Nature Nurture: feeding wild animals and litter can leave a mark

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As any person who has navigated a successful getaway into the Kruger can tell you, a good safari can often become one giant series of distractions. In between visiting bird hides, listening to your ranger interpret and explain your beautiful / dangerous surroundings, and just taking a little time out to sip a mojito next to the plunge pool (hey, you’re on holiday too, right?), it can be easy to lose track of where you’ve been, and where you’ve left your mark. We were fortunate enough to get to chat to William Mabasa, HOD for Public Relations in the Kruger National Park, and Joep Stevens, General Manager for Tourism Operations at the world renowned park, about the complications involved when guests of the park leave litter on or near trails, and what kind of damage can be done when guests feed animals.• What kind of complications can arise from unauthorized feeding of animals?[William Mabasa] When animals get used to being fed, they become dangerous in the sense that they will begin to attack people and snatch food from their hands.[Joep Stevens] ...you get those that wish to draw animals closer for, in many cases, better pictures, but also just to be affectionate, not realizing that in many cases there is a risk that the animal is wild - many people cannot comprehend a wild animal being a threat until an attack or bite happens. Animals get habituated to being fed and from there it’s pretty much downhill: the animal chooses the easy way of finding food, rather than the natural way, which is harder. They lose their fear of humans and soon become problem animals - appearing tame, but still wild. Behavior becomes more bold, even threatening, and the animals end up having to be destroyed. People cannot resist the temptation to throw food over the fence, thereby signing the ultimate death sentence of that animal.• Are there animals that are more susceptible to this kind of habit forming?[Joep Stevens] The worst ones we deal with are the two primates: vervet monkey and chacma baboon, both being dangerous to people. These two primates are omnivores and easily fall into the bad habit of accepting food from people. Spotted hyena at night around some of the camps are another constant problem. • What are some of the worst cases you've had with this problem? Can animals be rehabilitated and trained not to beg once the damage has been done?[William Mabasa] The issue of feeding animals may have occurred at some stages, but never on a very big scale.[Joep Stevens] One of the most interesting cases was that of a leopard which had seemingly become habituated to humans over a period of time, and lost the instinctive fear they normally have. Experts indicated that it was likely it was fed fresh meat to draw it towards the vehicle/s. The leopard eventually climbed onto an open safari vehicle and mauled the guide. It had to be shot the same day. We do not rehabilitate animals as it is unlikely to succeed and it does not fit into the management philosophy of SANParks.• How about litter? Are cleanup operations a regular necessity with SANParks? What kinds of issues can arise from guests littering? [Joep Stevens] Yes, SANParks holds cleaning campaigns once a year. Animals, in many cases, injure or kill themselves trying to eat packaging of food or other items.• I understand the fine for littering is fairly hefty - do you issue a lot of fines within the park? What would you like to say to future guests before we close off? [William Mabasa] One can be fined up to R1500. Visitors must always observe the rules of the park and, where possible, go to some of our guided activities so that they can learn more about the park.[Joep Stevens] We do issue fines for perpetrators. Please do not litter, we give guests litter bags, so there is no acceptable reason to litter. Litter not only defaces or even pollutes the environment, it can kill or maim an animal.Please resist the temptation to feed animals, as by doing so you are selfishly signing the premature death warrant of that animal. Also, keep to the speed limit – for the animals well being - and do not alight from your vehicle, unless it is at designated places.

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