Indirect Domestication of Wildlife

Bears going through garbage

Bears going through garbage. Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/laura-kali/4675381179/.

We’ve all seen them munching in our gardens or digging through our dumpsters.  More and more we are seeing our towns and cities becoming a safe-haven for what we call wild animals.  While some areas may see this less, in Durango we see this on a regular basis.  We also see a variety of animals entering city limits like bears, deer, and numerous amounts of birds.  From a quick glance this may not seem too large of a problem, but when looking into the effects that this collision has on the animals exposed, this problem is anything but minute.

There lies a clear, common distinction between what is domesticated and what is wild.  This distinction can be easily recognized at a young age and is part of our ability to identify between what is predictable and safe (domesticated) and what is not predictable and potentially unsafe (wild).  This distinction is becoming less and less apparent for certain species living within city limits.  With a constant exposure to potential threats (humans/dogs) deer are becoming more comfortable and may even appear tame.  So what’s the big deal, we all like to see a buck every now and again, right?

There are many factors that are concerning regarding this indirect domestication of wild animals.  These concerns can be divided into several groups, this effect on humans, this effect on the species involved, and this effect on the species new environment.  To start with the more obvious effect that this might have on humans.  One common observation of domesticated animals is a lack of movement in light of a threat.  This can cause many various problems with a wild species unleashed in a human environment.  For example the amount of wild animals hit with vehicles within city limits will most likely increase with 1) population of wild animals that inhabit that city and 2) the time of exposure to potential threats.  With regards to population size, for obvious reasons, the larger the population the more potential for interactions.  With regards to time of population exposure, the more time a population is exposed to sustained potential threats, the more that population will ignore them.  This also can create dangerous situations with potentially predatory animals such as bear or mountain lions due to an increased comfort of not only the animal, but humans as well.

Next we can look at the potential effects on the species involved.  An obvious first example is relocation when found or death when found multiple times.  This can be seen in bear populations that are entering city limits and numerous relocations and killings of bears.  Bears and other wild animals are also affected by eating things that they shouldn’t be eating, such as trash or non-native garden vegetation.  Other effects on animals have to do with specific physiological changes over time.  This involves the constant exposure to potential threats that lowers the fight or flight response within the individual.

~ Drew Walters