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Back in 1963, the Bronx Zoo tucked a small exhibit into the Great Apes House between the orangutan and gorilla cages. It was a mirror with bars in front of it and a plaque above that read, “The Most Dangerous Animal in the World” — an invitation for Homo sapiens visitors to consider their animal selves in context.

The words underneath: “You are looking at the most dangerous animal in the world. It alone of all the animals that ever lived can exterminate (and has) entire species of animals. Now it has achieved the power to wipe out all life on Earth.” (That last line a reference to the nuclear bombs we’d dropped on Japan.)

Every grade school kid knows about the asteroid that hit Earth 65 million years ago, which, along with maybe some volcanic activity here at home, took out the dinosaurs. Science describes that as the Fifth Mass Extinction, following assorted upheavals in planetary conditions that caused the First through Fourth. Unavoidable things like ice and fiery eruptions.

Right now there are way too many scientists convinced that Earth is seeing its Sixth Mass Extinction — this one caused by us — to ignore the signs around us and refuse to make the lifestyle changes that would stop the destruction. 

This week’s cover package illustrates some of the effects we have on wild animals — “Don’t hike so close to me,” about the negative effects of outdoor recreationists; and “Night Shift,” about animals becoming more active during the dark hours, just to avoid us. There are also some insights and wildlife-protecting suggestions for Coloradans from CSU-Fort Collins conservation scientist Sarah Reed.

With COVID, there has been increased human intrusion on wild habitat, with countless first-time hikers seeking rejuvenation and a virus-free escape from boredom on the nation’s wildlands — many of them with no idea how to behave in the great outdoors. Park staffs have had to deal with traffic jams and huge crowds, excessive noise, hikers wandering off established trails, graffiti, trash and human waste. 

And though you wouldn’t think it would be necessary, Colorado Parks & Wildlife recently had to issue a press release reminding the public that it’s illegal to harass wild animals with drones.

“The definition of harassment is causing any change in the behavior of the wildlife,” said Wildlife Field Services Assistant Director Heather Dugan. “So if the animal runs, if it changes direction, if it stops eating, that’s harassment. Any change in the animal is considered harassment and it’s illegal.” 

Because they say it better than we could, we’ll leave you with these thoughts from the Center for Biological Diversity in their 2020 report “Saving Life on Earth/A Plan to Halt the Global Extinction Crisis”:

“Wildlife populations are crashing around the world. From the blinking lights of fireflies at night to the dawn chorus of migratory birds and the evening chirping of frogs, the animals and plants that many of us grew up with are disappearing before our eyes. Each species lost tells the story of a place that has been irrevocably harmed and together they reveal the heartbreaking wildlife extinction crisis unfolding all around us.

“Scientists predict that more than 1 million species could face extinction in the coming decades — and we lose about one species every hour.

“This crisis is entirely of our own making. More than a century of habitat destruction, pollution, the spread of invasive species, wildlife exploitation, climate change, population growth and other human activities have frayed the web of life. With each extinction, natural systems continue unraveling. ... Every plant and animal species has value in and of itself and deserves the right to continue to exist. We must stop seeing the world as ours for the taking, but instead as a shared world that we must take care of.”