Dale Gienow has helped me host the workshops with his wolves and cougar, lynx, bobcat, wolverine over the past 1.5 years, and he and I have had several discussions concerning the issue of baiting wild raptors. I asked Dale if he would answer a few written questions, so here we have the results, and opinions of an expert in wildlife management.
Personally, I am very much against baiting. I enjoy watching and photographing our birds of prey in their natural state, but I am the first to admit that what I have done in the past does not always follow the ethics, and proper methods as Dale outlines below. I honestly have made plenty of mistakes. We each need to be educated, we are photographers, not biologists. No one expects us to take a 5 year university program on wildlife when we buy a long lens.
So, the concept here is simple., read what Dale has to say, consider it an opinion, and try to help others realize the values that we all need to learn to become a good naturalist, as well as a good photographer.
I am looking for more educated people to step up, and help us understand what is right, and what is wrong with how we go about our business in the field, so please feel free to email me if you wish to contribute to this discussion.
1. Thanks Dale for taking this opportunity to share your knowledge and opinions with NIOM, and our readers. Could you please identify your credentials before we get into the various topics?
I have 25 years of experience in the field of wildlife education and captive wildlife management at eight different zoological centres across Canada. I currently own and direct the Muskoka Wildlife Centre (MWC), in Severn Bridge, Ontario. The MWC operates as an animal rescue centre, providing for the permanent placement and housing of native Ontario wildlife that are unable to survive in the wild. We maintain the largest collection and variety of captive native wildlife in the province.
Wildlife education is our primary focus and roughly 40,000 people visit our public education centre each year. We also maintain Canada's largest live animal outreach program, delivering over 1,700 on and off site presentations, reaching 120,000 Ontarians annually. As part of it's education mandate, the MWC routinely participates in the production of wildlife documentary films and I regularly provide scientific advisement services for programs aired on networks like Animal Planet and Discovery Channel.
I also advise and provide professional services for government agencies like CWS and OMNR and for well known wildlife charities, like the OSPCA, CWF, and others. The MWC also operates as a call centre, helping thousands of people, each year, to mitigate wildlife - human conflicts and provides information on how people and animals can live harmoniously together. The centre works cooperatively with the private sector and government agencies in the creation and implementation of many tangible wildlife related conservation projects.
2. Baiting owls for the purpose of photography, using store bought mice is a common practise in Ontario, and other countries around the world. There may be positive and negative effects on this method, could you elaborate on some of your concerns.
With very few exceptions, feeding wildlife is not a good idea. Feeding owls mice can habituate the animals to people, unnecessarily putting them at risk. Owls overly comfortable with being in close proximity to humans are significantly more likely to suffer from traffic mortality's and are sometimes more apt to hang around residential bird feeders, putting them at risk from ignorant and not so tolerant people, who think the owls may take song birds.(we have received many owls with shot in them, over the years)
Feeding owls can also disrupt natural movement/migration/breeding patterns. When the birds find an unnatural abundance of prey in an area they are likely to stick around, instead of moving to other hunting grounds.
Feeding owls in abundance and on a large scale could, potentially, affect fragile food webs. Though there have been few studies in this regard, to my knowledge, feeding young, inexperienced owls store bought mice (esp. white mice) could potentially lead to prey identification confusion.
The world wide wildlife rehabilitation community has long identified this possibility. Also, routinely feeding individual owls nutritionally deficient, store bought mice can have long term health ramifications.
3. The issue of bird feeders always come up in the forum discussions on this topic, do you endorse the use of feeders?
Bird feeders are an international phenomenon and are not only used by our feathered friends, but also by host of other animals such as squirrels, raccoons and even bears. The presence of these, often unwanted, wild guests in residential areas often results in human - animal conflicts in which the animals inevitably lose.
Each wild mammal and bird species requires a unique combination of natural food to ensure it's good health and long term survival. Animals will fill there bellies with this generic and easily accessible seed mix, causing them to abandon there much needed and nutritionally complete wild feed. Feed holders also encourage/attract an unnaturally high population density of song birds.
Large numbers of birds congregating on a feeder (vying for position and often in conflict with one another) make easy pickings for diurnal birds of prey and house cats. This can result in serious regional population decline and segmentation of certain song bird species.
Bird feeders also disrupt natural movement/migration/breeding cycles and increase the likelihood of window collisions. In short, bird feeders are a selfish indulgence for those of us that appreciate the splendor of wild creatures and feel the need to see them on a regular basis, with little effort. Wild birds should be left to their own devises (even in winter) as they are more than capable of finding their own, natural foods.
4. Do you think there should be firm international laws that cover these issues, and is there a way we can influence law-makers to help protect the best interests of our wildlife?
I believe it should be illegal to feed any wild animal under normal circumstances, though I feel it unlikely that bird feeders will become illegal, any time soon. Lobbying your local government representative is the only way, available to the average person, to bring about change.
5. Photographers and birders approach birds for the purpose of viewing, we do flush birds from their perches ... when does flushing become an issue that possible breaks our laws.
Flushing birds from their perches can be construed/interpreted as molesting wildlife, which is illegal in most Canadian provinces and can carry substantial fines. Flushing some species can have other ramifications as well. Frightened animals can frantically cross highway corridors, putting them at risk of being stricken by automobiles and diminutive birds, that depend on camouflage for protection, can be easily taken by predators when flushed and exposed.
6. There are recent concerns that involve the baiting of black bears, and this is becoming another hot issue for naturalist and wildlife enthusiasts. Can you tell use what the concerns are here, and how the MNR is working to resolve this issue?
Habituating bears to humans by the way of presenting them with food is not a good idea. Bears are highly intelligent and have amazing, sensitive olfactory senses. They can definitely easily make the food - human association and this, inevitably, leads to human - bear conflicts.
Thanks very much to Dale Gienow of the Muskoka Wildlife Center. The above comments and explanations provide an excellent educational opportunity, I hope many other wildlife specialists will provide more answers and opinions in the future, and I will be working towards a lot more educational topics in this regard very soon.