There seem to be two driving forces behind wild animal interaction that keep it and the exotic pet trade thriving.
“Can I touch her?”
“Take my picture.”
“I want one of those!”
What’s this need that we humans have for wild animal interaction? To touch them? Have our photo taken with them? Even to own them?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m just as guilty as the next person. I’ve done my share of touching and petting. However, now I realize that it’s not a good idea. Wild animal interaction is really rather one sided, rather selfish. It only fills a human need. Truly wild animals have no need to interact with humans. Jeff Wilson, a retired zoo keeper, says, “Wild animal interaction is generally harmful. Other than a few instances of people helping animals in distress it’s hard to imagine anything good coming out of wild animals interacting with humans.”
So why does it happen?
Why this obsession with wild animal interaction?
Since my days of enlightenment. That means, since I’ve been more involved in wildlife conservation I’ve learned a few things from the experts. I by no means claim to have all the answers, on the contrary, I think I have more questions now than answers. However, there seems to be a common thread that drives most everything in most countries… money.
“Follow the money,” they say and you’ll get to the root of most every problem, from wildlife conservation to medical care.
When wild animal interaction is about money
When humans invite other humans to engage in wild animal interaction it is generally for one reason only… to make money. The invitation to pet a lion or cheetah cub, to have your photo taken hugging a lion or walking with a cheetah is a way to attract tourists. It’s rarely about lion or cheetah conservation… don’t be fooled. It’s mostly about bringing in more humans who pay more money. And no, the money doesn’t go to release the big cats like lion and cheetah back into the wild. Once humanized they are doomed to a life in captivity or being killed in a canned hunt.
It’s gotten to be quite the rage. Even so called sanctuaries and some rescue centers have sadly succumbed to the practice of petting or walking with lions and cheetah. Sure in some cases captive bred or unreleasable animals are used for education. These ambassadors are often the only wild animal (or bird) many will ever see. And how can we expect a human to care for, let alone protect, something there’s no connection to.
Is wild animal interaction for the purpose of education, awareness and connection okay? Where is the fine line? Where does wild animal interaction break over into being exploitative, abusive and even immoral?
Although there may be some grey areas it would seem quite simple… if the outfit appears to be all about making a profit it probably is. So why are we humans easily tricked into allowing common sense to go out the window?
When wild animal interaction is about psychological need
Why isn’t watching enough? Why do we humans seem to have this need to interact with wild creatures? According to LiveScience, the…
“need for connection with the wild is part of human nature, but wild-animal chasing may also stem from isolation or machismo, psychologists say.
This desire to form emotional connections with non-human living creatures, a term dubbed biophilia by the biologist E.O. Wilson, has only gotten stronger as humans have traded forest-dwelling for office cubicles and concrete jungles, said Susan Clayton, a psychology and environmental studies researcher at the College of Wooster in Ohio.”
So there we have it. With all the progress of the western/modern world have we lost touch with true reality?
It seems that the further removed our lives get from nature the more we are drawn to it in a dysfunctional sort of way. We no longer dig in the dirt with the earth worms or run through the bush with the impala watching out for lions. We’ve lost much.
For one I believe we’ve lost the sense that we’re part of a big whole. Instead we feel so in control. When we’re cold we turn up the heat. When we’re hot we turn on the air conditioning. We’re into instant gratification. When we feel like an ice cream we drive on down to the local ice cream shop. When something breaks we can immediately replace it. We no longer have to go along with the natural growing cycles, the natural rhythm of the seasons, of life.
Maybe this shift in the human experience has created a void. Maybe we strive to fill this void by reaching out to what the soul innately recognizes to be healing. Only we go about it all wrong. Instead of simply, quietly becoming part of nature’s world we do one of two things; try to capture a brief healing experience via petting and taking selfies and/or bringing the wild into our home, by buying an exotic pet.
Our obsession with owning exotic pets
Cats and dogs have been domesticated for ions it seems. However, some folks aren’t satisfied with that. They want something untamed, something wild to control, to dominate. Exotic pets range from cheetah to iguana and from monkeys to brightly colored birds.
Did you know, many rescue centers end up with ex-pets? Silke at Bambelela has her share of monkeys in rehabilitation. Little tiny monkeys are cute, but when they grow up the wildness shows up. They begin to bite as they reach sexual maturity and the natural instinct to mate kicks in. Shannon with the African Bird of Prey Sanctuary deals with eagles and hawks that were no longer wanted as pets and now can’t be returned to the wild.
By now it’s old news that parrots, rare monkeys and other exotic animals are stolen from the wild to be sold in pet stores. These creatures, frequently members of threatened or even endangered species are ‘harvested’ by the thousands to meet the selfish demands of humans.
Biologist and medical scientist Clifford Warwick (Fellow of the Royal Society for Public Health, Fellow of the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics, and Fellow of the Royal Society of Biology) said it best:
“My extensive experience of the exotic pet trade has shown me a business based on destruction. From welfare issues surrounding capture, handling, captive-breeding, storage and transport to conservation and ecological damage wrought by greedy traders bent on harvesting any animal capable of sale, and a sector of people willing to confine them to bedrooms and lounges.
In the UK around 47 million exotic pets are kept, mostly fish. Globally, the pet trade exploits over 4,000 wild animal species. The true scale and value are unknown, but what we have learned is staggering. For example, just the illegal wildlife business including both dead and live animals is estimated to be between $10 – 20 billion a year.”
But before we throw in the towel… Please, if you care at all about the preservation of wildlife resist any commercial wild animal interaction and don’t buy an exotic pet from your local pet store or online… ever.