Unfair stigma and untold wildlife stories
June 4, 2010
Steamboat Springs — Too often I hear a misconception that wildlife officers with the Colorado Division of Wildlife are simply "animal killers." Whether it's a bear getting into a neighbor's trash or an injured deer on someone's property, an occasionally heard public sentiment is "don't call the Division of Wildlife because they will just come out and shoot it." Sometimes people even call the Division of Wildlife office to complain about an animal that was tranquilized and moved, assuming that it eventually was killed. As a wildlife officer, I am frustrated by these types of statements and attitudes.
The vast majority of Colorado Division of Wildlife employees have chosen this career because of a deep love and compassion for wildlife. As long as I can remember, I have known that I wanted to work with and help animals. I feel that is what I do as a wildlife officer.
These "animal killer" stories also are sometimes highlighted by the media. People rarely hear about the wildlife success stories that occur on a daily basis across the state. One example occurred locally in the winter:
A young cow moose showed up in the Walton Creek neighborhood in January. One of the moose's back legs appeared injured and she seemed unwilling to move, staying in the same spot for several hours. What caused the moose's injury still is unknown, with possible causes ranging from being hit by a car to simply slipping on the ice.
Because the injury did not seem severe — no blood and no protruding bones — the Division of Wildlife decided that moving the moose was the best option. The hope was that with less harassment from crowds of people and dogs, the moose would be able to freely feed and heal on her own.
How does the Division of Wildlife go about moving a 400-plus-pound animal? It took not only a heavy dose of tranquilizer, but also five employees and two volunteers from the Steamboat Springs Police Department and Routt County Sheriff's Office to accomplish the task. The moose had to be immobilized, lifted onto a sled, and then moved into a horse trailer for transport.
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Compassionate landowners in South Routt County allowed the Division of Wildlife to transplant the injured moose onto their property.
Throughout the following weeks, the landowners, wildlife staff and a local vet monitored the moose's condition. Only one day after the moose's stressful journey, it was standing and feeding in the willow bottoms. Every day the moose's condition seemed to improve, and today, the moose seems perfectly healthy.
Wildlife success stories such as the Walton Creek moose happen pretty frequently. As an agency, we're not always good at tooting our own horn. We don't always rush to the media and say, "Look what we did today." For us, it's a part of our job and what sportsmen's dollars pay us to do. It's why we got into this line of work in the first place.
Unfortunately, not all of our wildlife stories have happy endings. When dealing with wildlife and human interactions, tough decisions often must be made in order to protect public safety. Animals that have become habituated to people or display aggressive behavior must be destroyed. There is no place where you can move a dangerous animal without the risk that it will become a danger to someone else. Colorado is changing. The human population is growing and things such as recreation, energy development and grazing mean there are human activities in just about every corner of the state.
Second only to protecting human safety, we always will do what is best for wildlife. However, doing what is best for wildlife may not always be what the public expects. Unlike domestic pets, wild animals cannot recover from many types of injuries, even with the help of an experienced and licensed wildlife rehabilitator. Sometimes the most humane thing to do is to put that animal down. Additionally, certain wildlife diseases can be spread easily within populations, making an infected animal a threat to healthy animals.
Putting down animals is one of my least favorite parts of the job. However, opportunities to help animals such as the Walton Creek moose and entire wildlife populations make my job very rewarding. I hope the public will learn to appreciate and understand our efforts.
Danielle Domson is a District Wildlife Manager for the Colorado Division of Wildlife out of Steamboat Springs.