By Hailey Shapiro
During Ecology Week, we learned about human/wildlife interactions. This concept was new to me. In my hometown, I grew up with clear lines cleaving my mental map between my town and natural areas. City planners had long ago covered the wetlands with asphalt and hacked down most of the trees to make room for buildings. Humans, lawns, and domesticated dogs lived inside the town; wildlife stayed in the surrounding rivers, wetlands, and distant forests.
We learned during Ecology Week that the human/wildlife division is not so simple. I was surprised to learn that, in India, about 80% of elephants live outside protected areas, and some leopard and hyena populations live in areas that are densely populated by humans (Thekaekara; Athreya et al). In many cases, we learned, there are no solid lines between human and animal habitats. At Keystone, we see the overlap between humans and wildlife daily. Guar—large buffalo with fluffy hairdos and sharp horns—roam around campus a few times a week, peacefully chewing grass. Monkeys often come by to try to steal snacks from tea time or to sit in flower bushes grooming each other. A mother huntsman spider has nested in our bedroom ceiling and we often find her children cooling themselves on the cold tiles in our bathroom.
The ecologists here told us that they are working to find ways to increase positive human/wildlife interactions and decrease conflicts. Sometimes, this applies to large-scale conservation efforts. The ecologists, for example, are studying guars’ travel paths to ensure that the animals have safe road crossings. Zoe and I are also learning about how we can improve human/wildlife interactions on an individual level. Since we arrived, the Keystone staff have been teaching us how we can make small changes to our daily lives to improve our interactions with wildlife. Wait for the gaurs to pass if they are grazing in your path, and don’t look them directly in the eyes. Instead of chasing monkeys off campus, just make sure to lock doors and windows so that they do not come in and steal things. At night, don’t wander into the forest where the leopards and wild boars might be. And shake out your clothes before you put them on to avoid uncomfortable interactions with spiders.
As I write this, I can simultaneously hear a guar chomping grass under my window and a Keystone employee’s car ringing as it backs up onto campus. The guar and other animals are a constant and key part of life here, and I am grateful for all of the positive interactions I have had with them.Here, I don’t file away thoughts of wildlife until I visit a natural reserve, like I tended to do back home. Disregarding the creatures that share our habitat would be dangerous and harmful, to them and to me. Instead, by always keeping my furry and scaly neighbors in mind, I can adjust my daily life to maintain peaceful interactions with wildlife.
Athreya, Vidya, et al. “Big Cats in Our Backyards: Persistence of Large Carnivores in a Human Dominated Landscape in India.” Plos One, March 2013.
Thekaekara, Tarsh. “Local Celebritites—Stories of elephant personalities in the Gudalur Region of the Nilgiris, South India.” The Shola Trust, April 2016.