Fauna of the National Parks
of the United States
PROBLEMS OF COMPETITIVE ORIGIN
The art of appreciation of wilderness life in national parks is still in the beginning stages of development. It is the first sort of contact that most people have ever had with large animals roaming at liberty. In the novelty of the experience it is natural to exercise the same standards of enjoyment which apply to the appreciation of the so-called wild animals of zoological gardens. There the most exciting factor was the proximity to the wild caged animal. In the parks the visitor realized the highest joy in the new contact when his picture was taken stroking the back of a deer. If the object of affection could be that more formidable animal, the bear well, so much the bigger impression on the home folks.
The new emphasis is on perfecting the manner of presentation of the visitors to the wild life rather than on how the animals can be drawn out of their natural wilderness existences to be presented to the visitors. Through the educational branch of the Service, thousands of people are being led for the first time to an appreciation of the greater fascination of wild life in nature as compared to the paler pleasure of feeding semidomesticated animals by hand. They are beginning to seek the story of the endless change and struggle and the marvelous interrelations of all living things in the wilderness.
This new idea is a more sophisticated concept than the old one and hence it does not represent the state of mind of the majority as yet. But all of the progress made in the park system, including its very conception, has been based on an idealism which did not wait for the average standards. If national-park developments had been based on the absolute level of average ideas, they would not be any thing more than amusement parks to-day.
All of this may seem far removed from the question of animal problems, yet there is a close connection. If the animal life is to be coerced into an abnormal life for presentation to the visitor, the situation is fraught with possibilities of disastrous effects both upon the species concerned and the biota of the park as a unit. If the wild life is left in place and man introduced to the whole natural picture instead of being shown tamed animals, there will be much less disturbance of the natural balance and hence fewer problems.
Bears in Yellowstone. In an earlier discussion the dangers to man in the conflict between visitors and bears were analyzed. There is another side to the question in the harm which may come to the bears from the new contact. This can only be postulated, for there has not been time enough as yet for changes to become manifest and no research has been undertaken to make definite determinations.
The manner of presentation of bears in this and other parks has been to feed large quantities of garbage in arenas, there being one or more of these according to the distribution of human-population centers. This has brought about unprecedented concentration of bears in small areas in Yellowstone. What are some of the adverse or possible adverse effects upon the bears resulting from this manner of presentation?
(a) The intimate association of many bears at one time on the feeding grounds must facilitate the spread of diseases or parasites which may be endemic in bears in Yellowstone, or of any diseases which may be introduced among them.
(b) The garbage itself, including the remains of domesticated animals, may introduce parasites.
(c) The rich concentrates in the garbage are an unnatural food for bears; and if feeding of them is continued for many bear generations, injurious physiological changes in the make-up of the bears are exceedingly likely to occur.
(d) The garbage season is coincident with the tourist season and not with the bear requirements. As a result of this uneven distribution of food, there is likely to be a scarcity of feed at the critical times. If it is true that because of this unnatural condition the females go into hibernation in a poor condition, there is a genuine possibility that the cubs born in the winter months will suffer until eventually degeneration of the race will take place as a result.
(e) Inasmuch as the garbage is concentrated in areas a few yards square, the old bears are able to dominate tIme situation at the expense of the younger animals. It is possible, on the other hand, that the young animals learn only the feeding habits of their elders; and not being trained to rustle their natural foods, become the small scrawny hold-up bears so common on the Yellowstone roads.
(f) The garbage pits must cause a desertion of the niche formerly occupied by the bears in the summer time, thus further disturbing normal biotic relationships in the park.
(g) Garbage feeding attracts the bears to the vicinities of the food stores of campers and encourages a lack of fear of man. The cubs know no such fear right from the start. In the new contact the bears offend man, who has the whip hand, so that the bears are bound to be the sufferers in the end.
(h) Bears appear at their worst on the garbage platform, so that their characters, in the minds of the visitors, suffer as well as does very probably their physical well-being from this manner of presentation.
To conclude, it might be said that this manner of presentation of bears is very likely to be to the ultimate detriment of the bears. Certainly it is responsible for much of the injury to man. The bear show has been one of the greatest assets of the national parks. However, it has served its greatest purpose in the period when bringing the people to an appreciation of the wonderful things to be seen and done in the parks was of prime importance. Now that the popularity of their values is established and their place secure, it may be necessary to modify the old practices in the interests of the welfare of both people and bears.
The whole question is one which deserves thorough study, for there is no doubt but that the bear problem is increasing in magnitude in Yellowstone and other parks. It may be feasible to reduce the amount of feeding and to improve the selection of food. Perhaps a natural bear food, such as honey, could be used to attract bears to certain places so that the visitor limited to a very short stay in the park could be assured of at least one good view of a bear. The sight of one bear under natural conditions is more stimulating than close association with dozens of bears. Even now one hears more accounts of encounters with an individual bear than of the bear show.