fur-lined depression in the grass. The mother rabbit only visits twice a day to nurse her young so that predators aren’t attracted to the nest. If the nest has been disturbed, or if you think the babies are orphaned, re-cover the nest with surrounding natural materials (grass, fur) and put an “X” of yarn or string over it. If the mother returns, she’ll push the X off, nurse the babies, then re-cover the nest. If the X remains intact 12 hours later, the babies are most likely orphaned. If a cat has gotten a baby rabbit, the rabbit will need to go to a rehabilitator immediately.
People mistakenly assume that a fawn is orphaned if found alone and quiet. It is normal for the mother to “park” her fawn in one spot for a month until the fawn is big enough to start traveling with her. The doe only visits and nurses her fawn a few times a day to avoid attracting predators. Only if the mother is known to be dead or the fawn is wandering and crying incessantly should you intervene and contact a wildlife rehabilitator.
Reprinted by arrangement with The Humane Society of the United States.