How do wild animals alter their behaviour when living in close proximity to humans?
Gillian Burke takes a look at how contact with humans changes the behaviour of wildlife
Scientists studying how wild animals alter their behaviour when living in close proximity to humans have analysed almost 200 peer-reviewed studies in mammals, birds, fish, reptiles and even molluscs. They looked at domesticated animals, wild animals in captivity, as well as the effect of urbanisation on the different animal groups.
The researchers were startled by the extent to which, in many cases, animals began to lose their anti-predator traits, sometimes almost immediately after contact with humans.
Wild animals employ different behavioural tactics – from hyper-vigilance to freeze or flight – in response to a threat, but these quickly waned, as anthropogenic environments tend to have lower predation risk than natural habitats. The most pronounced effects were noted in animals that ranged freely in urban environments, while the effect was slowest in captive wild animals, suggesting freedom of movement helps to put animals at ease while they suss out us humans.
The researchers’ findings could inform various conservation efforts, from captive breeding programmes to animal rescue centres, but they might also go some way to retelling the ‘humans are invariably bad for nature’ self-flagellating narrative that has become so pervasive and, in my view, isn’t a helpful mindset from which to heal our relationship with the natural world.
This is not to sweep the negative impacts under the carpet, but shining a light on the positive relationships and impacts humans can and do have on wildlife and environments could help move us towards a healthier, more balanced relationship with not just nature, but ourselves.
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Main image: An urban fox © Getty Images
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