Is It Right To Interfere? (Letting Nature Take Its Course)

As an animal enthusiast I can’t help but feel a strong desire to want to interact with them, but I’ve become increasingly wary of how my own actions might affect them. For example, I use to enjoy feeding bread to the ducks – as I’m sure many of us have done -, but later found out that the wrong food can damage their feathers. I’ve noticed that some parks now sell a healthier alternative to give them. We feel like we’re being kind by feeding them, but quite often it’s not the right thing to do. After we’ve gone the animals still have to continue finding their own food and it’s important they know how to do this. In Canada they don’t want you to feed the chipmunks because they’ll struggle in the winter if they become too reliant on us. There are also many other considerations, such as how attracting wild animals can cause problems for the people that live nearby.

A while ago I watched a photography program where they were observing nature down by a river. At one point a duckling fell away from its mother and couldn’t find its way back again. The photographer could do nothing but sit and watch the events unfold, tears brimming in his eyes. He later explained that he follows a rule of no interference. I’ve seen a few wildlife documentaries where it might seem harsh for the camera crew to just sit by filming, but from a journalistic point of view the goal is to show nature doing its own thing with as little interference as possible. While not everything in the world is pleasant to see, it’s still important to document and we can learn a lot about animals by watching how they perform activities such as hunting. Depending on the situation it might not be feasible or safe to help out either.

Mufasa: Everything you see exists together in a delicate balance. As king, you need to understand that balance and respect all the creatures, from the crawling ant to the leaping antelope.
Simba: But, Dad, don’t we eat the antelope?
Mufasa: Yes, Simba, but let me explain. When we die, our bodies become the grass, and the antelope eat the grass. And so we are all connected in the great Circle of Life.

– Disney’s Lion King

Somehow Mufasa manages to make the whole predator-prey situation seem agreeable. Many people dislike watching animal documentaries because they can’t bare to see animals getting hurt. When I was younger it did upset me a lot, but I’ve since come to terms with it. I was watching a documentary about wolves and to my relief they failed to capture their prey, only the narrator followed up by claiming that the pups were now going to go hungry, which I also didn’t like the thought of. The success of a hunt can be a live or die situation for the predator as well. Another documentary showed a Great White shark expending all of her energy on catching a seal just to have it stolen away; She didn’t have the reserves left to try again. I therefore don’t think it’s fair to interfere with most predator-prey situations, something that has been happening for a very long time outside of my involvement. Some people like to put this down to natural selection. Many humans also eat meat, so it helps to find some level of acceptance with this. We can think of it as life being given to help prolong another life, which is something to be thankful for.

Although I recently stumbled into a more questionable predator-prey situation. I was taking a leisurely stroll when I noticed a commotion around this stray cat that appeared to be chasing something. It was only when I got close enough I could work out what it was, a mouse. The gathering crowd were getting really upset by this behaviour, I overheard one person saying, “at least it’s just playing, not as cruel as that other cat that we saw eating one.” I was about to move on when another person called out to me, “can you break them up?” and then preceded to scold the ‘naughty’ cat. I’m not great in a commotion – too overwhelmed by a desire to escape it to be able to think clearly. Perhaps I could have made a loud noise to scare the cat away, but the first thought that came to me was that it seemed risky to interfere with a stray while it was all fired up. I’m not sure if everybody would thank me either as the place was overrun with mice and rats. Having predators around can be beneficial to keep down what some would consider to be pests, which in turn reduces competition for resources amongst their kind. It continued to play on my mind however, as if because the question was directed at me of all people, it was now my duty to maintain all cat-rodent relations in the area. Humans are somewhat responsible for why there are so many cats in certain areas, but this behaviour is probably going to happen all the time whether we are there to stop it or not.

Cats are very hit and miss and many dislike them. As they’ve increased in popularity as pets it has also caused a lot of problems for wildlife. Many cat owners come with stories of the dead things they’ve found in their homes. As a previous cat owner myself It was yet another issue I had to come to terms with; We would break it up if we ever caught her stalking other animals (although we did have a squirrel that would torment her instead.) A well fed pet doesn’t need to hunt for food, but they still have instincts and a desire to hone their hunting skills. They’re so cute and close to us that I think we often overlook that they are predators. As cats have frequently been used as mousers to keep pests at bay, many of the instincts from their wild ancestors are still intact, and it’s also quite frankly what many of us love about them. While it’s unpleasant to see another animal suffering, I never punished my cat for doing what was natural for her. Sometimes a cat will appear to play with its prey, and while this seems cruel to us, to the cat it’s a way of honing their hunting skills and self-preservation. I don’t believe that many animals act with malicious intent – even the ones with sharp teeth – and I don’t think it’s my place to decide how they should be. Of course, when we bring an animal into our lives we are also accepting responsibility for them. I found that I could tire her out if I played with her a lot.

I find it difficult to know what the right thing to do is in regards to animals/nature. We’ve already had a massive impact on the world anyway, and that cannot be undone. It also feels cold to say we cannot take part and simply observe, as we ourselves are also animals and a part of this world; It’s incredibly difficult not to have some sort of influence on our surroundings. I’ve also seen cases of different species becoming friends, so why can’t we also enjoy this type of companionship. Many of us are empathetic and feel a strong desire to help whether we’re dealing with another human being or an animal. We do however, have to be very careful as there are consequentness and laws that we might not be aware of. For example, you could still get into trouble for helping a wounded animal if it is considered to be a protected species. A lot of places forbid the feeding of animals too. I believe that most of us are well intentioned, doing what feels kind from our human perspective, and it’s not always that clear what is appropriate – Probably wise to check just in case.

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About wallcat

I have a strong passion for computing. In particular programming for which I am able to use a variety of languages including C++, Visual C#, Blitz Basic, Actionscript 2.0, Python and Lua. I also enjoy web-design and have some knowledge of HTML/CSS, PHP/SQL and Javascript. As well as programming I have a strong background in art and enjoy drawing in my spare time. When I’m not sat at my computer I like to keep fit by going to the gym or using my exercise ball.

3 responses to “Is It Right To Interfere? (Letting Nature Take Its Course)”

  1. Lori L MacLaughlin says :

    Interesting post. I would have a hard time not interfering in situations like the cat/mouse or the duck that got lost. I don’t think I’d have been able to just watch the duck and not help it get back to its family. I know the laws of nature are the way they are for a reason, but that doesn’t make it any easier. And I certainly don’t want to be overrun with mice, so it would be rather foolish to rescue them. Hard choices would have to be made.

    • wallcat says :

      Yeah, I know what you mean. When I watched that photography program I found it really difficult to accept. I can understand the reason for following a rule of no interference, but in the moment our empathy kicks in and we do what feels right. The cat/mouse situation threw me because of how strongly the crowd was reacting to it and I’m terrible at thinking through a situation clearly when I’m put on the spot. I wasn’t sure as I’d previously been told that they were trying to control the rodent population in the area. Although, saving one mouse probably won’t make a big difference in the grand scheme of things, and I felt a bit down about it afterwards. There were a few people there though, so I imagine one of them might have jumped in.

      I’ve gotten wary because many places do have rules and preferences for how to treat the wildlife/animals there, but I do think that if anybody breaks them it’s probably due to a misunderstanding. For example, a lot of people find it upsetting to see stray cats around because they don’t like the thought of them going hungry, so it’s tempting to put food out for them – I have done this before. It’s illegal to do this in certain places however, and it can cause issues for other people staying nearby who perhaps don’t feel so comfortable around cats. Plus if we’re not going to be around all the time they’ll still need to find food after we’ve gone. Thankfully there are charities around trying to deal with this sort of problem, and the money spent on cat food might be better off going to them. Those are just my thoughts though, and you’re right, in the moment and even with an awareness of how nature works, it’s not easy. These are hard choices, but made with well-meaning.

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