Respecting Wildlife is Protecting Wildlife
On National Wildlife Day, we focus on the harms caused when humans inappropriately interact with wild animals.
A California sea otter dominated the news cycle this summer, as experts from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Monterey Bay Aquarium attempted to capture and rehome the sea otter, known as Otter 841. As of now, she is still free. The five-year old female southern sea otter has been seen approaching surfers in the waters off Santa Cruz, California for the past few years. Social media videos show 841 biting and stealing surfboards and even climbing on top of them.
As photos and videos of the otter’s antics made the rounds on social media and she became an internet sensation, it may be easy to gloss over the concerning background to this story. Wildlife experts warn against glorifying her behavior online, since the situation can quickly turn dangerous. The story is the latest in a trend that normalizes human-wildlife interactions to the detriment of both.
The antics of Otter 841 are unusual, and some experts believe the cause may be habituation that caused her to lose her natural fear of humans. Her mother was removed from the ocean many years ago after she began climbing onto kayaks for treats. While ostensibly cute and cuddly, sea otters have powerful jaws and sharp teeth—both of which help them crack into clams, crabs, urchins, mussels and other invertebrates. Wild animals can inflict serious physical injuries on human beings. Furthermore, the consequences for the animal of human-wild animal interactions are often tragically fatal.
Natural areas such as rivers, seas and oceans offer unique opportunities to view wildlife in their natural habitats. However, inappropriate interactions between humans and wildlife can have perilous consequences. We increasingly see humans initiating interactions with wild animals. Recently, a video circulated on TikTok of a visitor taking a selfie right next to a wild bison in Yellowstone National Park. In 2017, a dolphin calf died after tourists mobbed her to touch her and take selfies with her after she washed up on the beach. In a sad parallel to 841’s story, Freya the celebrity walrus in Norway, was euthanized by Norwegian authorities last year, after crowds of people kept flocking to take pictures with her and swim near her. In May, Yellowstone National Park euthanized a newborn buffalo calf after a well-intentioned human interaction caused her herd to abandon her.
Wild animal “selfies” and interactions like these are harmful to the animals (not to mention dangerous to the human taking the image). Experts warn that this behavior takes a serious toll on wild animals, causing physical and emotional stress, interrupting feeding and breeding habits, and even potentially lowering birth rates. Yet these behaviors persist, normalizing dangerous and harmful interactions with wild animals.
In light of these risks, and in honor of National Wildlife Day, we offer the following tips:
- Learn about wildlife: Wild spaces were theirs first, take time to learn about wild animals and their habitats before you visit.
- Stay away: Never approach wild animals and, if they approach you, give them space.
- Be respectful: Do not tease, feed, harass or otherwise disturb wild animals. In many cases, it is illegal to do so.
- Be responsible on social media: Don’t normalize human interactions with wild animals by liking, sharing, or engaging with wild animal selfies on social media. And never take one yourself!
- Support laws: Learn about and support federal, state, and local laws and regulations that protect wildlife.
- Donate: The Center for Animal Law Studies educates and trains students as advocates for wild animals through our courses and clinics, as well as our Global Law Alliance for Animals and the Environment as they champion wild animals and wild spaces. Support our work by donating here.
The Center for Animal Law Studies (CALS) was founded in 2008 with a mission to educate the next generation of animal law advocates and advance animal protection through the law. With vision and bold risk-taking, CALS has since developed into a world-renowned animal law epicenter. CALS’ Alumni-in-Actionfrom over 25 countries are making a difference for animals around the world. CALS is a nonprofit organization funded through donations and grants.