Two writers for the Dear Science section of the Washington Post stated today that injured and “lost” wildlife should be left alone. The authors correctly write that many young animals who appear to be orphaned are simply being left alone while Mom is out getting food or distracting predators. They also correctly state that helping distressed wildlife can be dangerous and should involve professional help.
But somehow they convince themselves that a bird hitting a window is part of a natural process. Their conclusion references a quote by Don Despain, a retired National Parks Service ecologist. Here the authors liken a typical human urban environment with the relatively intact Yellowstone ecosystem:
In nature, an injured animal — say, the bird in your back yard with a broken wing — will become food for a predator — perhaps an owl. The remains that the owl doesn’t eat will go on to feed microbes that fertilize the soil, which in turn gives rise to new plants, which will feed the insects that become a meal for future birds. This whole system is the “wildness” that Despain speaks of. It’s worth thinking about the next time you come across an injured bird.
Actually, it’s not worth thinking about. That’s time wasted that could be spent trying to save the bird’s life. Here’s our response, published in the comments section:
Dear Science, we couldn’t agree more about the dangers of “kidnapping” young wild animals whose parents are simply out of sight. And we couldn’t agree less about the conclusion you’ve come to regarding letting nature take its course. Prof Daniel Klem states in peer-reviewed literature that about one billion birds are killed by striking windows in the United States each year. Prof Klem estimates that another billion are injured. That’s 30 per second killed, and another 30 per second injured. Surely nature can’t be so out of balance as to benefit from this anthropogenic disaster. Another billion small mammals are killed by cats in this country every year. Two billion birds. And another 500,000 animals are killed in the U.S. every day by motor vehicle strikes. So we should let the millions of survivors suffer and die? No! We should try our best to help them. This country has an amazing network of wildlife emergency professionals who can help us. As you rightly point out, it’s very important to bring them in as soon as possible on an emergency. To help you find them, our nonprofit humbly suggests using our website (AnimalHelpNow.org) or our phone app.
The authors downplay the value of helping individual animals and instead regurgitate the tired assertion that conservation is about populations. Yet we all should know the unfortunate truth that a species’ long-term chance of survival usually depends at least to some degree on a human or group of humans ascribing value to it. Welcome to the Anthropocene, Science.