Wildlife Less Life

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Published on: Sep. 2, 1995

Last revision: Oct. 20, 2010

This is an unusual wildlife story. It deals with death and dead things. It considers the different ways people perceive dead and dying creatures. The story is based on a simple ecological fact: wildlife cannot exist without wild death.

Many people have difficulty dealing with the subject of death. It frightens them. They avoid thinking about it or discussing it. They harbor a deep aversion for dead or dying things.

It is not just their own mortality or that of other humans that troubles them. They are categorically opposed to all death. They do not want to acknowledge that domestic or wild animals die, either.

If these people encounter a dead wild animal, they often look the other way. Some drivers will take a different route to detour around the site of a road kill. Worried parents sometimes shunt their children away from a dead animal for fear that the sight will traumatize them.

The following conversation reflects two viewpoints concerning death:

"Do you work here?" the hiker asked as he returned from his walk on the trail.

"Yes, I do," the nature center staff member replied. "What can I do for you?"

"I want to report a dead deer on the trail near the river over- look," the hiker said. "It appears to have been lying there for a couple of days. It's lying a few feet off to the side of the trail, but you can see it. I wanted to report it so you could have someone move it before some children come along and see it."

The nature center staff member replied, "Well, I don't see a need to move the deer. It may seem a bit strange to you, but we consider dead animals an essential part of the forest. We don't believe that it is a good idea to hide them from people.

"It is OK for kids to see a dead deer. They are actually quite interested in it. In any event, the coyotes, crows and other scavengers will ta ke care of the dead deer."

Why was the hiker so concerned about the possibility of children seeing the dead deer? Why was the nature center staff member's viewpoint different from that of the hiker?

In nature, a rough equilibrium exists between life and death. In order to estimate the number of birds, rabbits or squirrels that will die on any plot of land this year, count the number of young that are hatched or

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