Humans need to pay more attention


As I was idly channel surfing one late evening after the Pirates game concluded, I bumped into the documentary about Timothy Treadwell on PBS. I sat up until 3 a.m. watching it.

Treadwell was a well-meaning chap who, some years ago, set out to prove that he could live unarmed among wild grizzly bears in Alaska. He declared that he could make “friends” with these bears, that they were grossly misunderstood by the rest of us.

I was always interested in his work but never a supporter of it. Assigning human characteristics to wild animals is a deadly premise. It’s what cartoons do; Where great bucks stand protectively over spotted fawns — never the case — and foxes and rabbits sit side by side on the face of Christmas cards — the fox would have that rabbit for lunch shortly. It shows in the pitiful “Oh’s!” that people exclaim over the deer or turkey I have bagged and call me a ruthless murderer.

Wild animals live and behave according to instinct; humans live and behave by emotions, feelings that wild things simply don’t have. A couple of examples:

n A sow bear actually drives her yearling cubs away from her forever when she comes into her estrus cycle again. Male bears will kill cubs, even his own, in order to free their mother to come into estrus again. It’s just that those things happen in the woods, out of sight of most people.

People must learn that animals operate by a totally different system than humans do. Anthropomorphism is the process of attributing human qualities to animals. Try springing that word to your friends and neighbors.

Last week I had a big bat flying around inside my house. I’m no more afraid of a bat than I am of anything else. What concerns me is that bats are among the top carriers of rabies. Having to take that series of rabies shots as a precautionary measure does not thrill me at all.

n I remember the terrible account of a wildlife rehabilitator who raised a black bear from a cub. Every day she brought it food and cleaned its cage and saw that it had whatever it needed. She grew used to it.

One day, after she had had the bear in her facility for a couple of years and it weighed 350 pounds, she did what she did every day. She entered its cage, threw a shovelful of food to one side of the enclosure to draw the bear over there while she cleaned the other side.

Only this day, something went awry. Without warning, the bear attacked her and before anyone could intervene, she was dead. Why did it happen? Those officials who were asked could only speculate. Apparently the bear interpreted something she did or some way she moved as a threat. You see, the bear did not “love” her.

Animals in the wild fight each other over food, breeding rights and territory. Animals conduct their lives by a different standard in the wilds, and humans seem not to ever really grasp that.

Consider the report of a woman who heard a noise outside her house and went outside only to see a pair of raccoons on her porch. How often does that happen in Pennsylvania? She meant only to shoo them off her porch but they didn’t want to go. They felt threatened so they attacked her. They jumped on her and bit and scratched her, inflicting some serious wounds. Suddenly, they weren’t so “cute” anymore. The woman no doubt had to endure a series of rabies shots as a precaution.

A couple of my favorite TV channels are devoted to the subject of animals who “suddenly” turn on their owners, who were sure the creature “loved” them and would never do such a thing. Circus animals suddenly go on rampages, inflicting injury and damage.

Remember the infamous Siegfried and Roy incident? A tiger they had put in their act for years — that they love — suddenly turned and severely wounded one of them.

There is a certain breed of humans who decide, for reasons known only to them, to live among wolves, bears, coyotes and one day wind up as news when they are killed by the very animals they thought “loved” them. Treadwell was such a man, who lived among Grizzly Bears and declared he had a “connection” with them. He was confident he was a friend of all the bears, that he had control over them and that he was safe.

Only he wasn’t. After no one had heard from him for awhile, wildlife officials investigated and found he and a companion had been attacked and killed by one of his own favorite bears. Several books and magazine articles have documented this case.

Locally, we don’t have to worry about grizzlies. But those we do have to worry about are black bears, raccoons, foxes, squirrels and other small critters. In the spring we often encounter young animals. They are so cuddly, so cute and we can’t imagine they could ever pose a threat. It is illegal to take critters from the wild and try to raise them as pets and this internal instinct to the wild is one reason why.

They are not human. They do not think or feel emotions like humans. They think of you as just another one of them and when you overstep their natural boundaries, they will treat you as they would one of their own in the wild. They will lash out to teach you a lesson, claw and scratch, bite and squeeze and you will be the loser. Always.