Environment – Over the line

Marine reserves can be so successful that fish life increases outside them as well as in. It may be that the abundant fish in the reserves don’t know where we humans draw the line, and spill over it. Or maybe the spawn and eggs cross over and grow outside the boundaries. Either way, fisherpeople across the world benefit from ‘fishing the line’. Woe betide (literally) the fish who gets caught (literally) on the wrong side.

The same goes for the kiwi whose adventurous spirit takes him (or perhaps his parents), outside the boundaries of a mainland island, like the little fellow who made his way to Omaha last year from the Tawharanui Open Sanctuary. Within the sanctuary, life is easy. Across the predator proof fence, many hazards await – dogs, cars, cats, mustelids, even perhaps the traps and poisons that are meant to keep him safe. The Omaha kiwi was found on an urban street in poor body condition with a fairly recent injury to his bill. Despite his rescue and treatment in Auckland Zoo, he succumbed to his injuries and died.

Sometimes being on the wrong side of other types of lines can be risky too. As sea temperatures rise with climate change, fish and other marine species move, and so do their predators. On the Eastern US coast, that means critically endangered Northern Right whales follow their food beyond shipping zones where voluntary speed restrictions apply. That puts them at extra risk of ship strike, an already serious concern for the fewer than 350 whales left.

Another animal on the wrong side of safety was the Californian mountain lion P-22. He was displaced from the western Santa Monica mountains after territorial disputes with his father, and wandered, looking for a mate in an area with few other cougars. He crossed two freeways to find his new home in the suburbs and parklands of Hollywood Hills, the famous Hollywood sign, Ventura Boulevard and the Sunset Strip. P-22 lived to 11 years old but was eventually found injured in a backyard after being hit by a car, and euthanised.

More cougars are killed by cars than are born, as freeways cut through the big cat habitat in one of the most car-centric cities in the world. City officials are developing multi-million dollar wildlife corridors to help cougars cross hostile transport routes including a 10-lane freeway. But some Angelenos (such as Gwyneth Paltrow) oppose wildlife corridors and think trying to accommodate wildlife in urbanised areas is dangerous for both the humans and animals.

People’s fates can be arbitrary, too – you may be born in the wrong place, at the wrong time or on the wrong side of the tracks. You may be driven from refuge by conflict, hunger or poverty. Or pulled by love, or the need for space or a sense of adventure. It just goes to show we’re all animals after all, with a random given set of genes and life experience, trying to navigate unseen boundaries and threats, and live a safe, good life if we can.