2007-05-17 / Sam Bari

You can't beat a system you can't understand

Call of the wild
By Sam Bari

You can't beat a system you can't understand

           An alarming trend in the travel industry is causing aware readers good reason for concern. Advertisements in certain publications are luring vacationers seeking the so-called "ultimate adventure" with (GASP!) misleading information. I say "alarming" because in this case, the industry's practice of making less than exotic destinations sound like the second coming of the Garden of Eden could prove hazardous to your health.

Travel publications describe the "ultimate adventure" with compelling headlines like, "See wildlife in their natural habitat." That is just appalling. How can anyone with even a modicum of decency be so blatantly devious? The verbiage sounds exciting and harmless, but do not be too hasty to pack your bags. Read the sentence carefully.

The operative word in the headline is "their." The description would like you to believe it is "see." The travel biz depends on buzzwords like see, do, experience, and enjoy. People like to see new things, do things they've never done before, experience things they've only read about or seen on television, and enjoy themselves in a new and different environment.

Consequently, they don't pay attention to words like "their." In a travel brochure "their," has a stigma because it sounds like something that belongs to somebody else, and whatever is "theirs" generally excludes the reader. Well . . . sometimes that is not such a bad thing.

Wildlife preserves are some of the more popular "ultimate adventure" destinations. However, the word "wildlife" is not to be taken lightly. It means exactly as it sounds, "wild" and "life." It is alive and probably has questionable manners.

The brochures are correct in telling prospective adventure seekers that they will in fact, be "visiting" wildlife in their natural habitat because after a few days, the intelligent tourists will have learned that the "wildlife" did not invite them to so much as step foot into "their" territory. You see, "visit" is perceived by wildlife as "invade."

The first clue that tells visitors that wildlife did not invite them to invade their territory is the signage. At the entrance to most wildlife sanctuaries, signs say something like "Welcome to Moosenose Wildlife Preserve." The part they leave out is: "All Visitors Can Be Eaten."

Travel companies leave out the latter because it could seriously affect sales. Instead, they encourage the people running the preserves to warn visitors that animals like bears, mountain lions, buffalo, and other living mammals, most of which are too large to enter most homes reside there.

That is why the signs that say things like: "Do not feed or attempt to pet the animals," should be taken very seriously. They are supposed to be warning visitors, that is you, that feeding the animals is not a good practice because they will learn to expect food from anyone coming to "their" habitat that is not one of them.

I believe the real reason is that anyone visiting a wildlife sanctuary will probably not have enough food to make an animal like an 800-pound bear happy. I suspect that if say, a grizzly bear, that would be a reasonable example, did not consider a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to be a satisfying meal, a visitor could look mighty tasty. I do not know this for sure, but in this case I will follow my instincts.

However, my instincts also tell me that if any of the aforementioned animals looked at my cooler, knapsack, grocery bags, or anything containing food, with interest - I would give it to them. I might even encourage them to take it, because while they are eating a week's worth of provisions from my cooler, they are not eating me. In my less than humble opinion, that is a good thing.

Now, let's just take a moment to address the petting issue. No matter how cuddly and playful little yellow cats or furry little bears might appear to be, do not pet them. Visitors to wildlife sanctuaries must always remember that these critters have mothers. I might remind you that their mothers are also cats and bears, only much larger. And, they do not like anyone other than themselves playing with their children.

Mountain lions and bears have claws that make Freddy Krueger look as if he just got a manicure. If you play with their children, their instinct is to first maul, then slice into bite size pieces, and feed you to them.

Personally, I have never heard "the call of the wild." It has never so much as whispered to me, let alone called. Whenever I see a sign that says anything resembling "Welcome to Lion's Tooth Wildlife Sanctuary," it translates to me as advertising speak for "Keep Out."

This summer, when you make plans to visit some exotic destination for a real adventure, remember, travel advertising is a large part of that system we can't understand.

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