Why We Should Provide Wildlife Habitat Off-Limits to Humans

Michael J. Vandeman, Ph.D.

October 13, 2001


     This is a sad time for humanity. But it will be an even sadder time, if we don't use this opportunity to learn something! We have freedom of speech, but we rarely use it, apparently from fear of how we will appear to others. Telling the truth is so rare that the few who have had the guts to do so have become famous and have change the world -- for example, Galileo and Darwin.


     Often the truth is staring us in the face, but we ignore it because we are afraid of the consequences. Will George Bush listen to what U.S. critics are saying, and use the opportunity to bring our foreign policy into the twenty-first century? Will he choose to move the world toward democracy and the worldwide rule of law, as embodied in the United Nations? Or will he continue to beat his chest and let the reptilian brain rule?


     Wherever humans can't get along, and are fighting over a piece of land (e.g. Palestine, Ireland, and Kashmir), there is a simple, just, and obvious solution staring us in the face: both sides should withdraw and give the land back to the wildlife from whom we stole it. Since humans already blanket the entire Earth, giving up a bit of land would not be a significant loss. It is a face-saving solution for many human problems.


     The first thing that children learn about animals is that they run away whenever we approach them. But what do we do with this information? Ignore it -- just as we ignore the countless other opportunities that wildlife give us to communicate with them! Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Birute Galdikas all had the same experience when they started trying to study primates (chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans, respectively): the animals gave them a clear, unequivocal message that they were not welcome. But none of them took the message seriously. And we pride ourselves on our power of empathy?! Empathy would help us understand why we were attacked on September 11. And it would explain why we continue losing populations and species from our most-protected parks and wildlife preserves.


     How can we hope to preserve wildlife, without trying to look at things from their perspective? Maybe not every species is sensitive to the presence of humans (mosquitoes seem to like us), but probably every area contains some that are. Therefore, if we are to achieve our goal of not causing extinctions, it follows that we need to set aside at least some land in every area that is off-limits to humans. That may not be sufficient to protect them (cleaning up our air- and water pollution are also important), but it is clearly necessary.


     There are also many other reasons why there needs to be some habitat off-limits to humans. Many animals are too dangerous for us to tolerate. Grizzlies, polar bears, elephants, mountain lions, crocodiles, and poisonous snakes come to mind. At the rate that we are extinguishing species, we don't have time to discover the precise requirements of every species! The best that we can do is to assume that they need what they have had throughout most of their existence: human-free habitat. And, of course, it is simply selfish for us to claim the entire earth as our domain.




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