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Real life dangers affect wildlife in everyday world

By Henry Thompson
On October 23, 2012

Today's rapidly expanding world is a hard place to be if you happen to be a wild animal.

Parking lots and agricultural fields are destroying thousands of acres of forests and wetlands every day, and a more global economy has contributed to a rise in harmful invasive species.  

Roads pose a serious threat as well, both because many animals are hit by cars trying to cross them, and because they break up wildlife trails and travel patterns between habitats.  

All of these problems are large, complicated issues that will require large-scale, creative solutions, so it may feel hard for the individual to change any of it alone. However, there is one danger to wildlife that be helped by anyone: littering.

While littering is never alright, some people may justify it by telling themselves that "it isn't really hurting anything" or "one more aluminum can won't make a difference." Well, it is hurting something, and yes, that one soda can does make a difference.

Much of the common waste Americans produce can harm or kill wildlife. For instance, that empty soda can could trap small rodents that are trying to get at the sugar residue inside. So before recycling a can, it would be best to put the pull tab inside and then squash it flat.

In fact, any small container can trap animals. Yoplait yogurt containers are especially dangerous because of their conical shape.  Plastic, metal and glass containers should be disposed of properly with the lid on when possible.    

Plastics products are especially hard on wildlife. Even if they are thrown away properly, plastic bags can blow out of dumpsters and garbage trucks.These bags can become entangled around an animal's head, causing them to suffocate. Many animals, especially marine species, will try to eat plastic bags, which can be fatal. To prevent this, plastic bags should be tied up before discarding and then disposed of in a secure container.  

Another plastic product that is dangerous for wildlife is the plastic sheet that holds a six-pack of soda cans together. Birds and mammals can easily become tangled in these plastic nets.  This can be easily avoided by taking about 10 seconds to cut up the net before throwing it away.

By far, the most common litter found in the U.S. is the cigarette butt. With close to 60 million smokers in the United States, cigarette butts account for around 30 percent of litter nationwide by number. Cigarette butts are not biodegradable, as the filters are usually made of plastic.

They can release toxins that are harmful to wildlife such as nicotine, benzene and cadmium. Cigarettes can also be swept into water ways, where fish can be killed by ingesting the plastic filters.

Finally, discarded food can be a pressing danger to wildlife. For one thing, processed food can be harmful to an animal's digestive system. Also, food scraps that are thrown out in the ditch attract raccoons and coyotes and in some areas can also attract bears.

This is especially a problem at campgrounds, where wild animals come to associate people with a meal. This can lead to the animal or the campground visitors getting hurt or contracting a disease.

By not littering and by calling out people who do, one person really can make a difference in protecting the wildlife in an area. By all pitching in and doing a little bit of work, we can make sure that our children and grandchildren get to enjoy the amazing wildlife that lives here in Tennessee and all over the world.  

For more information on what you can do to help wildlife everyday and for information on how to get involved with some of the larger issues facing wildlife, you can contact the UTM Student Chapter of The Wildlife Society here on campus by emailing the president at

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