Webcam viewers love to watch cute wildlife, not nature's ugly reality

PORTLAND — Wildlife webcam operators around the world are grappling with a problem: Viewers don't want to see any harm come to critters they've grown to love.

Webcams

Officials caved in to protests about the grittier side of nature last month in Minnesota, attempting to rescue a baby eagle with a broken wing. In coastal Maine, a struggling eaglet died last weekend after wildlife experts decided to let nature take its course, triggering outcry from viewers across the country.

Such reactions are understandable but misguided, experts say.

"The nest cam is more of a mirror to reflect what's going on with all eagle nests. It's not to be used as a baby monitor to intervene when we see something that makes us feel sad as humans," said Erynn Call, a raptor specialist with the state of Maine.

People's empathy is triggered by cuddly animals, especially the plight of a single creature as opposed to larger group that's suffering, said Nicholas Epley, professor of behavioral science at the University of Chicago.

Nonetheless, experts are loath to get involved.

"The general view is not to intervene," said Patrick Keenan from the Biodiversity Research Institute in Maine. "These are wildlife. They're not pets."

All told, there are hundreds of wildlife webcams showing everything from polar bears to peregrine falcons to clown-like seabirds called puffins. Viewers see remarkable things, like bears catching salmon, or eagles hatching from eggs.

But it's not always pretty.

Two summers ago, viewers watched "Petey" the baby puffin starve on a Maine island because the only available fish were too big to fit in his beak. Viewers begged this spring for someone to do something for a Maine osprey that suffered from a condition causing it to bleed from underneath its eyes.

"Every year, we show polar bears that are starving while waiting for the ice to freeze. People are like, 'Feed the bears!' No, we're not going to feed the bears," said Jason Damata from explore.org, which has about 50 wildlife webcams running at any given time.

Viewers of a webcam sponsored by the Biodiversity Research Institute demanded that wildlife experts do something when it seemed that the parents had abandoned the pair of bald eaglets in Hancock County.

Viewers who watched one of two eaglets die last weekend bore witness to what's happening in many of the more than 600 eagle nests across Maine, said Call, who works for the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. In general, it's a success when one of two eaglets survives to leave the nest, she said.

But sometimes the pressure to intervene can be too great. In Minnesota, wildlife officials last month were pressured to try to save a baby eaglet with a broken wing. In the end, the eaglet had to be euthanized.

Portia Reid of Dallas, who's watched the Maine eagle nest for three seasons, said she would've supported having someone shimmy up the tree to save the surviving eaglet from starvation if its parents hadn't returned to the nest.

"When you invite humans in, be prepared for human emotions. The majority of (bird watchers) accepts the raw nature of survival of the fittest and understands the no-intervention policy. However, there are cases where intervention is needed," she said.

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Comments

NORMAND A LEMAY's picture

Bambi Syndrome

Call it the Bambi Syndrome. We anthropomorphize these wild creatures, giving them human feelings and emotions that they don't in fact have. I agree with Carolyn Libbey -- we shouldn't enable these people's fantasies. Leave the animals alone. Take down the webcams, or at least don't make them public.

CAROLYN LIBBEY's picture

Humans should be kept away as

Humans should be kept away as far as possible from that wonderful wildlife. I just don't get this "Sunday morning" "lets feel good-about-ourselves yuppy approach to nature. would suggest these "wildlife"-infatuated individuals get involved in their local or other animal shelters where supportive and medical treatment are given. Oh, but maybe that would take too much time away from the Kayak trips and abusive bear "research" programs. Who are we helping here, anyway? Someone's Curriculum Vitae or what's left of our precious flora and fauna?

DOLORES GABOURY's picture

Scavenger Black Birds

I had a robins nest on my garage window sill and watched everyday the mother come and sit on the nest and the father bring stuff to strengthen the nest Then one day to my surprise the eggs were hatching before my eyes. I took pictures as 5 little beaks one by one came out of their egg. Mr. and Mrs Robin took turns daily watching out for their little ones and feeding them. And I looked everyday to see how they were and to watch them feed the babies. One day I got to the garage window just in time to see a black bird attack the nest and almost break through the window. All but two of the babies were gone and the two left were very hurt and I knew wouldn't survive. I felt as if those Scavenger Black birds had killed MY babies. I know it is nature and all about the food chain, but it is still so very hard to witness. If I had had a bb gun I would have shot those black birds.

MARK GRAVEL's picture

That is how I feel about

That is how I feel about politicians who want to raise my taxes. They are taking food out of my babies mouths.

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