Wildlife is the undomesticated animal species that live in natural habitats. It includes mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians that are not domesticated or captive. The term also encompasses the ecosystem and environment in which they live, including the plants, insects and other organisms that support them. Wildlife exists everywhere, and spotting it is often possible if we know where and how to look. Some areas are more likely than others to support wildlife, particularly places that offer transitional habitats like wetlands and grasslands or forest and savannah. Other features that attract wildlife include water sources, shelter and shade, topographic characteristics and the availability of food. Animals are more likely to be seen at certain times of the day, as well. Birds are most active at dawn and dusk, for example, and deer are easier to spot in open meadows, fields, roadsides and riverbanks.
The human activities that most affect wildlife are hunting, poaching and using animals for research. Hunting and poaching involve trapping or killing animals for their fur, skin, meat or other products. The exploitation of animals for their body parts has contributed to several mass extinctions, including the musk ox and polar bear. In addition, many of the world’s ocean species are in danger of extinction due to the release of ballast water and other pollutants from ships.
As humans gained control over the planet, they began using wild animals not just as a source of food and income, but also for labor and entertainment. Elephants became beasts of burden, mongooses and birds of prey were trained as hunting assistants, and lions, tigers, bears and other trainable species were used in circuses or shows. Dangerous and uncontrollable animals were eliminated, and laws were passed to protect wildlife.
Today, people continue to take steps to protect wildlife and their habitats from human influences. Governments and non-governmental organizations enforce laws to prevent the exploitation, poaching or killing of animals. However, these efforts may be in vain if people do not understand the value of wildlife and its role in maintaining the ecological balance and as an aesthetic, recreational and spiritual resource.
Educating people about wildlife is important to conservation. People can learn about wildlife from a variety of resources, such as books and television shows featuring nature topics. Taking the time to observe and interact with wildlife is an excellent way for people to gain appreciation of its role in nature, as well. For instance, by watching wildlife, people can learn about how birds, mammals, reptiles and fish live in their natural habitats, how to avoid disturbing them and the importance of keeping a distance so they do not become habituated to humans. In addition, people can become better hunters and anglers by learning how to identify their targets before they kill them. They can also help by not leaving waste out where wildlife will find it, as doing so can lead to their becoming habituated to humans and increasing the risk of harm.