It can be super-tempting to want to handle or pet or feed a creature that you meet in the outdoors – especially for kids. Some physical interaction with animals is probably wise and healthy and necessary for our development but children and parents and other outdoorsmen have to understand that there are issues and potential problems with interacting with wildlife.
It is often best to observe wildlife from a distance, but in instances where you do want to touch or handle a living creature, here are some good guidelines.
You probably want to be aware of the creature’s Red List conservation status. This is a categorization of how fragile a species is or how close to Endangerment or extinction it is.
- Least Concern
- Conservation Dependent – dependent on conservation efforts to prevent it from becoming threatened with extinction.
- Near Threatened – may be considered threatened with extinction in the near future, although it does not currently qualify for the threatened status.
- Vulnerable – likely to become endangered unless the circumstances that are threatening its survival and reproduction improve.
- Endangered – very likely to become extinct.
- Critically Endangered – facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild.
- Extinct in the Wild – known only by living members kept in captivity or as a naturalized population outside its historic range due to massive habitat loss.
- Extinct – death of the last individual of the species
Obviously, we only want to interact with creatures of Least Concern status unless we have really good reason to interact with creatures of greater concern.
It is easy to find the Conservation Status of many creatures by typing their name into Wikipedia.
This does not just mean handling wildlife. We want to be wary and avoid feeding wildlife and disrupting their behavior at critical times of their life cycles (mating, child-raising, etc…).
We would never want to be responsible for a species progressing toward extinction.
Equally obvious is the fact that we do not want to expose ourselves to needless danger from wild creatures. In North America, people often think of bears and cougars. In the Southern U.S. we are wary of alligators and venomous snakes.
Wherever you are active in the outdoors, you need to be aware of the potentially dangerous wildlife and what precautions are wise.
Some good guidelines from the Leave No Trace organization…
- Observe wildlife from a distance. Do not follow or approach them.
- Never feed animals. Feeding wildlife damages their health, alters natural behaviors, and exposes them to predators and other dangers.
- Protect wildlife and your food by storing rations and trash securely.
- Control pets at all times, or leave them at home.
- Avoid wildlife during sensitive times: mating, nesting, raising young, or winter.