While understanding wildlife is important, the bridge to connect wildlife and people is just as crucial in achieving peace between wildlife and humans. That was why I immediately signed up for this talk when I read the title, because I really wanted to hear how a Wildlife Educator would be that bridge between the two. Admittedly, it is not an easy task, and to balance between the various aspects is a skill.
Approached to human-wildlife interaction
1. Research and outreach
Something new to me was how research and outreach would come together. I guess the research portion is much more “undercover” than the outreach, but it is really important to realise that they are parts of a whole. It never really did occur to me that taking a science-based approach towards human-wildlife interactions would be useful since it enhances our understanding of the behaviours of wildlife (kind of like sociology but for animals), as well as more accurately identifying certain root causes to better push out advisories and enforcement. However, the people’s mindset is also important, hence outreach would be necessary as an extension.
To take on a multi-agency approach is indeed an ideal, since all stakeholders are involved and will have their voices heard. While it could potentially be much messier with conflicting interests, it hopefully opens doors for discussion and compromise. A lot of times people may not be receptive because they feel as though their opinions are not respected, and hence taking on such an approach would give each stakeholder the basic amount of respect to be heard, and thus opening up more conversations and coming to a conclusion that is more accepted.
Handling human relationships
I was actually rather surprised to hear about the hours Cyrena spent in befriending the Bird Feeder Lady, and that was something that really stuck out. Indeed, education requires time, and to begin first by building a common understanding rather than to impose your views on others, that really inspired me. Truthfully, having to deal with social issues while tackling human-wildlife interaction is a complex task, but I guess that is the beauty of the entire process: to gain a friend who is able to work alongside you in promoting healthier human-wildlife interactions.
And to decide between a fine and convincing/educating others is really tough (kudos to Cyrena it is really tough to balance between yourself as a person and a duty)! I guess that is the grey area that we will have to deal with when managing human-wildlife interactions (and especially so for full-time educators). There really is no right or wrong answer, and I guess it is the ambiguity of it that makes the job of a wildlife educator so important :’)
Tapping on others’ strengths (by understanding them)
Sometimes we think that managing people is just understanding their needs and targeting it. But to empower them based on their strengths is arguably more effective and sustainable, and that was something I was rather heartened to hear about when Cyrena shared about how they build community gardens and connect the bird feeders to animal welfare groups in order to divert the strengths of these bird feeders to areas of good use. By acknowledging the strengths of others and giving them the deserved recognition, people would be more inclined to listen and change their habits, and in a sense we wouldn’t have to worry too much about relapse, since people now have a reason to follow through this new way of life. And that’s what makes education powerful: it does not control you, yet it guides you to find your own answer and do it out of your own will.
Education is truly important to encourage more human-wildlife interaction, and it comes with the understanding of both parties. On our end, knowing where each person stands in their attitude towards wildlife (for e.g. an elder may be more wary of animals, a mother more protective of her kids when facing a snake, a child who is beginning with a clean slate) would lead to different forms of education tailored to each group. No doubt it would be a lot of work, but to make sure that we are educating while listening to the public, we have to cater to varying degrees of acceptance. This is where community involvement would be much appreciated, where members of the public who are already more receptive towards human-wildlife interaction can step up to lead and raise awareness. And coming from a ground-up perspective, there is the added advantage of being able to read the ground beforehand, and therefore providing even more tailored outreach programmes.
To conclude 🙂
I really want to thank Cyrena for the insightful sharing, because it really opened up my eyes to the behind-the-scenes and considerations when handling human-wildlife interaction, and a huge shoutout and thank you to all the wildlife educators out there for their work! May we look forward to greater bonds forged between humans and wildlife 🙂