..Yellowstone – A Petting Zoo?


This excerpted article from the DailySentinel.com gives us pause when considering the mindset of our population:

Field and Forest Facts:

Close encounters of the fatal kind By PAUL H. RISK Contributing writer:

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

“A little over a week ago Steve Irwin, the wildlife personality known as The Crocodile Hunter, was killed while filming stingrays in the ocean off the coast of Australia. According to reports, as he swam closely over the ray it flicked its tail up and drove its barbed, venomous “sting” into his chest. Apparently, the spine, 6 to 10 inches long, penetrated his heart, and he died immediately.

Irwin was known for his close and frequently risky encounters with crocodiles, venomous reptiles and other animals. He was famous for picking up cobras and other deadly snakes as well as wrestling crocodiles. A very popular and likeable man, Irwin’s death was a tragedy. However, given his propensity to handle and otherwise have melodramatic and seemingly cavalier close contact with deadly animals, his death was not altogether a surprise.

Some years ago a family visiting a wildlife preserve approached a bison lying down near the fence. The husband wanted to take a picture of the huge animal but preferably with the buffalo standing. He stood outside the fence and yelled, trying to startle the animal into arising. No luck. So, ignoring signs warning visitors to stay outside the enclosure, he crawled through the fence and kicked the animal in the side. Success. It stood up. But then everything changed. Before the horrified eyes of his family the bison charged the man and killed him. Why should that be a surprise?

At Yellowstone National Park a visitor unwisely walked closer and closer to a moose, again in an attempt to get a picture. The moose finally lost its sense of humor and attacked. After chasing the man around a tree a couple of times it gored him and tossed him into the air. Rapidly losing blood from a lacerated artery in his leg, he was rushed to the hospital where he narrowly escaped death.

For years park visitors at Yellowstone and other parks persisted in feeding bears. One woman gave her small daughter a peanut butter sandwich and encouraged her to offer it to a bear. The animal clawed the girl from her elbow to her fingers, opening the flesh to the bone. In another case, a bear was coaxed into a visitor’s car so a picture could be taken of the animal behind the wheel. All went well until the bruin was asked to get out. He’d taken a liking to the vehicle and became upset when asked to leave. It was finally evicted, but not before thoroughly destroying the vehicle’s interior.

Swim-with-dolphins programs are increasingly popular at marine nature centers. Visitors enter the water with the dolphins where they touch, stroke and feed them. The idea seems to be that dolphins are benign cuddly creatures that would never hurt a fly, let along a person. After all, they talk!

Usually, these experiences are harmless and the visitors go away with memories of an unusual, pleasant and exciting experience. Human injuries from dolphins are very rare. However, there have been instances in which dolphins have butted swimmers, shattering face masks and even breaking limbs and ribs. Dolphins are very powerful and have been known to kill sharks by ramming them.

Nature centers and zoos offer visitors petting enclosures, tide-pool tanks and terrariums where visitors have the opportunity to touch and handle a wide variety of wildlife and farm animals. Large, specially designed buildings with enclosed tropical ecosystems allow visitors to walk among monkeys, birds and butterflies where visitors get the inaccurate impression that they are one with the jungle and its creatures.

In cities, people put out food for wild raccoons and coyotes in an effort to develop a special relationship with them. As a result, raccoons with an attitude sometimes bite the hands that feed them, and coyotes in California have attacked small children and joggers.

All these experiences show that people are very interested in wild animals, which is good, but too many are extremely naïve about wildlife behavior. Nature centers and television programs that encourage touchy, feely interactions with wild animals or worse, glorify close and potentially fatal contact with them, are questionable, at best.

Moreover, our population has become more urban, less rural and less knowledgeable about the outdoors. A distinct and unrealistic separation from the wild outdoors has taken place, sometimes with fatal consequences. Disneyesque cartoons of loveable skunks, bunnies and deer named Bambi have enhanced this attitude. I’ve often called this the Bambi, Beauty and Bounteous Love Effect. The bottom line is that whether we like it or not, wild animals, whether aquatic, marine or terrestrial are — wild!

What a surprise! In spite of what fairy tales lead us to believe, wild creatures do not reason at the same level as humans and many of them are dangerous and unpredictable. Don’t expect human reactions from them. As my students would probably say, “get real.”

To that we say; Right On!

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