Archives for September 2015

The Rights of Humans vs. Others, Part Three

 

To Be or Not to Be

The Lion and the Cougar

Recently a lion was lured out of a wildlife refuge in Zimbabwe in order to be killed by a trophy hunter. The lion was well known by the keepers and others who frequented the refuge. People all over the world were horrified at this senseless killing.

But a Zimbabwean man, Goodwell Zou, told a different story in his opinion piece in the New York Times.  (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/05/opinion/in-zimbabwe-we-dont-cry-for-lions.html?emc=edit_ty_20150805&nl=opinion&nlid=50342746&_r=1) In his village lions were a frightening threat. His uncle was attacked by one, others were killed by them. He was glad this lion was killed.

When I was a child one of my favorite books was Man-Eating Tigers of Kumaon, by Jim Corbett. This was an adult book, but the stories Corbett told of his years in India hunting animals that were threatening people in small villages were captivating. Why? Not because of the thrill of the chase, but because Corbett was able to see both sides of the conflict.

Corbett’s compassion for both the animals he killed and the people who were endangered by them was what drew my attention. I remember the story of the Thak tiger, a very young mother, who had been shot by buckshot causing her inner and outer skin to grow together. Think of your cat and its loose outer fur. When Thak’s inner and outer skin grew together she could no longer hunt her regular prey. She couldn’t move fast enough. Instead she killed a six year old child and a grandmother.

Corbett did believe in human exceptionalism. Making the decision on whether or not the tiger or the humans should survive, he didn’t see any choice. Humans came first. Today we are beginning to see things differently. Steven Shaviro  says in The Universe of Things: On Speculative Realism (Posthumanities), “Indeed, human exceptionalism is even less tenable today, now that we know that not only chimpanzees and parrots but also fruit flies, trees, slime molds and bacteria communicate, calculate, and make unforced decisions…”

Corbett was a British colonist. I wonder what his choice would have been between a “white” man and one of the villagers? We are still struggling with “White man exceptionalism”, much less human exceptionalism.

Goodwell Zou says, in his article: “Don’t tell us what to do with our animals when you allowed your own mountain lions to be hunted to near extinction in the eastern United States. Don’t bemoan the clear-cutting of our forests when you turned yours into concrete jungles.” White man exceptionalism sometimes sounds like ‘do as I say, not as I do.’

Actually, I’m willing to guess that Europeans and Westerners had a great deal to do with the clear-cutting of his country’s forests – as they (we) did here.  For the villagers, the defense against the lions has to do with survival, but the exploitation of African, and of our own, forests has more to do with greed. The destruction of habitat is the biggest killer of nonhuman species all over the world. It probably has killed more lions than trophy hunters have. (I am not excusing the trophy hunter. Anyone who kills a living being so he can hang its head or skin on a wall is reprehensible … and disgusting.)

But does Goodwell Zou really want Zimbabweans to make the same mistakes we made? Does he really want Zimbabwe to be a “concrete jungle?” I can’t imagine that he does.

Recently, outside of Los Angeles, a cougar (mountain lion) was killed on a freeway. The freeway runs in a mountainous area right through the middle of the cougars’ habitat. Advocates are trying to get a “wildlife bridge” built across this freeway to allow passage for cougars and other wildlife. This will protect both the animals and the humans in cars who might hit animals dashing across the freeway.

Cougars have been known to attack humans, although rarely, and they are not as powerful an animal as the African lion. In my community of Berkeley, CA, twenty minutes from San Francisco, we have had cougar sightings, mostly in the less populated hills, but at least once on the main downtown street.  Some people, of course, called for killing the cougar, but most of the town just wanted her relocated to a more rural environment.

As for the one sighted in the hills around the large complex of the Lawrence National Laboratory – the three thousand plus workers were just warned to be alert, and all of us were told to keep our distance since she might have cubs.

Mostly, I think we were delighted that these magnificent wild creatures were going to be living near us.  And that’s the way I feel about the skunk, the opossum – even the raccoons in my back yard. I’m working on the ants.

The Rights of Humans vs. Others, Part Two

The Cat, the Skunk and the Possum

We’ve been feeding a very young feral cat (Zelda) and have finally lured her into the house worried about her vulnerability to the raccoons.

She is now hiding in my office, terrified.  I can’t touch her.  I feed her.  I try to soothe her with my voice, and I wonder – was this the right thing to do? I think she’ll be better off if she’s fixed and given her shots, even if she can’t be tamed and is released back into a wild cat world.  But what about her?  What does she think?  Do I have the right to make that decision for her? Do I have a right to keep her from having babies?  People worry about the cats and the birds, but more likely the babies are food for other critters, like raccoons.

Before we managed to bring Zelda in, when I fed her on the back stoop and didn’t pick up the food right away, a little skunk (hereafter known as “Flower”) would come quietly up the steps and finish it off.  Even when I had brought the food in, the little skunk would search the steps for fallen food.  One time Zelda was eating and Flower came quietly up the other side of the steps.  The kitty glared at Flower and she went back down.  Another time Flower was eating and a little opossum (Pokey?) snuck up as far away from Flower as he could. This time it was Flower who stared Pokey down.  The little opossum turned and slipped back out into the night.

The dogs have barked at Flower through the glass door.  She turns and walks slowly away with her beautiful big fluff of tail waving like a flag, but she has never sprayed the dogs, the cat, the opossum or us.

Why is it all right for me to feed the feral cat and not the skunk and the opossum?

I’m very aware that humans have run over the habitat of other creatures all over the world.  The biggest sin of humans against the rest of the earth is the destruction of habitat.  Knowing that, what is my responsibility to the ants, the skunk, the opossum, even the raccoons whom I chase away because they are a danger to my pets?  Whose land is this that I claim as my own?

(Not that the raccoons chase very easily.  They’re bold fearless creatures … like humans.)