Social media isn’t just affecting humans. It’s having an impact our wildlife, too.

22 June 2021

A social media trend has threatened local duck populations over the past weeks and campaigners fear the development is part of a wider detrimental move to domesticate wildlife.

Reports surfaced in late May that ducklings were being sold on city streets for as little as €5 and prospective sales of the birds were circulating on TikTok. Globally, videos on the popular platform with the hashtag “ducklings” have amassed over 280 million views.  

According to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), there are detrimental effects to the mental health of ducklings if they are separated from other ducks.

They suffer from extreme loneliness and depression if they are kept without at least one other member of their species.

Speaking to The Green News Gillian Bird, head of education and media at the Dublin Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (DSPCA) condemned the practice and warned that it was the latest trend contributing to an obsession with domesticating wildlife.

“We tried to kill the [duckling] trend as quickly as possible and I think we managed to do that quite well. 

“There are regular trends like this, unfortunately. Film and TV shows have a huge influence on stuff like this. Like if Disney produces a film that has animals in it, we will always see a trend related to that,” said Ms Bird. 

When she started working at the DSPCA, she noticed the link between whatever the latest animal featured in a Disney movie was and public insistence on owning that specific animal, regardless of whether it was domesticated or wildlife. 

The popularity of “Finding Nemo was a nightmare for not just the clownfish but the goldfish.” And when Disney released the hit film Tangled, “everybody wanted a chameleon,” she continued. 

However, trends for owning wildlife go well beyond the latest animated creature to grace our screens.

“A lot of the time what can happen is people see Tik Tok videos and YouTube videos of people with wildlife [pets] and they get the idea to do it themselves,” said Ms Bird.

When it comes to adopting wildlife animals as ‘house’ pets, a lot of people don’t consider the long term implications and whether they can care for the precise needs of that animal, she added.

The interference not only wreaks havoc on wildlife, it also is against the law.

The Wildlife Act 1976 was established in Ireland with the purpose to protect and conserve wild fauna and flora. Caring for and rehabilitating wildlife requires a special licence.

And despite whatever good intentions people may have, taking in a wild animal has long-standing repercussions.

“Once you start to domesticate them [wild animals] you can’t release them back into the wild,” said Ms Bird.

“If you bring a wild animal inside away from its wild habitat … it’s not going to get the correct nutrition it needs and it’s going to get used to humans.

“They become so used to humans and they associate humans with food and therefore they don’t shy away from them, which is all well and good if you’ve got somebody friendly,” she added.  

There is often confusion among people when they see ‘stray’ animals in the wild, assuming that the animal is lost.

A common mistake is for people to find a baby hare, a leveret, and assume that it is a baby rabbit lying in the middle of a field. Hares are born out in the open and are left in nests by their mothers, but people often assume that it’s been abandoned and ‘rescue’ the hare.

At the DSPCA, Ms Bird said that there are constant instances like these whereby people think they are doing the right thing and “saving wildlife”.  

Another instance that is quite common is people removing mother animals from a natural habitat, believing the animal is lost.

“You could be taking a mother hedgehog and she’s got babies that are starving to death in a nest somewhere,” said Ms Bird. 

Staff at the Wildlife Rehabilitation Ireland (WRI) hospital are also advising the public to think twice before bringing baby wildlife into the hospital.

The rehabilitation hospital said that there was a danger of healthy young animals coming into their care and dying from the stress of being separated from their parents and natural habitat.

According to the Irish Wildlife Matters, the signs of an injured or lost wildlife will be immediately clear. If the animal appears cold, limp and has obvious injuries, it needs to be rescued.

Before attempting to capture a wildlife casualty, access, observe and decide whether intervention is appropriate, according to their recommendations.

If the animal looks warm, healthy, alert and appears active, it doesn’t need to be rescued.

Story by Shauna Burdis