Animals In The Wild: Look. Take Pictures. Then Leave them Alone!

Recently, I read about the discovery of a rare kingfisher species of the Solomon Islands that had evaded the eyes of scientists for nearly half a century. It was a male Moustached Kingfisher. The extremely elusive bird had not been seen in the wild for nearly 50 years and had never been photographed. Female Moustached Kingfishers had rarely been seen but scientists had their eye out for the “myth-like male”. Finally, after searching for over 20 years for the bird, a biologist with a group from the Museum of Natural History made their lucky break when they saw a male while conducting a survey in the islands. The biologist who lead the team and survey felt as if a mythical creature came to life. He expressed how much he had been waiting to lay eyes on that species and expressed how the capture of such a cryptic species would finally shed light on it’s lineage and evolution. But, not only did he capture the elusive creature, he also euthanized it to take it back with them for future study. In another report, the leading biologist explains why he made the discussion to kill the rare bird.

In ways this kind of practice in field biology is one I have had trouble with. And I have seen it take place in my own field experience with native wildlife. One weekend in a declared research area in which a general rule is No animal shall be killed (within the area) that can be used for study, a rare snake was found. The snake was beautiful and nearly everyone who got to see it were delighted by it’s beauty! The species itself wasn’t actually all that rare but it’s phenotype was and the fact that it was found in a location where they are not typically seen mainly because of their stealthiness, not so much rarity. The individual was removed from area and euthanized by a biologist for record keeping. While in the field I never expect this sort of thing to happen, instead in my naiveté, I make the assumption that people would act as I would when documenting a species. Perhaps, take some photos, take some measurements, record GPS coordinates, time/date, weather and maybe take a blood sample. But to euthanize the animal to place it in a jar for safe keeping is not my idea of field biology has always been difficult for me personally. Even thought I understand in importance of the practice. And I myself, admit how much I love looking at displays of whole specimens. However, when a species has already been as thoroughly documented as means possible and is rare, my nature feelings are to leave it alone! Of course this is a very personal attitude in which people may disagree.

We have the ability to take and store excellent digital photos, pinpoint coordinates and even have the means to take minute blood or other forms of samples for DNA i.e. base of a feather or scales. If the evolutionary linage or relationship of the specimen is in question, a sample of DNA and a well documented description for the animal is all that is needed. The implications of removing a single individual from it’s habitat may not be as insignificant as it appears and may only perpetuate larger problems: loss of biodiversity and ultimately habitat loss. Exceedingly wildlife species are in decline due to human poaching. Even seemingly abundant native species suffer a great deal when their communities become fragmented.

Far too often people remove turtles or other wild creatures away from their native homes to keep as pets! Oftentimes these animals are removed in the guise of a “rescue”. I know of multiple accounts of people finding a box turtle crossing the road and “rescue” it by taking it home with them, instead of simply helping it across. The wild box turtle then spends the rest of its life eating food not suitable for its health and unable to roam freely. Just as I was writing this it so happened, I became informed of someone “rescuing” a desert box turtle that wandered into thee their front yard. This person sought out a friend who already had a turtle thinking she would be the best candidate to look after it. After her friend took the turtle home with her, she ignorantly placed it with the turtle she had and as a result of fighting with one another the newcomer “resuced” box turtle became seriously injured. In reality, you are doing the animal a great disservice by removing it from its habitat as well as exposing them to other dangers.

I also hear of people collecting native snakes, including venomous ones to keep as “pets”! Biodiversity loss is already a major threat for many species, this sort of practice only exacerbates the problem. Also, the home ranges of wild animals are very complex and is a subject we can never fully understand for many species since we cannot track each and every individual. If you see an animal in the wild, by all means take a few photos; spend some time observing it’s natural behavior but please do not remove it from it’s home.

3 thoughts on “Animals In The Wild: Look. Take Pictures. Then Leave them Alone!

  1. I know a biologist who works for USFWS and he occasionally catches snakes to keep in his house. I know he cares for them well though when pressed he disagreed that taking one snake of a specific species was a big deal. I agree with your point of view. Did you see the story about the rare kingfisher that was killed ‘for science’? What a terrible thing … Here’s a link:

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I did read about it. I even mentioned it in the beginning of this post. I also don’t agree with the reasoning behind the Kingfisher’s euthanization. As for snakes, I’d much rather see them wandering freely in nature than in a terrarium any day. I have never understood the tendency people have to remove animals, no matter how small, from their natural homes.


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