For Release September 4, 2005

Leave Mother Nature Alone

by Chuck Otte, Geary County Extension Agent

As we were all growing up, we were instilled with certain traits like compassion and protection. We don't want to see anyone, or anything, suffer. So we all tend to look at the entire world around us through these "filters". Unfortunately, this logic starts to fall apart when we humans interact with everything else in the ecosystem around us, especially those non human creatures known as wildlife.

Terms such as kindness and cruelty are truly human judgment terms. We may say that a cat is being cruel to a mouse when it plays with it before it eats it. But that cat is simply doing what its instincts tell it to do. To say that the cat is cruel is to imply that the cat knows that it is being cruel. I'm sure some folks will disagree with me, but I say that the can't doesn't know.

I can't imagine that there wasn't a one of us, as a child, that found a young animal of some kind and tried to care for it so it didn't die. In many cases the small creature probably did die and we felt terrible and we felt like failures. But let's face it, humans make terrible animal parents. We are poorly equipped to think like a rabbit, a robin or a squirrel.

The natural world exists under rules that we humans have problems understanding or accepting. For most species, it's eat or be eaten. Be on your toes or be lunch! In fact, this simple concept is crucial to the survival of most species. Studies have shown that in excess of 60% of the birds that hatched this hatched, will not be alive a year from now. If 90% of the creatures born or hatched each year survived to adulthood, we would have a terrible problem. The natural world depends on high mortality rates.

Two recent events really drove this point home to me. The very kind person that called me last weekend was truly and sincerely concerned about the young squirrels that they were seeing. She was certain that the mother was dead and these skin and bone young squirrels were going to die. I probably didn't make any friends when my advice was to leave them alone. Humans don't make good squirrel parents, squirrels don't make good pets, and wildlife rehab centers don't need more squirrels. The squirrels may have been very normal young squirrels and they may have been very capable of taking care of themselves. And if not, it's the way the natural world works.

An e-mail from a friend a few days later drew a very similar response. A Canada goose from this year's brood on a local pond had deformed wings and was unable to fly out to feed like it's siblings. Was there someplace that this goose could be taken so it didn't die this winter? My response was equally poorly received. Don't do a thing. 100 years ago, it would be taken by a hawk, an eagle or a bobcat, perhaps a wolf. That's the natural cycle. It's not like Canada geese are an endangered species. By human standards, letting that goose die or taken by a predator sounds cruel. But that's the process in the natural world.

As humans, it is our responsibility to be humane to animals. We know the difference. Sadly for us, the most humane thing, sometimes, is to do nothing. The challenge is knowing when to take action. There is no right or wrong answer because it is a gray area without defined boundaries. When it comes to wildlife the best action is oft times no action at all. It's not an easy decision to make, but we need to learn that lesson, and help the children to understand it as well.


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