Bad good deeds

And the power of government status

On May 20 of this year, Clifford Walters – a well-meaning, 78-year-old Hawaiian tourist visiting Yellowstone National Park – tried to save a bison calf.

The National Park Service later decided that because of human handling, the park’s bison herd wasn’t going to take the calf back and killed the animal, which set off a manhunt for Waters.

As a park media release at the time put it, “the unfortunate incident where the man intentionally disturbed the calf resulted in the death of the calf.”

Seven days later far to the north in Alaska, Officer Sean Perry of the Homer Police Department did with a moose calf what Walters had done with the bison calf.

HPD officer Sean Perry/Facebook

Walters had by then been identified and was headed to court.

On May 31, he appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Stephanie A. Hambrik, according to another park service release, and pleaded guilty to feeding, touching, teasing, frightening, or intentionally disturbing wildlife.

For this crime of good deeds – “There was nothing in the report that revealed Mr. Walters acted maliciously,” the park service said –  Walters was assessed $1,040 in fines, “community service” payments, specials assessments and processing fees.

Meanwhile in Alaska, the social media propagandists for the Homer Police Department were eulogizing Perry on Facebook for a very similar “rescue” despite decades of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game telling people to avoid trying to help moose calves that appear to be in trouble or have simply been left alone by their mothers.

Cow moose don’t always abandon their calves if the young smell of humans from human handling, but abandonment after handling is documented in at least one peer-reviewed scientific study.

The official position of state wildlife biologists, as stated on the Fish and Game website, is “Leave them alone!

“Many of the calls to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game about ‘orphaned’ animals involve bears and moose.

“Don’t assume a young animal is an orphan simply because it is alone. Often its mother is nearby and will return once you have left the area. Almost always, the proper response is to leave the animals alone.”

The Homer Police Department apparently has a different view of this situation as the department’s Facebook post explains:

“Anyone else have that ”one” kid? The one that marches to it it’s own beat? The one that’s hell bent on doing it their way Apparently moose have them too.

“Meet Twinky the Swamp Donkey. She thinks the middle of the road is a good napping place and she won’t moove (sic) until she’s good and ready.”

According to a comment posted on the Facebook page by Morgan Tracy, another HPD officer, the outcome here appears to have been better than in Yellowstone, though there is no way of telling whether the cow eventually rejected the calf.

“For those wondering, the mother was in the tree line 40-50 ft away and didn’t seem to fuss about the calf being moved to the edge of the woods closer to where she was,” Morgan wrote.

Why the officers didn’t just shoo the calf off the road without handling it is unclear, but that would definitely not have made for as good a photo op.

And most of the 170 commenters on the Facebook post were having a jolly good time joshing over the photo of the rescue of the “swamp donkey.”

It was good PR for HPD and what else matters?

When Verna Egoak did get on the Facebook post to observe that “people get charged for harassing wildlife if a citizen took a pic like that,” she was quickly put in her place with comments like these:

  • “Verna Egoak we ain’t in Yellowstone thank goodness!”
  • “Verna Egoak there’s always one Karen on every post. You’re that Karen.”
  • “Verna Egoak what part of ‘napping in the middle of the road’ did you miss😐. Idk about you but I prefer they moved the baby moose instead of letting it become road kill.”
  • “Verna Egoak its his yob (sic) to protect the cars driving on that road. Mama might come out of woods and attack a car if it hit her baby, or she might have a couple more calves with her and is choosing selective removal like they offer parents who are carrying 5 or 6 babys.”

What seemed totally lost was all that advice from Fish and Game to Alaskans advising them not to handle baby wild animals.

One photo, pushed by the right people, appears unable to undo hundreds of words.

Unless, of course, one is in a National Park where the penalty for trying to do what you think a good deed by saving animals is costly.


6 replies »

  1. ……..abandonment after handling is documented in at least one peer-reviewed scientific study…….
    Oh, oh……that makes it scripture. Let them drown or get run over in accordance with Science.

    • Why let them get run over? It wouldn’t take much of a stick to prod a moose calf off the roadway and not leave it all covered in human scent. Or much knowledge of wildlife behavior to figure that out.

      The bison calf is another story, but then again “saving” it in a national park is just depriving some other scavenger/predator of food, and the idea is that the ecosystems in national parks should function like natural ecosystems.

      Should we go back to feeding bears at Yellowstone, as the park service once did, to increase the number of bears in the park and make viewing opportunities easier? And while we’re at, maybe feed the wolves too so they don’t prey on the calves or fawns of anything?

  2. DNA has proven that when a black bear is seen with 3 or 4 cubs, often all are not hers. In cases where the cub’s mother has been killed (frequently by a car) or separated from the mother, the cub often interacts with other cubs. Their scent on the abandoned cub allows the nonmother to accept it. Sheepherders rub the orphan lamb on a nursing mother’s wool and on her natural lambs for the same purpose. Obviously, a nursing bison would need to be tranquilized for this to possibly be successful.

  3. “By their fruits ye shall know them.”
    Alaska has been documented as the least productive wildlife state in the nation. The overwhelming documentation of the statewide loss of king salmon and loss of moose harvests is ample evidence that Alaska has more thanatologists than biologists. Such is the fruit of Best Available Science.

    • “Thanatologists…” Good one.

      But Alaska is basically the least productive wildlife state in the nation because it is the far north land of cold and dark. Basic metabolic theory dictates low productivity. Sad but true despite some of those past Serengeti references to Alaska caribou.

      Alaska is about 50 times the size of the Serengeti plain and home to 750,000 caribou – give or take 100,000 or so – and maybe 150,000 to 200,000 moose. The Serenegi is home to1.3 to 1.7 wildebeast, 500,000 gazelles, 200,000 or so zebras, plus significant numbers of Impala, steinbuck, dik dik, elephant, buffalo, giraffe, waterbuck, reedbuck, warthogs, oribi, roan antelope, kudu and who knows what else.

      Even in a warmer climate, which will increase productivity, Alaska can’t compete because of the lack of sunlight for half the year. The food pyramid starts with a base of plants and builds up. Alaska’s plant base is narrow. But if the geneticists could create an alder-munching Frankenmoose, maybe we could shift the dynamic a little.

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