Animal Conservation

Do not be afraid of these animals; fear for them: conservancy

As Halloween approaches, Nature Conservancy Canada says spooky depictions ‘have contributed to negative and scary stereotypes’ of creatures

Everywhere you look there are Halloween images. Along with them are images of bats, wolves, owls, crows, spiders, and other commonly feared animals.

However, a national land conservation group says these images deter the public from actually knowing the facts about these species and their need to survive.

While encouraging children to have fun dressing up and going door-to-door for Halloween treats, the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) also invites everyone to learn about the myths associated with these unknown species. The non-profit organization hopes that with better education, people will move from fear of these animals to concern for their survival and support conservation efforts on private lands.

“It’s really sad that a lot of these species are misunderstood. Instead of fearing these animals, we should actually fear for them, because many of the species we’re talking about are at risk or endangered,” said Megan Quinn, Ontario Conservation Biology Coordinator at Conservation of nature Canada. “Several bat populations, for example, have experienced huge declines. And the problem is that if people are afraid of something, they may not really understand why we need to protect it or, even worse, be openly hostile to these creatures who are just trying to survive.

At this time of year, movies, costumes, and lawn decorations feature visuals ranging from cute and cuddly to genuinely spooky, peppered with depictions of often misunderstood and often feared animals. Although legends of owls, bats, vampires, wolves and werewolves make for great stories, Sam Knight, national director of conservation science at NCC, believes that over time these images hauntings have contributed to negative and frightening stereotypes of these animals.

“People are sometimes afraid of things that we don’t have the opportunity to interact with. Many of these species, such as owls and bats, are nocturnal. They come out at night, so we don’t really see them and don’t get a chance to really understand and appreciate them,” Knight said.

Knight says many species have a bad reputation and have been portrayed negatively at a time when they are of national and global conservation concern. An example is the little brown bat. A deadly fungus has moved west across North America and reached Saskatchewan. It has already decimated more than 90% of little brown bat populations in eastern Canada. Eastern wolves are also considered threatened in Canada.

Quinn says NCC is not just protecting the habitat of some of these species and making sure they have a place to live; it busts some myths and educates people to understand these species as well. The group says bats are a good place to start.

“We have vampires to thank for our fear of bats. One of the big myths is that bats will suck your blood. None of the 18 species of bats we have in Canada drink blood. They are all insectivores, which means they eat insects, including some that don’t want to buzz around like mosquitoes. So if you don’t like mosquitoes, you really should like bats,” Quinn said.

Some owl species, such as the barn owl, burrowing owl and short-eared owl, are also struggling. Like other nocturnal creatures, Knight says, owls sometimes get an unfair reputation.

“They look scary because they have big round eyes. Their call is very haunting and they are quiet when they fly, which is a bit strange and adds that general mystique. However, owls do a lot of very good things for our ecosystems. They are fantastic for controlling rodent populations and are a key part of the forest ecosystem. Unfortunately, we are seeing the decline of many of our owl species,” says Knight.

In Canada, there are over 800 species at risk. Species at risk are endangered plants and animals. The Nature Conservancy of Canada currently protects and manages the habitat of over 240 species at risk.