The Ugly Truth of Accidental Animal Abuse

lionEnjoy my new article in The Jakarta Post on June 10, 2016:

Here is the complete article:

The Ugly Truth of Accidental Animal Abuse

It all started with a small misunderstanding. A father and son spotted a bison calf lying in the middle of the road at Yellowstone National Park, and decided that it looked “cold”.

They loaded the calf into the trunk of their car and drove it to a rangers’ station, northeast of where the bison was found on May 9. They asked to see a ranger and left the calf in their care.

Unfortunately, all did not end well. As soon as the duo left, the ranger’s only option was to attempt to return the bison to its herd. The rangers made repeated attempts to reintroduce it to its herd, but every effort ended in failure. The mother of the calf rejected it and the herd left it behind, as a result of the repeated human interference and handling. The calf also caused trouble by approaching nearby humans and vehicles, and for its own safety and the safety of others, it was euthanized.

Following the incident, the US National Park Service issued a public statement regarding the relationship between humans and wildlife at the park, stressing the rule that visitors should keep a safe and healthy distance from all wild animals found at Yellowstone National Park.

Similar cases have happened around the world, with animals being killed by humans who try to help.

The impulse to help another living thing is wired into the brains of every animal lover. It is unbearable to watch an animal in distress. The first instinct of an animal lover is to help. Most of the time, the situation can improve. But in some situations, things are not as they appear.

(Read also: Sumatran rhino: A real threat of extinction in sight)

The term to “love someone to death” is defined as feeling extremely strong affection for someone, without the death part. There are millions of cases of pet owners who own lots and lots of animals, keeping them in living quarters where they can barely support themselves. They try to help by collecting the pets and giving them shelter. But with not enough money to support the animals, they breed excessively and can eventually die of starvation. This is real, and happening.

Loving something to death has its pros and cons.

Many animal lovers believe in anthropomorphism, which is the attribution of human qualities and emotions to animals. It is hard for some of us to hear that animals are different to humans. Although an animal is unable to voice its thoughts toward humans, many people try to interpret animal emotions and feelings, which may lead to misunderstandings.

In this case, the actions of the two tourists were sincere and they meant well, but they unknowingly caused the death of the bison with their interference. It was said that the temperature at Yellowstone that day was 3.8 Celsius at the lowest and 10 degrees Celsius at the highest. It was considered fairly temperate for spring in the month of May.

A bison calf should not be able to feel cold at all. They have thick coats to survive the harsh months of winter, and have the herd to help. In a later interview with some media, the two tourists claimed to have found the baby bison in the middle of the road, not moving. They attempted to make it move and came to the conclusion that it was freezing, before finally deciding to take it to the rangers.

Humans repeatedly compare the behavior of animals with their own behavior. Apparently everything a human does is “right” and, therefore, other living beings should follow us.

Although anthropomorphism is not entirely wrong, we should be careful in our interactions with animals. We should interact with care, knowledge and respect.

(Read also: Sumatran rhino: Finding hope in the verge of obsolescence)

It is scientifically proven that animals have emotions, but it’s still unclear how similar their emotions are to human emotions. Every species expresses its emotions differently. It seems that misunderstandings are bound to happen when two different species come together.

A cat lashes its tail in anger while a dog wags its tail to show happiness. In the wild, animals of different species don’t stick together and wander around. Instincts and body languages clash.

The relationship between humans and animals is fragile. When a person believes completely in anthropomorphism, everything shifts toward the person’s perspective. A lot of people are quick to jump to conclusions about animal body language. In the end, their interactions can end up being fatal. This is dubbed “accidental animal abuse”, where the animal is unintentionally exposed to unjustifiable pain or suffering.

Every animal lover wants the best for animals around the world but, unfortunately, animal abuse is not only limited to open violence and cold-hearted neglect. Animals around the world are dying from obesity, cavities and overcrowding. It’s the ugly truth of accidental animal abuse. It’s completely unintentional, and people are unaware of their actions, but it still hurts the animals in one way or another.

The two visitors were fined US$110 for touching wildlife, according to a statement released by Yellowstone National Park. In the end, it rests with us to use our better judgement to make choices, which could turn out disastrously or well.

It’s just a question of picking the right one.


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