I live on the edge of a major metropolitan area, near a large urban park. Eagle Creek Park is one of the largest municipal parks in the U.S., with about 5,000 acres of land and water combined. The influence of the park can be felt all around it.
I spend a lot of time in the restored prairie habitats and wetlands near the park, some of which are situated next to a greenway that runs along the busy street abutting the park. I was knee-deep in the prairie flowers photographing butterflies the other evening, when I looked up and saw that two fawns had emerged from the forest to nibble on grass. This wasn’t a total surprise — Travis had seen one of the fawns the week before while driving alongside the greenway — but it was a pleasant one.
I crept up on the fawns to see if I could photograph them. I kept a respectable distance, because I didn’t want to frighten them into the busy street. Fortunately, the corridor of prairie vegetation offered me a bit of cover.
I’ve seen the fawns a number of times since, and they are always alone, so it appears they may be orphans. I cringe a little when I see them nibbling grass so close to zooming traffic. I’m obviously not the only one; a police officer honked his horn at them as he drove by, perhaps in hopes that they would stick a little closer to the forest line. If one of the fawns runs into the street, it wouldn’t end well for anyone.
More and more I believe that if wildlife is to survive in the future, a lot of it will look like this: Wild animals living alongside people. Coyotes have already mastered life in large cities. Emerging when people are mostly asleep, they live off the byproducts of human civilization. Feral dogs in Moscow take the subway.
I was thinking a bit about this when I read this op-ed in the New York Times by a Zimbabwean graduate student, titled “In Zimbabwe, we don’t cry for lions.” There is a lot to take with a grain of salt in that piece, except the one truth that makes it worth reading in the first place: Any wildlife conservation effort cannot afford to dismiss the people who must live near the wildlife to be conserved. The interests of villagers in not being mauled by lions cannot be ignored by conservationists who don’t have those same worries. The linked piece seems to treat the interplay between human beings and lions as a zero sum game in which there is no room, ever, for reasonable human beings to “cry for lions.” I think many conservationists have shown this to be false. Successful conservation focuses on managing human-wildlife conflict, with a deep understanding that human beings can’t cry for lions while lions are still a danger to them or their livelihood.
The fawns don’t strike the kind of terror in the human heart that lions do — unless they decide to jump in front of someone’s car. But even in that event, the fawn is likely to lose more than the human. But still, it reminds me that a big task for people interested in biological diversity is going to be figuring out how human beings and wild animals can live together.
I’m going to keep an eye on the fawns.
(More photos of the fawns on The Trailhead’s facebook page. And I hope more in the coming days as well.)