Animals don’t obey the law. As I observed just a few days ago on this blog, they don’t recognize indoors or outdoors. And they certainly don’t respect private property. Conflicts are sure to arise. Mary Roach turns her impressive writing skills to address this, and related issues in Fuzz: When Nature Breaks the Law. I’ve read an academic book on this subject as well, and I have to say that one wasn’t as much fun. Roach has a way of bringing the humor out of even potentially trying subjects such as how do we scare carrion birds away from human corpses? How do we eliminate pests that we’ve accidentally introduced? (Think of rabbits in Oceania.) How do we stop birds from getting sucked into jet engines?
Although the book handles these with a light touch, as with most of Roach’s work, it also raises some serious issues. Solutions to introduced species can involve poisoning that also kills native species it’s designed to protect. Genetic engineering may have (likely will have) unforeseen effects. What is a dominating species to do? We have laws about ownership, after all, and we expect them to be obeyed. Squirrels, for example, won’t care that you just had to have a sink replaced at great expense. They’ll gnaw their way in anyway, creating a new crisis right on top of the old one. Deer cross highways, their brains not yet evolved enough to interpret what a car is—they’ve only been around for just over a century. (The cars, not the deer.) They sometimes cross runways too. (The deer.) We like animals well enough in the wild— in fact we long to see them. When they get into our space, however, our rules don’t apply.
As long ago as the Bible, and perhaps before, the question arose of punishing animals. If your ox gores someone what should you do with it? I’m not sure Homo sapiens are the best species to be making such decisions. We’ve shown colossal poor judgment (think of Trump and try to disagree). We’re actively destroying our own environment, the terrestrial equivalent of defecating in our own fishbowl. What gives us the right to punish other creatures who are more in tune with what nature tells them to do? Perhaps the biggest takeaway from all of this is that we may try to make the rules, but the rest of the planet responds to what we might call a higher power. I’m glad that writers like Mary Roach can show the fun side of it all.
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