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Columns

Is man kind?

Wednesday 29 July 2015

Is man kind?

 

The news of Cecil's slaying came as I was standing at a bus stop on Columbus, skimming Twitter on my phone. “Go wild in New York” said the ad displayed on the side of the bus stop. It was a Bronx Zoo ad, portraying some of its cutest arrivals: the red panda.

I rested against it as I read about the torture and killing of Cecil, one of the most famous lions at Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park. Cecil loved humans and often approached park visitors. He trusted them.

 A Minnesota dentist, is, according to the authorities, Cecil’s slayer. According to the allegations, Walter James Palmer of Eden Prairie, Minn., paid at least $50,000 to track and kill Cecil, who was a protected lion (wearing a GPS collar and tracked by the Oxford University research program.)

Together with his accomplices, Palmer—allegedly; although there is nothing alleged about this—lured Cecil from the national park to an unprotected area (to avoid legal charges) by strapping a "dead animal to his vehicle."

Once Cecil was outside the national park land, Palmer (allegedly) shot Cecil with a bow and arrow, but did not kill him. He and his companions then tracked the wounded animal for 40 hours, before shooting and killing him. Cecil was skinned and beheaded.

Palmer’s defence was that he relied on locals to make the hunt legal, and 

"had no idea that the lion…was a known, local favorite, collared and part of a study.”

This story will probably play itself out amid legalese that lawyers will throw at each other. Boundaries, whether Cecil transgressed them of his own volition or was deceived into doing so, and protected status will be the verbiage that will be used in an effort to administer a certain kind of justice to this atrocity.

It’s understandable: boundaries, status, rules and transgressions define the lives of all animals, including the human kind. Yet our rules also get to define the lives of all other animals. Not because we’re better, or less wild, or wiser. Just because we can. We need to, we also want to. 

It’s a very tenuous balance we need to keep with animals. Some we consider wild; others we breed to eat; others we keep as companions, to be loved and cherished. 

Although I do not eat animals, I can understand those who do. I would never wear or carry leather or fur, but after a double whammy of pneumonia two winters ago, I did get a Canada Goose coat. I don’t really mind mice and rats on the streets and subway, but I draw the line when it comes to inside. 

The northwest of Manhattan where I live, seems to have turned this summer into a refuge for bewildered wild ones: Two coyotes; one baby alligator ambling on the sidewalk; squirrels trying to cross Central Park West; racoons skittering down the underpass from Riverside Park to the boardwalk on the Hudson on 93rd; a family of groundhogs parked outside the Delacorte theater (perhaps they were Shakespeare-philes); racoons careening down 81st all the way to Amsterdam avenue, have all passed through, leaving behind a range of diverse emotions.

 

Not everyone loves the wild ones unconditionally, especially in the heart of our urban jungles. Understandably. Dealing with New York life is already too wild to celebrate encounters with any other (man or other animal) than our cat or dog. And even in smaller cities and towns, bears on your porch, foxes outside your apartment building’s garage, and stricken deer on the highway, are not always the stuff of Disney movies. 

Some do like the wild ones—at a distance. Like zoos—and I must agree when it comes to pythons and cobras, for example. Others prefer to visit them in sanctuaries for psychotherapy visits (wolf sanctuaries are recently in therapeutic fashion.)

Others just want to limit their contact to their own cats and dogs, as well as maybe those “of our kind” (animals and their human companions.) The class system rules supreme, especially in New York. We cannot expect to treat animals better than we treat humans.

And yet, we do. I have often wished I were a dog, here in New York. It’s like being stuck in permanent infancy with doting parents whose helicoptering involves just being loved unconditionally. 

We love our pets so because they are the only creature we are “allowed to” (normatively, pragmatically) love unconditionally. We do not fear their betrayal, we do not fear their competition, their ignorance and perversion. It’s safe.

Even so, it is a mark of civilization to be kind and respectful of the needs of those who have no voice or rights.

It is ingrained in American society. Initiated by the vital emotional need (to love somebody dammit, without wondering about potential cost) and refined by social norms. Responsibility, respect, as well as love, come with the territory of deciding to have a pet. Every time I see yet one more person patiently carrying a dog through a snowstorm, or pushing an incapcitated cat in a pram, or limping along with a companion who has a tiny artificial dog limb, I forget everything that divides us: money, connections, way of life, family, everything. Our humanity grows through our behavior to animals. Witnessing each other “being kind” to animals, instigates the same behavior in us (many scientific behavioral studies have evidenced that this occurs both with positive and negative behavior.) Who knows, in time we may even transgress the species boundary, and be kind to each other.

Till then, we have to find a way to legally stop barbarism. Like love, barbarism cannot be defined save through behavior.

The killing of Cecil is barbarism.


 
My beloved terrorist
Published by: LIVANIS
First printing: 2001
Pages: 403
Hellenists: Greece does not wound them
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First printing: 1999
Pages: 314
 
 

 

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