Saturday, 30 December 2017

Not all animals are equal

Leave a Comment

Pity the poor possum. Totally despised in this country, huge amounts of money are justifiably spent on their eradication every year. If only they knew better they could migrate to Australia where they are regarded as cute furry little animals, loved and even protected.

If you think about it, animal rights people, usually wearing leather shoes and leather belts, are surprisingly selective. I recall some years back when emotive scenes on our TV screens of fur seals being clubbed to death in the arctic circle caused outrage in this country, while at about the same time the management at the Waingawa freezing works were celebrating the killing of one million lambs that season; right on our doorstep. Is there anything cuter than spring lambs cavorting around a paddock? Why did the fur seals get all the sympathy? I suspect it was the bright red blood against the backdrop of the white snow that elicited our overwhelming compassion. Contrast this with Waingawa, where the blood was hygienically washed off the smooth concrete floor almost before it landed on it.

In a satirical column in Wellington’s Evening Post many years ago Bob Jones came out in defense of the cod. He questioned why people became so upset when whales beached themselves. Dozens flock to the scene and do their best to refloat the huge mammals, then burst into tears when their effort are inevitably unsuccessful. Meanwhile hundreds of thousands of cod are harvested daily and nobody bats an eyelid.

The latest pest animal to be despised is the rook. This is a large black bird that has become the scourge of the local farming community. Bird lovers are not saying a word about the concerted efforts to get rid of them. Tui’s and Takahe’s lead a charmed life. Rooks are rubbish.

Sadly this selective affection can also be seen in the human community. I remember some years back  when 38 black Africans were shot dead in the Ugandan jungle to avenge the killing of eight whites who were in the area to have a peek at a colony of gorillas. The organisers of this retributory exercise conceded that those killed may not have had anything to do with the slaughter of the tourists. They are continued to pursue and destroy, and as far as I am aware no human rights group ever stood up and condemned this apparent overkill. Those blamed for the brutal murder of the tourists were the Intarahamwe (Hutus to you) though foreign correspondent Paul Henry, who was in the area at the time trying to find kidnapped Douglas Kear, thought that is was more likely to be Ugandan rebels who were to blame. Never mind, the Hutus were expendable as far as the world community were concerned and it must have been great sport for the bounty hunters. Rook shooting and possum trapping wouldn’t have held a candle to a good old Hutu hunt.

It’s the way of the world though that some species are more valued than others. I recall a train crash just out of London many years ago that killed six British commuters. About the same time 1500 Bangladesh citizens perished in a huge flood in their hinterland. The train crash made our news screens over three or four nights, with vivid scenes and emotive commentary. The Bangladesh tragedy rated about one line on one of those nights. The ratio then is six Britons to 1500 Bangladeshis. We don’t know the acceptable proportion of Anglo-Saxon tourists to Hutus, who were admittedly a fierce and murderous lot, but it will be hugely disproportionate.

The most bizarre aspect of the Ugandan incident was the arrival of a group of FBI agents to apparently retaliate for the uncalled-for slaughter of six of their nationals. You can just picture America’s finest, black suits, slouch hats, plastic identity tags, and shoulder holsters striding through the jungle in search of the perpetrators.
They would have skirted round a party of grazing gorillas, cautiously approach a clearing and confront the wretched enemy; black men, dressed in regulation T-shirt and shorts gleaned from Oxfam parcels, with machetes in hand. In a nutshell just about everything they own in the world draped around a thin malnourished body. After their experiences of gun battles on the streets of New York this would be child’s play for the G-Men. In short order the skeletal Hutus would be mowed down as the Dick Tracey look-alikes remove the guns from their holsters, fire in rapid succession, dive to the ground and then roll over towards wooded shelter in moves they would have learnt by rote from watching episodes of The Naked City and Hill Street Blues during their adolescence. The machete bearers would have had no answer to the finely honed skills of the well fed and well educated Americans and the tourists will have been further avenged.

The bemused gorillas would deplore the theory that they eventually evolved into humankind. Worse news for them though is that there is now a school of thought in America, legitimised by a chair at Berkeley University in California that hypothesises that Darwin got it around the wrong way and that humans actually evolved into apes. When I heard this I thought: “Well I’ll be a monkey’s uncle!”

If you’re a possum choose Australia for your country of birth. Rooks are acceptable in England, but lambs and cod are doomed internationally from day one. The Intarahamwe and other black Africans have an appalling life expectancy and yet, there, but for the grace of God, go you and I.

(First published on the 17th of March 1999)

“It’s absurd to divide people into good and bad. People are either charming or tedious.” - Oscar Wilde


Post a Comment