Wildlife Research Objectives
By Dave Rushworth
The enquiring mind of humanity is our most important asset in the struggle for physical survival on earth. The professional activity of 'finding out' or 'discovering' labels one a 'researcher'. This activity can be used to gain knowledge for the benefit of humanity or abused to enhance one's own status.
The same applies to most other 'professions' - it all depends on an attitude of 'giving' or 'taking'. Most 'research' work requires subsidising by the 'productive' section of society and should be accountable to society by producing information that is useful in the human quest for survival, improved quality of life for all species and for the environment. This is not always the case.
There is much fraudulent and inappropriate activity taking place under the guise of 'research'. The 'publish or perish' syndrome, to stay in a subsidised profession, often produces useless and slanted information. 'The energy loss in the tail-wagging of Grant's Gazelle' or similar papers, appear inapplicable for any purpose but have provided some individual with an excuse to be in a prohibited area and have a subsidised 'holiday' in some reserve.
Unless, for some reason, one intends to stop the gazelle from wagging their tails, after thousands of years of evolution !! There is no knowledge that is totally useless if interpreted intelligently. The tail wagging may indicate excessive insect activity. It may be a vital form of herd communication. It may be a cooling mechanism - but the energy loss involved would appear metabolically irrelevant.
Consideration of an initial hypothesis is most important and needs intelligent vetting before individuals are permitted to squander public funding on, often, illegal and fraudulent activities for their own financial benefit. Pseudo 'research' activities ridicule and bring into disrepute the good name of genuine, hardworking researchers.
There would appear to be a good case for research into activities and methods of research. Among those who consider themselves 'intelligentsia' there is a pompous strain that presume that the 'general public' have no insight or common sense. What they say and do is the only acceptable way, which should not be questioned. Let us have some examples.
The hair on the back of a spotted hyena's neck lies forwards instead of backwards. Most mammals have backward facing hair on their bodies. They walk or run forwards. The stomach hairs lie at different angles as does some facial hair. All obviously an evolutionary development to assist in passage through obstacles, streamlining, assisting young to find suckling teats, draining water away from eyes and shedding blood and gore when withdrawing the head and neck from a carcass.
Why then persist in the method of placing bulky and unsightly collars on mammals and make presumptions that such monitored individuals are behaving normally. They have acute hearing which can be affected by transmissions. Their hair would lie forwards if it wasn't going to affect their progress in thick bush or get caught on sticks etc, like a collar could. The effect on activities needs further research and methods refined in this respect.
Birds have small, subtle colour markings which are critical in feeding and other behaviour. What effect do colour rings, back tags, feather dyeing etc have on behaviour? The same applies to reptiles, amphibians and fish that can all see colour. Many animals have electro-magnetic, infra-red, heat-sensory and other senses which are foreign to humans. How do implants and attachments affect their behaviour?
The 'gullible', 'uneducated' public are expected to accept, without question and act on 'research' results that may be horribly skewed and invalid because of unchecked methods. It becomes a big money-making farce.
Captive breeding, monitoring and management methods which are successful on controlled mono-species, are utilised on wild, communal populations, resulting in untold harm to the species survival. 'Man playing god with nature' ! An excuse to show off !
We know that only about 2% of crocodiles survive to adulthood and an even smaller percentage applies to most birds and many other species. They have enough to contend with in the species' endeavour to survive without being interfered with by 'saviours' at the most critical period in their breeding cycles.
Why then do we persist in disturbance of nest sites to ring chicks, take blood samples, measure and sample eggs etc, when the birds are most vulnerable ? Because it is the easiest and laziest opportunity for us. Why play mating or territorial calls that attract birds, thus threatening their behaviour and status, just to impress a group of novice bird watchers, who may not have any interest in that specie's survival ?
Pulling eggs and removing siblings has had great success in captive situations but we should never presume to use the same methods in natural situations. Each species has a natural cycle which is designed for a purpose and we tamper with natural situations to the detriment of the species. Where the -- of any species ignores it's natural function and is UNSUSTAINABLE, then it is totally UNACCEPTABLE and intelligent legislation should be strictly enforced.
Despite well documented success stories increasing numbers of species are becoming extinct - through our intended or ignorant interference and despite our increased knowledge - than ever before in recorded history. We are not god - and every species would rejoice and benefit if the human race were wiped off the face of the planet tomorrow.
Our greed and pride has made us irrelevant and a threat to the survival of wild species. More than anything, we need a change of attitude. Without more attention to our motives, methods and attitudes we are rapidly headed for a greatly impoverished quality of life where we know everything about the Dodo - but nothing about the human soul.