Are Theme Parks Dangerous to Wildlife?

PetMD Editorial
Published: April 27, 2017
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Since the infamous Fabio roller coaster incident back in 1999, birds colliding with human beings on amusement park rides have continued to make headlines. It happened again recently in Europe, when a man was struck in the face by a pigeon on a roller coaster, a shocking moment that quickly went viral around the web. 

As summer approaches and theme park season kicks into high gear, some thrill seekers are wondering if it's actually a dangerous environment for the wildlife in and around these parks. Will they be the next to make headlines? 

In short, thankfully, it's very unlikely. Christine Sheppard, the bird collisions campaign director of the American Bird Conservancy, told petMD that it's hard to predict these sort of things, as "so much depends on the surrounding habitats."

For instance, airports are such a problem for birds because they are often near landfills or moors and can create a huge accumulation of seagulls and geese, she explained. Thus, if an amusement park is near these kinds of settings, they are more likely to be in birds' flight paths. 

Still, even if they aren't in higher risk areas, birds could still cross paths with roller coasters, Sheppard said. "When the [parks] are closed in the winter, the birds get used to flying across the area, and then suddenly the coaster is running and they don't realize it." 

Birds don't have a quick enough response time to get out of the way, as their retinas can't respond fast enough to the speed of the coaster coming toward them, Sheppard told petMD. Their blind spots and depth perception make a bird flying toward a coaster and a collision almost inevitable. Birds can be aware of something in their way, like a tree, since it is not moving, unlike a roller coaster. "They probably think, 'I'm flying through empty space,' and by the time they get [to the coaster], it's no longer an empty space."  

So what are parks doing to prevent these kinds of incidents, be it with birds or any other wildlife that may enter into their parks and possibly collide with rides? 

"Amusement parks often occupy hundreds of acres of land, which require multiple protocols to protect our guests and employees, and keep animals out of harm’s way," said Colleen Mangone, the director of media relations for the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions. "Parks also work closely with local wildlife agencies and officials, however, the specific protocols will likely vary park to park due to the differences in environments and rides." 

For instance, Mangone noted, "Some amusement parks equip roller coasters with deer whistles to try to keep the deer away from rides, and some will add fencing to keep deer and other wildlife from climbing onto the track areas low to the ground."

One park in particular, Kentucky Kingdom, with grounds in Louisville, has geese that sometimes wind up on its property. Maggie Bade, the marketing coordinator of Kentucky Kingdom, told petMD that the park does everything in its power to ensure the birds stay out of the park in humane ways. 

"We have used non-lethal methods to try to keep the local population at bay," Bade said. "In 2016, we registered with the Fish & Wildlife Service to allow us to destroy any geese nests on property. We report all findings to this agency. We also recently obtained a migratory bird permit from the U.S. Department of the Interior. Our objective is to discourage the geese from returning to our property, because they create a hazard to the health and safety of our guests." 

Image via Shutterstock 

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