To Bait Or Not To Bait, A Debate

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A great gray looks up after plunging into the snow, while hunting north of Two Harbors, Minn. The great gray is one of the world’s largest species of owl. Derek Montgomery for MPR News

We have never had, nor can I picture us having this debate at Chan Chich Lodge or any other wildlife setting we are responsible for managing; nonetheless, since we all live in glass houses of one sort or another, it is worth a moment to read this and ponder (thanks to Dan Kraker and Minnesota Public Radio, USA):

Earlier this winter, photographer Michael Furtman was driving along the North Shore of Lake Superior in search of great gray owls. Several of the giant, elusive birds had flown down from Canada looking for food.

He pulled off on a dirt road where he had seen an owl the night before. One was there, perched in a spruce tree, but so was a pair of videographers filming them.

“I backed off, I was going to just let them have their time with the bird,” Furtman says. “And then I saw them run out and put a mouse on the snow.”

Predictably the hungry owl dove down, in front of the camera, snatching an easy meal. Furtman says he was so angry that he got in his car and drove away. But he soon returned to confront them and filmed the encounter on his phone. He later posted the video on Facebook.

“There are a lot of people would like to photograph this bird hunting,” he said to the videographers through his car window. “And it’s not going to hunt the rest of the day after you stuff it to the gills.”

One responded saying, “We understand … but we’re not hurting this bird in any way, shape or form. Absolutely not. Maybe we’re hurting the photographers, and I’m sorry if that’s the way people feel.”

Those opposed to feeding say it’s unethical and doesn’t capture owls behaving naturally. Furtman has made it his mission to fight the practice, confronting people, and outing them when they post baited photographs online.

James Duncan, a Canadian biologist and an owl expert who directs Manitoba’s wildlife and fisheries branch, says the main concern is it can habituate owls to humans.

“You’re essentially training the owl to lose its fear of humans and associate food with humans, so then they become bolder,” Duncan says.

He says this bolder behavior can increase the chances of the owls getting hit by cars.

Others say there’s a lack of evidence showing that owls are being harmed by these staged, human interactions.

“It’s a nasty battle, but as far as I know, there’s no data to back up any of the negative,” says Terry Crayne, a long-time hobby wildlife photographer in northern Minnesota.

Crayne admits he uses mice to entice owls for his photos.

“Most of the people I know who are against feeding owls are actually feeding deer,” Crayne says. “The deer are associating humans with food. So which is worse? In my mind, if you’re against feeding one animal, you should be against feeding them all.”…

Read the whole story here.

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