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Since When Did We All Become Wildlife Experts?

Since When Did We All Become Wildlife Experts?

In the past, the ethical and moral questions about how to handle a wild animal’s suffering were usually left up to the judgement of wildlife experts. These days, the human and wild worlds are increasingly bumping into each other. While the proximity began in the physical world with humans entering the wilderness more frequently, now animal lovers from every corner are one click away from becoming invested in the well-being of wild animals that they’ll never meet through social media.

Ultimately, does our emotional investment help or hinder the quality of life of wild animals?

Wild Animal Suffering

Take for example a recent case in Minnesota where a wounded moose‘s suffering spread all over social media. As reported in Daily Digest News (DDN), animal lovers took to social media to express their anger and frustration because the moose was missing its tail. Should nature take its course? Should wildlife experts intervene and humanely end the animal’s suffering? It seemed like everyone had an opinion.

The moose with the missing tail isn’t the first example of such social media outcry. Thousands of viewers tuned in to watch a baby eagle with a broken wing trapped in its nest just wanting to fly free.

The thousands of viewers also saw wildlife authorities not taking any action to help the bird. As DDN reports, Lori Naumann from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources explained, “Social media had a big impact on our decision-making process. My phone blew up. My email blew up.”

The public’s persistence eventually mobilized wildlife authorities to intervene, and the baby eagle got veterinary care. Unfortunately, it was more than a broken wing; the baby eagle’s systemic infection and bad wing meant that it couldn’t survive on its own and live free of pain, so the veterinarians euthanized the wild animal.

The same public outcry that mobilized help for the baby eagle also mobilized a campaign of hate over the eagle being euthanized. DDN reported how Naumann was forced to go to social media extremes by deleting posts and blocking individual users because of the hateful messages.

Helping or Hurting Wild Animals?

Some could argue that the social media mobilization in the baby eagle example was counterproductive because the PR nightmare took away the experts’ time and resources from doing their job and helping other animals. When did the average person become a wildlife expert and able to tell them how to do their job? Although, there’s a possibility that an animal could’ve been saved, and it wouldn’t have been possible without the care and concern of strangers.

Most of us feel indebted to the animals that we know another human has purposefully hurt. Come on, didn’t you want justice for the weak and starving brown pelican with the human-inflicted wound? I think anyone with a pulse and an iota of compassion did.

Yet, do we still have that ethical obligation when we’re not sure if the wild animal is in pain and suffering because of us? I don’t know.

If we remove our emotions from the pain and suffering of other sentient beings, then we’ll remember that the natural world isn’t as idyllic as we like to romanticize. As DDN writes, Richard Dawkins explains, “During the minute it takes me to compose this sentence, thousands of animals are being eaten alive.”

If they’re not being eaten, then they are running for their lives. They could be in the last battle of their lives where only one will come out alive. They slowly could be succumbing to deadly diseases introduced by parasites, and there are many more realities taking place in the natural world every second. Yet, in nature’s infinite wisdom, even a dead carcass has a role in the natural order of life, e.g. a meal for vultures. It’s a cycle that we break when we intervene to alleviate one animal’s suffering.

So, should we just remove our emotions, butt out and leave these instances of animal pain and suffering to actual wildlife experts or not? As the human and wild worlds get closer, both online and offline, it’s a question that we’ll undoubtedly run into again.

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Photo Credit: Rob Bixby

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86 comments

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8:52AM PDT on Jun 20, 2014

Yes, we should all "butt in" when there is a animal suffering.

9:52PM PDT on Jun 13, 2014

I whole-heartedly agree with Anne M. That is how the system should work. But I think in many ways it depends on the situation. I do agree that wildlife and death happens - no doubt. But in cases such as car accidents, power poles, any number of things - if the animal can be rescued it should be - even if it is only for humane euthanization. My conscience would not allow me to leave an animal to suffer.

8:28PM PDT on Jun 10, 2014

"Мы должны помочь в дороге всем, кто ждет подмоги.", that means in Russian: "We should help on our way to everyone who is waiting for help." - These are the words of a song from one good children's New Year fairy tale about two brave kids. For most cases we should try to take it as the action guide, I belive.

8:11PM PDT on Jun 9, 2014

Noted

9:39PM PDT on Jun 8, 2014

As an AUSTRALIAN wildlife rescue volunteer, it is imperative that the 'general public' do become involved. There is a 3 fold reason why !
1. So the relevant Authorities can be notified to get a rescuer to the scene as fast as possible.
2. That the animal can be accurately assessed by an experienced person, this sometimes involves using tranquilizing then subsequent euthanasia
3. Alternatively the animal is taken to either a vet for further assessment or to a volunteer ( registered ) shelter run by an expert pertaining to the particular animal species ie: Birds, Raptor specialist, Koala etc
In Australia it is a criminal offence not to assist injured wildlife particularly if the person who injured the animal eg, hit by a car, doesn't render immediate help. If it leaves the scene and another person/vehicle gets their rego number they are prosecuted.
My absolute favorite environment care statement was made by Sir David Attenborough."Instead of controlling the environment for the benefit of the population, maybe we should control the population to ensure the survival of our environment" I agree the ecosystem is there for a purpose, humans don't seem to give a damn.

5:09PM PDT on Jun 8, 2014

Interseting article. I agree with Nimue P. I've taken many an injured animal to our wonderful local wildlife hospital and I don't regret it for a minute. I cried bitterly for those who were too injured to be saved but at least I knew they were free from pain and from suffering. If I see an animal suffering then, for me, I just cannot, I just will not, knowingly let them suffer. It may be easy for others to walk away but certainly not for me.

6:06PM PDT on Jun 7, 2014

Very well said, John and June O.

I have to wonder about what kind of people were involved in this social media campaign to save an eaglet whose injuries occurred in his own nest. They were definitely NOT people with sufficient interest in animals to have ever watched a nature special, or they'd have known that his injuries were inflicted by a parent or a sibling, and that's just the way nature works. And no, we don't intervene.

2:32AM PDT on Jun 7, 2014

I love the way some people are so disconnected with the natural world that they don't even realise that man is the biggest and most ruthless predator....

11:45PM PDT on Jun 6, 2014

Thanks for the article.....it is a Catch22...most people think of animals as pets but they're not..wildlife serves our ecosystems and biodiversity...so if you find an injured animal the main aim is to release it back as close as possible to where it was found once it has been rehabilitated...if it has been rehabilitated but can not be released back into the wild then someone has to look after it..and it becomes a pet...but not all animals can be pets...so they have to go to zoos, circuses or places like Sea World, etc..and the same social media will get upset about that too..the best way to reduce injuries is to be mindful of everything you buy but even more careful with everything you throw away...don't throw food scraps out of you car window it attracts wildlife close to the road..all rubbish usually ends up in the waterways..then oceans, etc

7:59PM PDT on Jun 6, 2014

If we can help animals, then we should, any way we can. We are usually responsible for their suffering, one way or another, so it's up to us to intervene to help. We must do this, it's our moral obligation.

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