By Akshaiyaa V S
When I was in grade school, lions fascinated me more than dogs or cats and it was disappointing when every zoo or national park I visited did not allow tourists to pet or feed these big cats. It was only when I grew up did I realize why.
During the first interaction, most wild animals would treat humans as predators and respond by running away to safety or by attacking them. Although, animal tourism is a popular vacation idea, it should be done with caution as negligence can lead to dire consequences.
Benefits of interaction
Young male lions get kicked out of their packs when they mature and only 1 out of 8 such lions survive adulthood after being kicked out. The solitary lions tend to die either due to poaching or as a result of navigating into other packs. Just as humans are dependent on each other for social well-being, animals also need companionship to survive. Human interaction thus becomes necessary to solitary animals as they tend to attract poachers easily.
Animal behaviourists have observed that animals benefit from bonding with humans they can trust, but this requires tremendous motivation, knowledge and expertise about the behaviour of the animal. Anyone with inadequate motivation or improper knowledge may get seriously injured while trying to interact with the animal.
Safety issues and consequences of physical contact with people
Having a human with whom an animal can interact with and trust is almost mandatory in certain cases such as when animals escape their closure and have to be taken back. This also enables us to avoid sedation and other forceful methods. It also enables animals to get treatments they require. In fact, endangered animals can be easily artificially inseminated without using force or sedation when they are near humans they trust. Minor medical procedures involving the collection of urine samples and fixing broken teeth can also be performed with ease in the presence of the animals’ human friends.
Some animals tend to abandon their young ones if they have contact with humans. This makes the young ones more vulnerable to predators. Additionally, wildlife closer to humans are also at a higher risk of catching infections from them as well as their domestic pets.
Problems with wildlife interaction
The innate behavior of animals does not change though they bond with humans that they trust. However, getting too close to wild animals is a double-edged sword, as there have been many instances where mahouts have been killed by their elephants which they had trained for many years. Various diseases like influenza and arbovirus have infected humans while they were close with the animals without taking the proper precautions.
Food conditioning and its harmful effects
Food conditioning is how domestic animals are usually trained by being rewarded with food once they learn a particular task. While it’s successful in the case of domestic animals like dogs, food-conditioned wild animals become a threat to the society. Feeding the wild animals may often lead to poor nourishment as the best way for wild animals to receive nutrition is to let them naturally hunt their prey. Food-conditioned animals are reported to have shown aggressive behaviour and there have been numerous cases of foxes and bears trying to approach people for food.
Human intervention has been necessary for the conservation of various species, such as the case of Shamu and other similar killer whales. Though human interaction has helped wild animals in many ways, it is important to remember that this was possible only due to the proper understanding of animal behavior and enormous patience. Thus, allowing tourists to visit animals needs to a monitored activity, as each animal is different and may or may not like a swarm of visitors staring at them. It must be ensured that animals are open to public view only in their natural habitats and with appropriate security measures.
Akshaiyaa V S is an analyst at Qrius
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