At Steppes Travel, we take hundreds of clients each year on wildlife safaris and so the debate on whether it is right to intervene when an animal is in peril is of particular interest to us. Given the means and opportunity, I’m sure there are very few of us that wouldn’t have taken steps to save the stricken emperor penguins seen on the BBC’s Dynasties program, but was it the right thing to do?
Compelled by a sense of compassion and humanity, the BBC crew acted to save a helpless animal. On face value, this seems like a simple act of morality that should be applauded however the principle of human intervention in the natural world is far from cut and dried. At what point does well-meaning intervention become harmful interloping? Ecosystems are finely balanced and few of us have sufficient understanding to arbitrate on when it is right to act.
As tourists, we visit wild habitats as observers and should make an effort to keep our footprint as light as possible. As soon as we look to influence the wildlife we are there to see, we cross a line which can leave an indelible impression, often to the detriment of the eco-system at large.
The Kenya Wildlife Service have a good rule on this issue: only intervene when an animal is injured due to contact with humans. This criterion is a judicious check on human sensibilities that compel us to act to save individual animals when often, the better option for the species and the eco-system, is to do nothing but let nature take its course
Applying this criterion, the BBC were right to intervene in the case of the poisoned lions in the Masai Mara. Since the lions were critically ill due to pernicious, human intervention, it was only right that human observers do something to redress this.
The debate will rage on but ultimately, differences must be set aside so that the people who care about wildlife, unite to stand up to people that look to cause wildlife harm.