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The Leaving Journal

Don't Feed the Wildlife

NEW ZEALAND | Sunday, 8 February 2015 | Views [310]

"I'll do whatever the hell I want, so shut the hell up!" shouted the redneck, crouched next to a small yellow-eyed penguin on the rocky beach. A crowd had gathered on the earthen ledge above him, watching as he tried to coax the animal towards him with a cracker. Everyone had tolerated his inappropriate closeness to the penguin, though he was clearly distressing it, until he pulled out the cracker. At that point, myself and a few other people in the crowd called out, asking that he leave it alone and read the myriad of signs warning visitors against approaching or feeding wildlife.
His response was what one would expect from a redneck twenty-something. No one likes being told they're wrong, least of all rednecks. (I'm not even sure the term "redneck" holds any meaning in this country, but it's the only description I can muster. Think over-sized, low-slung jeans, a black hoodie printed with a marijuana leaf, an over-bearing, testosterone-driven, invasive loudness and a general disregard for anyone else's comfort or pleasure.)
Lizzy and I used our last day of the rental car to drive from Riverton to Curio Bay on the southern tip of the South Island: a rugged, beautiful spot with a large population of nesting hoiho (yellow-eyed penguins) and occasional visits from Hector's dolphins. The penguins don't usually come ashore until evening, so we were delighted to see one waddle up as we were eating our lunch around midday. The picnic area at the campground was busy and a few large families went down to the beach to get a closer look. The penguin was alone and seemed curious and timid about the group, but didn't retreat back into the sea. I was irritated at people's inability to give the animal space and admire from a distance.
What transformed my irritation into sadness and regret was the man-boy's reaction when a campground host finally showed up (Yes, I tattled on him) and made him retreat. The guy said, very genuinely, "I don't see how it does any harm."
I forget sometimes that I was very lucky to be raised in the constant presence of wilderness and wild animals and that I was taught not to feed them, or approach them, or abuse them. I understand his inclination - I had a primal urge to capture and force-snuggle the penguin, with its precious, fat belly and waddling little feet. It's no wonder he wanted to feed it and pet it. And why would he be inclined to read - much less heed - the countless signs explaining that the animal needs space, and doesn't eat crackers, and shouldn't be petted, unless he was taught to do so? Of course he doesn't see how it does any harm. His family - people older than him who I imagine were his parents, grandparents or older brothers and sisters - were watching his behavior without any concern. In retrospect, this experience of strangers publicly chastising him probably did nothing but make him more likely to hunt down another penguin to feed crackers to. Maybe he'll at least upgrade to sardines.
We also saw sea lions! They're a little more intimidating, so no one tried to feed them, but several people surrounded them and got way too close. I'll admit I was a touch relieved to see it's not just Americans who can't follow simple directions.

IMG_3883Waipapa Point, where we saw sea lions. Also the site of New Zealand's worst shipwreck, killing 131 civilian passengers, back in the 1800s (hence the lighthouse).







Tags: animals, new zealand, tourism, tourists, wildlife


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