Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Our Relationship with Nature and Animals

(Pictures: Right, ducks and geese brace against the cold and share the refuge of the ice in Central Park Reservoir. Left: Ducks scurrying for morsels of seed in the snow.)

Does anyone ever wonder why almost all wild animals are afraid of humans? That includes feral dogs and cats.

We are, after all smaller than many in the animal kingdom.

While domesticated pets have learned to trust human beings (often at cost of their very lives as witnessed by the killings of millions of dogs and cats in shelters every year) the rest of the wildlife kingdom generally flees at the mere sight or nearness of humans.

Even free-ranging domesticated cows grazing on pasture, will scurry from the sight of humans they are not familiar with.

Centuries of hunting, trapping, abuse, and general harassment and killing of wild animals (including "stray" cats and dogs) have presumably caused that.

It seems now to be in the genetic makeup of most wild animals to regard humans either as "predators" to be feared and avoided or at the very minimum, mysterious creatures that should not be easily trusted or ventured too close to.

That is unfortunate as not all humans are hostile to animals or represent danger to them. Many humans in fact, seek to protect animals, aid them or at the very least, simply respect and let them be.

There is much we can learn from animals in terms of how they survive in nature and in many cases, cooperate with each other for the greater good and survival of the different or individual species.

I have personally found it very intriguing and fulfilling observing the various bird species in Central Park and how they get through the tough times of the winter.

It is, for example, fascinating to see the ducks, geese, seagulls and even the occasional pair of swans peacefully sharing the same dwindling resources with little fighting or harassment. The fact that geese and swans are so much bigger and stronger than ducks might lead one to conclude that they could easily take over various areas frequented by ducks.

But, "might makes right" does not seem to prevail so much in the animal or bird worlds as it does in the human world (putting aside of course, the delicate predator/prey relationships). Sure, one will see the occasional scuffle over a food source with perhaps some ruffling of feathers. But, mostly the animals quickly scurry for whatever they can get and save their energy for more important things -- like the mere act of survival.
(Fighting does indeed waste energy, doesn't it? Funny how most animals seem to get that better than humans.)

I remember when younger, it was a fairly common sight to see people in Central Park with pigeons eating food directly from their hands. The human lucky enough to win the trust of a squirrel by offering peanuts was usually the subject of other passersby's smiles and photographs.

It is very rare to see that now. On the contrary, most feeders of birds or other animals, (most notably feral cats) in New York City have learned through negative experiences to conduct their operations in clandestine manner. They are often and sadly regarded by many as borderline "criminals" or "nuts."

It is not uncommon for bird or cat feeders to be yelled at or in other ways harassed for feeding "rats with wings" or "nuisance" cats.

What most people don't realize is that feral cats serve a very critical purpose in the city by keeping down and in check, explosive rat and mouse populations. Even if well fed, a cat, by its mere presence is deterrent to almost all rodents as they are the natural enemy.

Pigeons too, serve important purposes in the city by helping to keep it clean and free particularly of food debris.

Even so, the number one cause of death to pigeons in the city is starvation.

Few pigeons seem to live in Central Park these days. The (primarily older) people who used to feed them have long since passed.

The pigeons scavenge around city sidewalks and mostly take residence near the various street food vendors in search of the crumbs or leftovers tossed out by fast eating and rushing New Yorkers.

Some years back, when getting involved with the rescue, sterilizations and (when possible) adoption placements of stray and feral cats, I could not understand why it took so much time and effort to "win" the trust of feral cats (if at all) who had been born and lived outside. After all, I had been so "kind" to them. -- Taking them off the mean streets of New York City and offering them loving human homes!

But, I understand it now.

You can't "undo" decades and centuries of human harassment, hostility and killing with a few sympathetic humans or even one generation of a generally more enlightened human populace.

Most humans even of modern generation generally frown down on feral cats even if not outrightly hostile to them. The same is true for "stray" and feral dogs.

Most feral cats and dogs thus fair better to avoid humans -- even today. In most cases, it spares them premature death at the pound (i.e. "round-up, impound and kill.").

Avoidance of humans is, sad to say, one of feral cats and dogs main survival skills.

What most people don't understand however, about our so-called "nuisance" animals is that despite all human attempts to "control," kill and keep their numbers down, the wit, cooperation, survival and procreation skills of the geese, ducks, pigeons, feral cats, dogs and other animals will always be one step ahead of man's ( self-defeating in more ways than one) attempts to manipulate, control, "hunt" or plunder their numbers.

The animals do well to maintain their distrust and natural caution of humans.

Still, wouldn't it be nice to someday realize a time when things would no longer have to be that way?

We have so much to learn and gain from animals (in non-material sense) when we in fact, EARN their trust and build, rather than destroy the potential for relationship. -- PCA


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