Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Pennsylvania Elk And Anthropomorphism

Anthropomorphism! If one reads the outdoor press, it is not hard to gather the impression that it must be a very bad thing, but what exactly is it?  It turns out that it is assigning human or personal characteristics to something that is not human. The most common form of anthropomorphism is the naming of animals.  Two events that have sparked recent discussions are the killing of "Bozo" the bear in the Poconos and the death of Bull 36, also commonly known as "Fred " "Fred Jr.", or "Freddy".

One argument against naming wild animals advocates that it is demeaning to a noble big game animal to give it a human name.  That may sound reasonable, but in many if not most cases, the same person who objects to naming, will have no problem with seeing the same animal fitted with a bright yellow numbered radio collar and metal ear tags and referring to them as Bull 36, 8A, etc.  True they are not assigning human attributes to the animal, but is this not destroying the wild, natural appearance of the animal  and detracting from the experience of interacting with it, whether it be by observation, photography, or hunting?

We will concentrate on Pennsylvania Elk in this discussion as certain individual animals are seen repeatedly by large numbers of humans, which quite naturally leads to naming the animal.  There really isn't a lot of alternatives. Describing a sighting of an animal with a numbered collar is simple, but in other cases it can get quite complicated in a hurry.  Some animals are also easily described by certain physical characteristics such as the bull that was known as "Long Royal", because he had exceptionally long royal points, which made him instantly recognizable to the experienced elk watcher, or "Clubhorn" because of a deformed antler, which was caused by a damaged pedicel in his younger years.

"Long Royal": Named because of his unusually long royal points
Club Horn In 2005: Instantly identifiable by his deformed left antler
Others have been named for spots that they frequent during certain times of year, such as "The Test Hill Bull", which favored Test Hill as his range during the rut, but when we get past these options, there is not much left except to got into a detailed description of the animal, or to take the simple expedient of giving it a human name.  The following is an example:  "Say, did you see that big 7x7 that has them extra white flanks an one horn that kinda comes out to the side a bit further than the other, (I think it's on his right side, jist wait till I see him again to be sure), and he walks like he owns the whole hill."  Somebody else speaks up and says, "lets make it simple, Bill took the first good picture I saw of him, so let's call him "Bill"  So Bill it is and the name may stick or that group may run into another group that has another name for the animal and decide that they like it better, but in the end the animal has a name that most  veteran elk enthusiasts recognize and use.

What could be objectionable about this, other than prejudice against giving wild animals human names ? The biggest problem for the hunting community is that a large number of people have identified this animal and in many cases feel a strong bond with it.  It is no longer just "another elk", but it is "Fred", etc, and as such there is the potential for a lot of strong feelings if the animal is killed or otherwise meets with misfortune.  It is no secret that the PGC prefers that wildlife are not named or singled out for attention, and that every elk or deer is just another animal in the woods that no one is particularly concerned about, except when considering the welfare of the species as a whole.

This may be a logical position, but is it realistic?  I recall reading several years ago, about a research project  that involved close contact with whitetail deer by the researchers.  They were specifically forbidden to name any of the animals, but ended up doing so in spite of the written policy. The researchers felt a great sense of loss when the project ended, and some agonized over how the animals would survive in the future.  In the case of Pennsylvania elk, some advocate eliminating  close contact between humans and elk as much as possible, so that  naming and bonding does not occur.  This may all be good and well, but do we want our elk watching experience to be limited to sitting at areas like the Dent's Run Viewing Area, and viewing elk so far away in most cases that one needs binoculars or spotting scopes to see significant detail and even the most powerful camera lenses are not adequate.

Which is more beneficial to society as a whole, a limited hunt where only a few persons can participate each year, or a viable elk tourism industry, which has the potential to provide a significant boost to the area economy and could provide a world class experience to thousands upon thousands of people?  Fortunately the powers that be need not choose between one or the other, but can improve the situation to a great extent by increasing the size of the No Hunt Zone.

As the situation now stands, it doesn't seem likely that another bull will replace ""Freddy" as the town icon anytime soon.  Some like to think that he was so cunning that he remained in the No Kill Zone to purposefully evade hunters, but it seems more likely that his physical condition contributed more to his survival than any awareness that he was in danger if he entered certain areas.  He still ventured into the back country in the Saddle area in 2001, and according to reports he spent a lot of time in Blue Sky Campground.  This was at the time of the first hunt, and there were rumors of plots to drive him from the No Hunt Zone into areas open to hunting, but this never happened.  Either no one attempted this strategy, or if they did they may have found it to be impossible to drive an animal that was totally trusting of humans.  I never saw him in the Saddle area again after 2001 and in fact did not seem him during the rut of 2002 or 2003, if I remember correctly.  This seems to be the period in which he started to spend much of his time in Benezette. I had only a limited amount of time to spend in elk country during the rut, and he had already returned to the lawns in town by the time I arrived.  At that point I never drove through the part of Benezette that lies to the left of Winslow Hill Road as one is going up the hill.  I did find him on the Hill, during the rut, from 2004 on, and while he still seemed to be healthy, he was likely feeling the early tinges of the arthritis that was to plague him in his later years and was not traveling as far, and as I never saw him outside the No Hunt Zone after 2001.   It is entirely possible that the arthritis actually enabled him to live a longer life by confining his travels to the No Hunt Zone.

"Kisser" a.k.a. "Odie"-Freddy's Heir Apparent, Killed In 2010 Elk Season
 "Kisser", his heir apparent, was his sidekick for several years, but gravitated more and more toward the Devil's Elbow area as he reached maturity.  He usually could be found somewhere from the area of the Elk Country Visitor Center  to Devil's Elbow during the rut, and was often  found in the area of the P&N Coal Company building near the intersection of Winslow Hill Road and Summersun Road.  He began spending more time in the Devil's Elbow area after the rut, and during the winter and spring, rather than returning to Benezette, and that lead to his downfall during this year's elk season.

"Kisser" -Devil's Elbow March 2010-A Fatal Attraction To Hunt Zone 2 Led To His Death

Originally posted at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard C. Hill


JimB said...

excellent write up. Points well said.

Great photos to go with the article


Carletta said...

I really enjoyed this read Willard.
I wish I could better distinguish the deer that visit my yard. I'd name them all.
I hope you and others always have the close contact you have in order to bring us the photos you do. It's a great learning opportunity for most of us.
I only wish people wouldn't want 'the trophy'. That makes me sad.

Feral Female said...

Quite an interesting post Willard, and wonderful shots to go along with it!

John S. Mead said...

Superb images of elk from someone who clearly knows them well! Thanks for yoru kind comments on my blog!

Anonymous said...

Willard - I agree 100% with everything you have stated here. They don't want them to have names, but will put collars on them. Yes, they don't want us to name them, because we will become more attached and then have stronger feelings against the hunt. Why do they seem to cater to hunters who make up such a small percentage, as opposed to the thousands of visitors that travel to Benezette, view the elk and spend their money?
Great point...Fred's arthritis probably did help him to live a much longer life. I don't see anything negative with him having a name and him being human-acclimated. What a wonderful wildlife experience he gave to THOUSANDS of people. Too bad Odie and the 9x8 couldn't have stayed on safe ground.
So true about names helping people quickly describe certain elk. Some just don't understand it, so thanks for clearing it up for them.

The Early Birder said...

Dropped in via Coy's blog. Excellent post and I learnt a lot. Your superb images were a delight to view. Cheers Frank (aka FAB).

Ritchie said...

Hi all,

Wow! What are nice photos you have posted. Thanks for that.....
Wildlife Photographer

Johnny Storme said...

Had no idea there were elks in Pennsylvania. Hey BTW who put the money up to transplant them there? And ummm, who funded the Fish and Game to manage them? Just wondering... Anyway, I love your Blog and photos! I’ll be checkin out your archives! I specialize in “Best Of” posts, and your blog will be added to one of my posts.

Rock on Dude!
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Albert A Rasch said...

First off, let me say that your photography is marvelous, truly honors your subjects. I appreciate that, I really do.

It seems that soem of your comment makers don't understand that the elk are in Pennsylvania because hunters and The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation put up the money to see that happen. And yes, there was the expectation that after years of stewardship, there would be an opportunity to hunt them.

Fair is fair after all...

Best regards,
Albert “Afghanus” Rasch
The Rasch Outdoor Chronicles™
Scouting for Hog, Chronicles Style!

Anonymous said...

Times are changing. Tourists outnumber hunters. The two of us, alone, bring $5,000 a year to the area.
70,000 tourists per year through Benezette BEFORE the center. They now expect that to double.
Also, we are not saying there shouldn't be any hunting. What we are saying is that it should be a fair-chase hunt....not killing an animal that is standing right in front of you. Let's get back to the true definition of HUNT.

JimB said...

This commenter understands well where the elk came from and how the funds were raised to put them in Pa (to replace the ones hunted to extinction). Willard is not anti hunting-nor am I---point you may be missing is that the Pa Elk Hunt is not a hunt at all--it is a shoot and should be clearly recognized as that.


Willard said...

I wish to thank everyone for commenting.

In response to Johnny and Albert's concerns:

A major concern that is discussed often on this blog, is that there is an area in the core of the elk range, which is the center of elk watching activity. I don't know the exact figures, but this area would comprise an extremely small percentage of the total elk range. It would likely be less than 5% and perhaps much less than that. It is safe to say that hunting in permitted in well over 95% of the elk range. We were told from day one that this area would be protected and the herd managed for a high proportion of large bulls, yet with all of the elk range that is out there, they soon reduced the size of the protected zone, and then tried to do so again the next year. They also issued an unreasonable number of elk tags for this area and in many if not most cases, this was in direct opposition to the recommendations made by the Game Commission Biologists.

Considering this aspect, I think the unfairness is a bit on the other side as it seems some can't be content to let even this small area be set aside for viewing. In fact it should be increased, so as to lessen the chance that animals that are totally acclimated to humans are shot.

As Jim B says, "Lets keep hunting hunting, and shooting shooting.