To attract wildlife, we've historically offered water, food, and salty snacks. Hunters and ecotourists can both be found hanging around waterholes. Some people put out bird feeders to watch birds. Others put out cheap corn to attract deer year-round so they'll be available in hunting season. Animals have always been drawn to salt licks. That draws people, which is why there were all those early settlements called French Lick, Boone's Lick, Blue Lick, etc. So some people put out salt blocks.
I propose a new way of attracting animals: spa weekends.
Okay, animals don't much observe the work week, so let's just say spa vacations. Spas. Places animals could visit for food, water, salty snacks – and a nice back-scratch, mudbath, massage, or pedicure.
Animals are always trying to get their backs scratched, rubbing against trees, fences, and one another in the attempt. They'd flock to a spot where toothed surfaces were mounted at convenient heights and angles. There'd be rubbing, and groaning, and clouds of fur, and great happiness.
It might take a little more ingenuity to get animals to make pedicure and massage appointments, but a nicely-scratched back ought to lower their sales resistance, to say nothing of a good hot soak.
Most animals love a nice bath, and while they are typically envisioned frolicking in a crystalline lake or a mountain stream, they gladly take hot water when they can get it. The famous Japanese snow monkeys (a species of macaque) appear to spend most of the winter in hot springs.
In the mid-90s, a cinnamon bear (a black bear with natural auburn coloring) was raiding garbage cans and fruit trees in Monrovia, California. While on the prowl he discovered the pleasures of jacuzzis. After he ate, he'd relax in a hot tub. Some people didn't like a scum of coarse black hair and bear grease in their tubs, but Connie and Gary Potter took advantage of the photo-op and videotaped the bear, called Samson, luxuriating in their tub.
One day the Potters saw Samson rolling in agony on their lawn. Concerned, they called Fish & Game to help. By the time the wardens came, Samson, who had incautiously eaten a plastic bag, felt better. Because he was a known “nuisance bear,” they trapped him. They found that he was an old bear, with worn-down teeth, who wouldn't be able to support himself in the wild.
Fish & Game has views on the unwisdom of people feeding formidable wild animals. (F&G would get the blame if Samson gummed a Chihuahua.) They have experience with relocating garbage-eating bears (who return to favored garbage dumps with lightning speed). They also know that zoos are full up with black bears. They announced that they would euthanize Samson. Horrified, the Potters took their videos of Samson bathing to the television news. The public was appalled, as anyone would be who can identify with an innocent woodland creature lolling in a hot tub after a satisfying meal of garbage. The governor issued a stay of execution.
The Orange County Zoo, with a sharper eye to public relations than F&G, announced that it would take Samson in. They built him a big enclosure with a waterfall and a pool. (But no hot tub, and I am betting no salty snacks.) He lived there for years, until he got so sick he really did have to be euthanized.
So if we already have wildlife trying to sign up for the spa treatment without encouragement, think of the business we could do if we were trying. Spas where they didn't have to dodge wardens, where the salty snacks were laid out on buffets, where dogs wouldn't bark at them.
We'd need to be clever. We'd need to be sure that a rabbit coming out of the massage room (blissfully relaxed), didn't encounter a coyote (invigorated by a back-scratching session), back into a bobcat exiting a meditation class, jump sideways and bump into a moose heading for the jacuzzi, and startle a bear into swallowing a loofah. Since none of these animals really want to meet humans either, we'd do it by monitoring video cameras and not opening gates that would let predator and prey or any kind of enemies into the same space.
(It wouldn't be right to use spas to attract animals for hunting purposes. What if the custom spread? What if manicurists and masseurs went Sweeney Todd on their clientele? Think about it.)
Why on earth would we do this? It's not like animals can pay. We would do it because it would be cool, because we like animals, because it would be interesting to see what happened, and mostly, as the story of Samson shows, because we would get Such. Cool. Video.