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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Publisher’s Notebook

• Please Keep the Wild Wild •


I received a disturbing email this week. It appears well intentioned, but it describes actions that violate state law, federal law and even raise questions with regard to the international Migratory Bird Treaty Act—behavior that, as outlined, appears to ignore potential major, if not fatal, effects on the wildlife it discusses.
There is no need to publish all of the specifics or the author’s personal information, but the bottom line is the communication disregards that, under California Department of Fish and Game code and other state laws, it is illegal to feed wildlife.
In particular, the feeding of magnificent raptors, such as the red-tailed hawk, is as adverse for both birds and humans as feeding raccoons, coyotes and larger mammals with their much more obvious repercussions. The reason there are such excellent specimens of these hawks in Malibu is they have an abundant food supply and near perfect reproductive conditions. This makes the notion that someone is breeding mice and hand-feeding them to some wild hawks all the more incongruous.
One also has to wonder whether these actions mean hand-fed raptors are not hunting natural prey and might that result in the native rodent population in that vicinity becoming greater than might otherwise be the case?
In addition, the emailer enclosed a video of a child, wearing a mitt for protection, holding up a mouse for a visiting owl to swoop down and grab. Might a bird that has been so conditioned be flying over a backyard and spot a small child holding food up in the air and think that the food is there for the taking?
Red-tails are skilled hunters. Their eyesight is eight times more powerful than that of humans and they have the ability to fly more than 100 mph. Any human activity that diminishes their skills impacts not only the animals, but also their offspring. “Training” these birds, or making them dependent, also might run afoul of very specific and restrictive state falconry laws designed to protect hawks from “harassment” in the wild.
Because these raptors can adapt and survive close to human development, they are more accessible to those who might attempt to turn them into cartoon characters for their entertainment. As has been shown time and time again, when humans and wildlife interact on anything but a fleeting and incidental basis, wildlife is inevitably the loser and the loss is usually fatal.
The author of the email is rightly concerned about rodenticides—a danger The News has repeatedly written about. But there may be no greater danger for all wildlife than loss of an innate fear of humans. Humans who try to alter wildlife behavior patterns and diminish their survival skills do them great disservice.
The irony is that although the email writer is deeply concerned that raptors might be disappearing because of rodenticide poisoning, he does not appear to appreciate that actions that make wild creatures dependent on humans are just as lethal.
He said, “I think the problem is one of education.” Yes, that is exactly what the problem is. But the education has to begin with letting all wild things be wild.

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