Coexistence perspectives from wildlife experts

I follow a lot of wildlife rehabbers on Facebook. Like, A LOT. More than just the cute animal pics they share, these folks are a wealth of knowledge about animal species, human-wildlife conflict, and what it takes to rehab. They’re a great source for research, and even if their posts are sometimes sad, they’re a great reminder that we’re all connected — every living being.

That connection is the foundation for the Living Wild Side by Side series, but in the day-to-day of research and planning logistics for my next book launch and running the rest of my freelance writing business, it can be hard to remember to write about why this series exists. That’s why, when a friend shared this post on Facebook, I asked the original poster’s permission to share it:

Ruu Weist is a volunteer with the Saco River Wildlife Center in Maine.

Can’t see the image? Here’s the post in full:

Someone asked me a question about wildlife rehab tonight that- while meant innocently and was posed to satisfy genuine curiosity- got me thinking about the way we as a whole look at wild animals.

The question was “Why save them when they’re so common?” She was asking about raccoons, specifically.

Raccoons, squirrels, crows, herring gulls: people seem to have no qualms expressing their desire to kill these species, or actually killing them. Why? Because these animals committed the sin of being good at surviving in sight of people. Because it’s not convenient for people to just secure their trash or upkeep their home so animals can’t den in attics. Because they’re everywhere, and if an animal is everywhere, then it’s not important.

Ruu Weist, Saco River Wildlife Center, Maine

And I caught myself starting to answer with ways raccoons can be beneficial to people. I stopped midway through, looked at her, and said “You know, we save them because they don’t have to be here to benefit humans in order to live. The babies didn’t decide to be orphaned, or the adults choose to be hit by a car, and it’s not right to let them suffer and die simply because WE can’t make use out of them.”

Because that’s what rehabbers have to do in order to convince people not to just slaughter the wildlife they don’t want in their yards. They have to put out info about each species and what they can do for us- opossums eat ticks, skunks eat other ‘pest’ insects, foxes keep the mice under control, etc. It’s worse for the animals that are more common, which is usually a result of them just being able to adapt to urban life better. Raccoons, squirrels, crows, herring gulls: people seem to have no qualms expressing their desire to kill these species, or actually killing them. Why? Because these animals committed the sin of being good at surviving in sight of people. Because it’s not convenient for people to just secure their trash or upkeep their home so animals can’t den in attics. Because they’re everywhere, and if an animal is everywhere, then it’s not important.

No animal should have to be rare or directly beneficial to humans in order to be treated with the same respect and morals as a dog, or a lion, or a whale.

Besides, every animal is common until- suddenly and often as a result of people- it’s not.

What can “common” animals teach us?

Ruu’s post caught my eye because over the last few years volunteering with Izzie’s Pond, I’ve seen the effects that 10 years’ worth of development has had on “common” wildlife and the environment. The habitat destruction is just the start of a chain reaction of deleterious effects on the rest of an ecosystem. Other rehabbers have told me of “common” animals like hawks starving because they must suddenly compete for both food and shelter. More animals forced into smaller zones are at higher risk for diseases like canine distemper, which I wrote about for Izzie’s Pond

Besides — we and our kids miss out on so much when we live in homogenized environments. I think of the two hours I stood at a window at my father’s shipyard office when I was a teen, watching seagull parents take turns flying off to forage, then returning to feed their chick. Or the little girl whose family dog had scared away most of a family of raccoons, leaving one little one clinging to their fence — so her daddy, acting on advice from Izzie’s Pond, safely contained the baby (and the dog!) for a day until the raccoon mom could come back for her baby that night.

To me, the more “common” something is, the greater the opportunity. We can learn so much about ourselves through observing other species, including our own weaknesses and errors in assumption. That was the topic of another Facebook post by Toronto wildlife control expert Brad Gates:

The video shows how the situation unfolded but what it doesn’t explain is the perspective I gained through experiencing an animal home invasion first hand…. While I have always sympathized with how distraught some of my customers feel having unwanted wild animals in their house, I can only now truly empathize with the range of emotions and feelings that they must have. Having the initial thought that the noise could be that of a burglar and the safety of your family may be at risk is terrible. Not to mention contemplating the damage to insulation and wires and the unfathomable situation if the animal could fall through the drywall ceiling, though not very likely.

I do understand the anger that some of my customers have towards the animals that break into their house but in most situations, it can be prevented. Every building has components that are vulnerable to animal intrusion and until we take the measures to animal proof them, we are putting out the “Welcome” sign. 

Making time and room for other species

The fact is, we can coexist and even thrive together with wildlife — people do it successfully all the time!

  • Some welcome backyard wildlife with food and water, sometimes even setting up nature cameras to capture photos and video of our fellow species.
  • Measures like oral vaccines can control the spread of diseases like rabies
  • Taking the opportunity to learn animals’ body language can help us understand how to respect their warnings and let them go their way — even if it adds a few extra moments to our day.

That’s really what it comes down to: making room, making time, and acknowledging that even being the most intelligent species doesn’t mean we have all the answers. That’s what the Living Wild Side by Side series aims to show.

Do you agree with what you’ve read here? Please click here to learn more about Raccoon Rescue and the forthcoming books in the series, and sign up at Patreon to support my publishing and education efforts!

Image by Sascha Barth from Pixabay

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