With pandemic restrictions being lifted, the flow of tourists is set to turn into a deluge. People are back to celebrate the outdoors, to the detriment of wildlife who had seen a prolonged period of peace and calm for close to a year and a half.
Watching birds and wild animals continue to be the main attraction of devoting time to the lap of nature. But those moments of enjoyment may also be terrifying times for the poor animals.
There have been several studies done on various species and each one of them has exhibited signs of distress due to human presence even from a distance which were previously considered safe. Studies conducted on hundreds of species of birds and animals revealed that human presence can alter their behavior at distances much greater than earlier presumed.
Small birds and mammals exhibited changed patterns of behavior when humans got to 300 feet of them. Larger birds like hawks and eagles were even more sensitive and exhibited signs of altered behavior in the presence of humans within 1,300 feet. The effect was even more startling on larger mammals who exhibited changes in behavior patterns even at a distance of 3,300 feet.
Our Planet Is Confronting A Biodiversity Catastrophe As Many Species Of Wildlife Die Out
Scientists fear that we are in the middle of the 6th mass extinction of species. We have lost numerous species in the last 50 years all attributed to human activity and interference.
While parks have come up to protect rare animals and birds, they are also experiencing an increase in human activity. And few realize the balance between recreation and conservation.
The pandemic has brought to the fore the link between human presence and wildlife. There was a marked change in the behavior pattern of animals and birds as humans remained confined indoors for prolonged periods. Dolphins off the coast of Turkey came close to shore as boats remained moored at harbors. Nubian Ibex ventured into playgrounds in Israel, while Penguins were seen roaming the streets of South Africa.
Any human activity that entails close interaction with birds and animals has adversely affected their behavior patterns. Such disruptive behavior includes the tendency to scamper at the sign of humans, a decrease in the time they spend foraging, and an inclination to abandon their dens and nests.
There are other effects which while invisible to the naked eye are intensely negative and have serious repercussions for the very survival of wildlife. This includes an increase in heat rates and increases in stress hormone levels.
Human presence degrades the very habitat of wildlife, places where they frequent for food, reproduction, and shelter. Human presence includes pet dogs that are not on a leash. The overuse of campsites renders many areas not habitable for wild birds and animals. Disturbing the birds and animals during their everyday routine can have devastating effects as they stop caring for their young, stop eating, or move away from their nests startled, which exposes their young ones to harm from predators.
Human Presence Differs Between Species
The study of over 300 peer-reviewed papers conducted over 38 years has revealed disturbing trends. The main threshold at which various recreational activities had a negative effect on wildlife was directly linked to distance; between humans and human trails on one hand, and birds and animals on the other.
A study conducted to study the difference between motorized and non-motorized forms of intrusion into animal habitat made an intriguing observation. While one would assume that motorized transport would have a big impact, it was found that even quiet forms of intrusion like biking, and daytime hiking also had a profound influence on their habits.
The unease at the presence of humans, however non-intrusive it may seem, is connected to the past when animals and birds were normally hunted by humans on foot.
There was also a correlation between the size of the birds and the distance at which they were at ease. Smaller birds were comfortable with human presence even up to a distance of 65 feet (20m). But for larger birds, the threshold was much more at 2,000 feet (600m). there was no clear demarcation for animals though.
Though there has not been much research on the impact threshold for reptiles and amphibians including snakes, lizards, frogs, and turtles, evidence suggests that they too are affected negatively. Thorough research is needed to judge whether they are influenced more by the proximity of humans, the number of humans near them, or other issues.
Reducing The Impact On The Natural World
Some simple precautions can lessen the impact we have on animals and birds to a great extent. The best way is to maintain the maximum distance. Though some species have become adapted to human presence, most are still uncomfortable. It is also difficult to say when we are disturbing an animal or bird enough to cause stress, thus endangering both the animal and ourselves.
Wildlife spots need to be left alone at certain times of the year. Wildlife wardens regularly shut off trials during the breeding season to protect their habitat. Wildlife managers in Jackson Hole close ski areas to protect bighorn sheep, mule deer, elk, and moose. Several trials in the Acadia National Park in Maine are closed at certain periods every year to protect the peregrine falcon during nesting season. This has reduced stress on the nesting birds which has helped them recover and thrive.
It is important that people are made aware of the need to respect the privacy of wildlife and their habitats. While there is a need for recreation, that has to be balanced with the need for conservation and the need to keep some areas totally out of bounds for humans.
Fragmentation of habitats and climate changes has forced many wildlife species to change their habits, their migratory patterns, and feeding and breeding habits. Research has recommended creating captive corridors that are at least 3,300 feet (1,000m) wide to enable wildlife to move freely between protected areas. Maybe we need to rely more on the binoculars to observe them than try to pet them.