Saturday, September 1, 2012

Friday Roundup: Whale Vomit Windfalls and Confusing Yellowstone with a Petting Zoo

Ocean Puke = Jackpot: I often talk about how much wild places and natural landscapes are worth to me. This is not what I meant.

And I Thought Snakes Get Bad Press: They're not alone. Sharks also need some better PR.

Florida Panthers Have it Tough: It's been a bad year for Florida panthers, Puma concolor, one of the most endangered mammals in the United States, if not the world. Habitat loss resulting from urban sprawl and roads represent the greatest threat to the continued presence of this animal in Florida. This outright habitat loss even has negative consequences for the little habitat that is remaining: panthers are territorial, and they will fight over what's left. It's normal for these animals to kill each other over territory but when there are only a few animals left each death is a cause for concern.

What Were They Thinking? Speaking of large, potentially dangerous mammals, I would like to mention a recent article I found about Bison, Bison bison. When I see a large wild animal of any sort, I tend to give it a wide berth while I assess the situation. I'll even pause when I accidentally hike too close to a deer. I think it's important not to startle wild animals because when animals are afraid, bad things happen. If you are afraid for your life, what wouldn't you do to get out of that situation?
   If I tend give run-of-the-mill deer their space, you can probably imagine my shock at reading about these students being encouraged to touch a wild bison in Yellowstone National Park. It's difficult to emphasize how risky of a behavior this is but the West Yellowstone Chamber of Commerce pulled it off when they said, "This group has no idea how incredibly lucky they were that no one was injured or killed."
   It's a shame that so many people are so disconnected from the natural world that they don't see the problem in approaching large and potentially dangerous animals. In part, I blame television. There is no shortage of television programs that include intrepid "explorers" barging into the wilderness and doing stupid things, like when Dr. Brady Barr put on a Hippopotamus, Hippopotamus amphibius, suit and got in the water with these animals. Or, when Steve Irwin...well, when Steve Irwin did anything. Watch enough of these shows and you might forget that wild animals are dangerous. Not just dangerous in a thrilling way, but in a way that can kill you.
   The problem isn't just people stumbling into the wilderness and harassing wild animals. Every time a wildlife "expert" goes on a late-night talk show with relatively tame animals on leashes to parade around, it's easy to get the impression that wild animals are friendly and cuddly. They're not. They're wild. I don't know what these wildlife "experts" do when they're not talking to David Letterman or Jay Leno, for two examples, but I hope they're doing something more productive for wildlife conservation.
   I'm not sure if the adults that were goading those students into touching wild bison fully appreciate how stupid they were being...or how close those students were to being killed.
  
Marine Biology Bucket List: Over at Deep Sea News, the authors have spent some time talking about the marine animals they would most want to see in their lives (here and here). I have been really lucky to see two of the animals on their lists, including a leatherback sea turtle (the largest turtle in the world) and a basking shark (the second-largest fish in the world). But their posts got me thinking about a terrestrial bucket list, particularly for the southeastern United States, where I've spent most of my recent years. I think it's safe to say that the Rainbow Snake would make the list, as would the Indigo Snake. What's on your list? A cougar perhaps?

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