The Misanthrope’s Field Guide to Noncharismatic Megafauna

by Steve, February 13th, 2015

Wildlife biologists refer to large animals that attract positive human attention for conservation efforts as “charismatic megafauna.” It’s not a scientific classification, just a way to refer to large animals that attract positive human attention. They are rarely the most important organisms in a biosphere, but they get the most human attention for better or worse. Around these parts, we have cougar, wolves, coyotes, bobcats, black bear, deer, beaver, nutria, eagles, osprey, hawks, herons, egrets, whales, sea lions and seals, among others.

But we’ve also got a ton of what I like to call “noncharismatic megafauna,” primarily great apes of the species Homo sapiens sapiens. Yes, the common human, or “house ape,” frequently accompanied by another common type of non-charismatic megafauna, Canis lupus familiaris, the domestic dog. As these non-charismatic species are often noisy, smelly and aggressive, charismatic megafauna flee before them.

Lately, I’ve encountered enough humans and their dogs to become an expert of sorts, and herewith offer my field guide to their behavior when they leave their habitat and interact with other fauna in the wild.

Habitat

Humans live primarily in what they call the “built environment,” and try to limit contact with the natural environment as much as possible. This habitat consists primarily of enclosed spaces, with artificially controlled environmental conditions. Outdoor spaces are dominated by hard surfaces constructed for the purpose of moving between enclosed spaces in vehicles they construct of metal and plastic. The vehicles are fully enclosed and also feature controlled environmental conditions.

Behavior in the wild

When they leave their built environment, they take with them many tools and accessories that allow them to survive comfortably and remain connected to their built world. Males of the species tend to display these technologies as if in constant mating. (Humans do, in fact, mate year round.) Juveniles of the species tend to be especially noisy and unconcerned with their surroundings, built or natural.

Many house apes travel with captive dog companions, and this species is hyper aggressive toward wildlife and other house apes. Humans often allow the dogs to run untethered, despite signs with pictographs and human language prohibiting it. Dog feces litter the routes they have carved through the natural environment. House apes sometimes pick up feces in plastic bags, and then leave the bags along their routes. It is unclear whether this is some kind of territorial marking ritual, or if it has something to do with parasites from the feces making the humans go mad. Most “wilderness” routes are lined with small plastic bags of dog shit, which pretty much guarantees that charismatic megafauna will avoid these areas.

House apes vocalize loudly in the wild, and when, for example, encountering other humans observing charismatic megafauna, say things like: “Is it dead?” and: “Well I’ve heard they have those around here!” and: “Aren’t they really just pests?” and: “They have to trap them down in the valley on the farms, because they eat everything!” and “Do you think it’ll eat bread? Here, I have some I was going to throw at the ducks!”

House apes will feed human food to any fauna they encounter. Juveniles will often try to capture other fauna, and if that fails, try to injure or kill them with stones, sticks, or other missiles they can find.

Encountering Homo sapiens sapiens in the wild

When exploring natural areas for relaxation, education or spiritual purposes, it is almost certain you will encounter house apes who very little interest in cohabiting with native fauna or other humans. In order to avoid unpleasantness, it is advisable to step well off of trails when you hear or see them coming. Find a large tree or rock to hide behind until they pass. It is unlikely they will notice you, since they will generally be talking loudly and are typically not observant of their surroundings.

WARNING: If you are unable to avoid an encounter with a house ape in the wild, you may be subjected to tedious, inane conversation known as “smalltalk.” Males of the species will preen in the presence of others, proudly displaying branded clothing and accessories. Talking to them only encourages this behavior, so it is generally best to avoid them at all costs. Since most house apes are averse to extended physical exertion and exposure to the elements, they are best avoided in deep wilderness at least 20 miles from trail heads and roads and far from urban centers.

When you find a good frame…

by Steve, January 23rd, 2015

…you keep on using it.
Shore Pine Sunset
Framed
Framing it
My favorite frame

January Sundown

by Steve, January 20th, 2015

sunset

Late fall up a local ravine

by Steve, December 17th, 2014

The monoliths

Snow in the Oregon Coast Range

by Steve, December 2nd, 2014

Snow in the coast range

Looking across the southern tip of Wapato Lake Bed at the northern Oregon Coast Range.

Buddha’s Frog

by Steve, November 17th, 2014

The Frog’s Desire

Nutreahenge

by Steve, October 6th, 2014

Nutrea-henge

The neighborhood whales on the Tee Vee

by Steve, September 22nd, 2014

Nice to be back in Oregon after just a few days away

by Steve, September 2nd, 2014

Mt Hood, north side

Nature church is better at the beach part ∞

by Steve, August 11th, 2014

I love mountains and forests and alpine meadows and lakes and streams and wilderness backpacking and backcountry skiing. But this inland-bred landlubber is pretty high on maritimas vitae right now. This past weekend stands out as one of my favorites at the coast so far.

Saturday we saw a bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) flying over Highway 101 with breakfast in its talons (species unknown), closely chased by a western gull (Larus occidentalis) looking for table scraps.

Then we took a walk on Taft beach and had a gander at the local harbor seal (Phoca vitulina) colony across the mouth of Siletz Bay at the end of Salishan Spit.
The neighborhood harbor seal colony

Later Saturday, at low tide, I rode my bike north up Salishan spit to the end of the road. Great blue herons (Ardea herodias) are in abundance around Siletz Bay; I saw three on wing and one fishing in a lagoon.
Blue Heron

I had planned to ride to the end of the spit on the beach, but there was a stiff north wind blowing. Since I’d already said hello to the seals from across the bay, I decided to just head back south on the sand. The north end of the spit is in its natural state, with dunes, beachgrass, no riprap and only limited human presence. Even the southern, built-up end of the spit is quiet, since it is a gated community with no public access except by foot (or bike).

All the way down the beach on Salishan Spit I saw just one other house ape (Homo sapiens sapiens). This common invasive species was in much greater abundance once I got to Gleneden, but not enough to harsh my nature church mellow.

The tailwind made the four mile beach ride home a giddy pleasure. My face started to hurt from so much grinning. I made the four mile sand ride in 22 minutes, including a stop to pick up a nice chunk of amber agate. At the end of my ride I picked up a pocketful of smaller agates.

Sunday we got up early to watch the full moon set into the sea, but were fogged in and instead treated to a minus-tide walk on the sea bed and a sunrise from behind the shore pines (Pinus contorta contorta).
sunrise

Later in the day, we saw a number of California sea lions (Zalophus californianus) heading north out beyond the breakers. (Apparently they’re back from their annual spring/summer mating party trip to California. What a life.) Then we saw a couple of our resident gray whales (Eschrichtius robustus) lazily swimming south a little further out, spouting as they went. They were too far out to get a picture of, but here’s a little video from last spring of what I now believe to be two mothers and two calves feeding and frolicking in the shallows.