Friend or foe: how to build respect for wildlife, not fear

A powerful photo is on the Calgary Herald’s website this week, after one of their photographers snapped a group of tourists getting far too close to a mule deer in Banff.

The Herald spoke with a WildSmart coordinator from Bow Valley, who summed up why crowding a deer in the town would be a bad idea.

“They’re big giant animals with big giant antlers,” Tyler McCluretold The Herald.“They could do a lot of damage.”

McClure noted that the ungulates are used to having people around, so will walk through the town “nonchalantly.” But that doesn’t mean they should be approached.

In fact, it is outright dangerous. As McClure said, these are often large animals who, when they want or need to, will not hesitate to knock over a few bipeds to get where they’re going. With some animals like squirrels or raccoons, that danger isn’t so easy to see. With others, like bears or coyotes, one would think it’d be obvious.

But where’s the line between educating people to respect wildlife, and using fear to force them to respect animals?

Fear is a powerful entity; the threat or idea of potential bodily harm can drastically alter someone’s actions. It could play a significant role in preventing such dangerous situations as people approaching wildlife in Banff. But that same fear is what leads to mass culls of animals, the slaughter of wildlife families.

Teaching safe, compassionate wildlife viewing to tourists and some residents may take time and patience. If we want the conversation about respecting wildlife to end well, we need to start it with respect, too.

Politely remind visitors, friends, and family not to feed wild animals, or interact with them inappropriately. The animals have learned to live among us, we must now learn to live among them.


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