Bad behavior by guests at Wildlife Prairie Park annoys animals
- Wildlife Prairie Park has had repeated problems with the wild turkey enclosure.
- Loud guests, some of whom howl and hiss, stressed wolves, coyotes and owls.
HANNA CITY – Wildlife Prairie Park is plagued by bestial behavior.
Not by the animals, but by the guests.
Selfish and thoughtless visitors urged on the creatures, physically and verbally. The park rushed to help the animals. Some have been moved to safer places; others have been dismissed permanently for their own good. Meanwhile, signs have been posted asking people to stop irritating wildlife.
In addition, the park has borne the additional costs of installing additional fencing to strengthen protection against increased risks.
âIt’s not the animals; it’s the people, âexplains Roberta English, Park Director General. âPeople created the problem.
ââ¦ It’s just a small percentage of people. But problem makers cost a lot of money.
To a large extent, the problem lies with social media. People see online posts and close-ups of zoo animals, then head to zoos and parks expecting to take similar photos – sometimes even dangerous selfies. In March, national headlines reported a poignant story from the San Diego Zoo, where a father took his 2-year-old daughter to an elephant enclosure to get a snapshot. The elephant charged on the couple, who were fortunate enough to somehow escape without trampling.
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Coverage of such events – on media and platforms like YouTube – exacerbates selfie obsession, according to National Geographic. Viewers are starting to think of such interactions as normal, reducing animals – even dangerous ones – to props for human entertainment. As a psychologist told the magazine, “animals have become less real to us.”
The Peoria Zoo has not experienced many such problems, explains Yvonne Strode, director of the facility. Nationally, however, selfie risk has become a growing challenge in zoos and parks, says Adrienne Bauer, director of wildlife at the 2,000-acre Wildlife Prairie Park.
âThere has been an increase,â says Bauer. âI don’t want to denigrate social media. But monkey see, monkey do.
Worse, people see, people do. As such, society is becoming more demanding and less conscientious, English says, leading to “less respect for nature and others.” From there, some demanding photo clients expect animals to act or pose a certain way.
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This attitude has caused repeated problems at the park’s wild turkey enclosure. This involved a simple setup: two turkeys in a 16-by-20-foot wire mesh enclosure. But some visitors insisted on seeing what is known as a “turkey strut,” where the birds spread their tails. Often this is done by the males as part of the mating ritual. But it can also be a defensive reaction of either sex when a turkey is provoked.
So, to ignite the strut, the guests would forage sticks, walk through the fence and sting the turkeys.
“Not children,” said English. “Adults.”
The park then added a second layer of fencing, to put more distance between the turkeys and visitors.
âBut they just have longer sticks,â says English.
The park didn’t want to stretch a limited budget and build a larger, guest-proof enclosure just for a pair of turkeys. So the birds were donated to Fon du Lac Farm Park in East Peoria.
âYou can still see the turkeys in this community, but not here,â says English.
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A sign on the empty pen explains, âDue to constant teasing from guests, the turkeys will no longer be on display. Sorry for the inconvenience. âAnna Lynn, the park’s animal curator, frowns at the need to remove turkeys and post such signs.
âIt was like having a toddler: ‘If you can’t play nicely, we’ll take it away from you,’â she says.
Other signs ask guests to play well. At the wolf and coyote enclosures in the park, signs imploring “Please !!!” No howling. Howling is one of the many unique ways that wolves and coyotes communicate with each other. While howling is fun for humans, it causes stress for animals. “
Plus, as some guests hope, howling doesn’t attract animals to close.
âIt has the opposite effect,â says Bauer. âThey move away. “
Likewise, during the indoor owl display, a sign urges, “Please do not click, hoot, hiss or kiss owls.” They have very sensitive ears.
Captive birds are used to normal human chatter. But sudden, high-pitched noises – like hooting – scared the owls, says Bauer.
âBarn owls can hear a mouse’s heart beating on a football field farther away, under a foot of snow,â she says.
Sharing this information is part of the educational mission of the park. And most guests enjoy learning how to behave appropriately with animals, says Bauer. But a few are downright rude.
For example, some guests insist on trying to pet horses, which are irritated by aggressive touching – and may bite. The park had to move the horses out of reach of the guests, English says.
âNow you can only see the horses on the train (in the park),â she said.
Likewise, with the park’s Texas Longhorns, visitors would uproot handfuls of grass, climb over the fence, and try to feed the cattle, waving the alleged snacks in their faces in an attempt to elicit a reaction.
âYou would think the horns would drive people away,â English says.
The park had to add more fencing, which makes the animals harder to see – and adds an extra cost. To relieve the bottom line and the stress of the animals, the park plans to continue to frankly discuss these issues with guests.
âSome zoos try to avoid these conversations because it confuses people,â says Bauer. “We are not turning away from these conversations.”
For customers who don’t know how to behave in the park, Bauer offers a simple tip: âThe best way to see our animals is to speak low and look. ”
Phil Luciano is a columnist for the Journal Star. He can be reached at [email protected] and (309) 686-3155. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.