Adorable YouTube Wildlife Stars – We’re Not Clicking

Attention Facebook, YouTube, Social Media Trends: we are not going to watch any more videos that involve wildlife interacting all cute and cuddly with humans in the wild.  You know the videos: “Scuba Diver and Seal Becomes Best Friends,” “Bear Sits Next to A Guy Fishing,”  “Elk vs. Photographer,”  “Feeding Friendly Monkeys in Malaysia,” “Wolves Come Out to Men,” “Incredible Encounter with Friendly Baby Elephant Seal.”

We want wild nature back, please.

We want nature to be strange, scary, terrifying as well as endearing, adorable and awesome. But, we don’t want wild nature to be 100 percent accessible and 100 percent understandable; we want bona fide real wildlife.

The abduction of a baby bison in Yellowstone National Park by “well-meaning” tourists or beachgoers in Argentina snapping selfies with a young endangered dolphin that ultimately meant death to the critters are sad stories. Where do folks get the idea that it’s OK to interact with wildness?  On YouTube, Nature Channels and Facebook feeds, of course. Seeing humans interacting with “tamed” wild creature makes everyone with a camera think they can do and be the same.

These happy images of “Humans Frolicking with Sea Otters in a Pool” mask a big dark unknown.  By “domesticating” wild animals and presenting them as just like our companion dogs and cats, we don’t challenge ourselves to see these wild critters with an attitude of profound respect and awe they deserve.

Don’t look to Mars for aliens; they are living among us already with fur, fang, claws and scale. Because of how they are put together, wild animals experience a world we never will. Our brains are not wired to comprehend how they perceive sights, color, movement, sounds and smells. We may share maternal bonds, pack mentality, the pain of loss and suspicion of outsiders, but wild critters are true foreigners to us.

Reducing them to furry and adorable playthings, in order to embrace them, is a costly embrace. This is not only dumbing down humanity, its robbing animals of their true identities.

Images are powerful and many YouTube stories and internet videos show how kindness and mercy can transform a critter in trouble.  A bear that celebrates its release from years of servitude by splashing in a pool for the first time. The release of a mountain lion from a hunter’s trap.  The reuniting of a fallen baby bat to its mother. There powerful messages conveyed via social media involve humans reaching out with compassion and then stepping back to let nature be naturally wild.

Instead of clicking on that cute video of “Baby Elephant Trying to Snuggle with a Human,” consider going to another source for that wildlife fix, namely our intrepid wildlife camera trappers.  All over the world, they hide cameras with the hopes of capturing snippets of real wild life, discovering species thought to be extinct and giving us glimpses of another world. Their images show a remarkable and normal side of wild animals as they take care of their young, sniff the air for a partner, lounge on the ground and eat bloody meals.

Camera trappers provide a service that’s above and beyond mere art and records of local natural history.  They offer us haunting and more mysterious images of life as a wild thing; and in large metro areas like Los Angeles, these naturalist photographers present urban life that is mouth-dropping and eye-popping, where mountain lions, bears, coyotes, foxes, bobcats and more roam often undetected.

So think twice before you click on that adorable human/wild thing video that is making the rounds on the internet.  It’s easy to see wildlife as a simple extension of domesticated creatures; but challenge yourself to rise above the sugar fluff video diet and go for the real meat.

— Brenda Rees, Editor

Thanks to Robert Martinez Johanna TurnerDenis Callet and all SoCal camera trappers for their generosity and dedication (including the fine folks at the Griffith Park Trail Cam, Starr Ranch Sanctuary, Irvine Ranch and all others who bring the wild world closer to us).