Speciesism in three uneasy pieces

I don’t read the morning paper anymore so much as I confront it. What will it be today–a romantic, river-runs-through-it feature on catch-and-release fly fishing? Gloating trophy shots of dudes in hunter orange and the ungulates they conquered with high-powered rifles? Another guest opinion column defending trapping as a management tool for a renewable resource? (Or, in the case of wolves, as suppression of unwanted competition for the aforementioned ungulates?)

Maybe a photo of a child clinging to a sheep in a mutton bustin’ contest? An article on taxidermy, horse racing at the fairgrounds, or a feature on the derring-do of bullfighters? (You used to know them as rodeo clowns, but they’ve come up in the world.) A full-page ad for a local ammo manufacturer featuring teenage girls and their African safari kills? Ice fishing tourney stats? No matter the season, there’s always a reason for animal exploitation–and someone willing to talk about it, someone ready to report it, and someone eager to read about it.

Within four days recently, a trio of items appeared in the paper to perfectly illustrate the speciesism that so naturally saturates the human experience. Whether for entertainment, convenience, or greed and entitlement, we human animals are a speciesist species.

Speciesism for fun: Don’t fence me in (and display me at the zoo)

Our Montana governor, what a hoot. The sometimes folksy, sometimes outrageous soundbites. The bolo tie. Jag, the ever-present border collie. The Missoulian reports that Gov. Schweitzer recently visited Zoo Montana to provide a boost to the Billings facility now under new management after a fiscal meltdown and loss of accreditation. Talk revolved around new funding sources, regaining accredited status, even expansion. A zoo, after all, is a tourist attraction–and that means money.

Zoos aren’t sanctuaries. Some sanctuaries, like the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee, don’t allow people in to gawk at the animals, whereas zoos are all about gawking. Zoos claim to be educational, but how educational is a Siberian tiger “exhibited” in Montana? In the wild, a male Siberian tiger’s range can be over 77o square miles–nearly half a million acres. The Billings zoo, including botanical gardens, is 70 acres. What small fraction of that do the tigers occupy? How much natural behavior–if any–can be exhibited in extreme confinement? And the obvious question (well, obvious to some)–what gives our species the right to steal the liberty of another? To display them as curiosities–as living trophies? (Apparent answer: Because we can.)

Dale Jamieson (writing in Morality’s Progress: Essays on humans, other animals, and the rest of nature, 2002), asks in his essay Against Zoos, “Couldn’t most of the important educational objectives better be achieved by exhibiting empty cages with explanations of why they are empty?”

But I’m guessing that empty cages wouldn’t fly with Gov. Schweitzer, who called Zoo Montana “the crown jewel of Montana wildlife” and suggested that people heading to Yellowstone could stop off at Zoo Montana for a captive preview of what they might see in the wild. Isn’t that kinda like visiting the Black Velvet Art Emporium as a warm-up for the Louvre?

Most telling, though, was the reason for Jag’s atypical absence during the visit, even though zoo staff had prepared for the border collie’s presence. “We’re going to the zoo,” said the governor, “and he doesn’t like seeing animals in cages.”

Smart dog. Compassionate dog.

Speciesism for convenience: Don’t fence me in (and kill me for being captive)

“Deer on base to be killed,” read the headline. The base is Malmstrom Air Force Base on the eastern edge of Great Falls, MT. The deer are native wildlife–whitetail and mule deer–who used to roam freely on and off base but were trapped inside when a 7.8-foot-tall perimeter fence was installed in 2010. Now? They’re inconvenient interlopers. Hazards. Why, they could even pose a national security threat. Hey America, you’re either with us–or you’rewith the deer.

You are perhaps envisioning tens–maybe hundreds–of deer frolicking on runways, browsing with impunity around missile silos, and carelessly leaving piles o’ pellets with no thought to the looming terrorist threat. But no. “The estimated population of 13 deer on the base could increase to 36 in three years,” said the agent-assassin from Wildlife Services, called in to save mission readiness from the Bambi insurgency. “We wanted to address this issue with the deer before the numbers got too high,” said the ironically-titled chief of conservation for Malmstrom.

Look, these are people who can deliver highly-sophisticated intercontinental ballistic missiles to targets on, well, other continents. And they want us to believe that–where 13 deer are concerned–the lethal solution is the only solution? There’s your proof that when all you have is weaponry, everything looks like a target.

Speciesism for greed, entitlement: Saving natural order as we know itwant it

Coming Soon to Public Land Near Me: Wolf Trapping! Along with trapping are increased opportunities for trophy by bullet or arrow. Wolves can now be hunted and/or trapped a full six months of the year in Montana, from September 1st through February 28th. In a cursory nod to revered national park wildlife, quotas are in effect in two hunting districts near Glacier and Yellowstone, but any statewide quota has been discarded. Have at ’em!

Sounds authoritative, but anyone care to guess which carries more weight–the “biological realities” of wolves or “public tolerance and values” of humans? (For more on the social ecology of predators and how hunting can actually thwart control, read “The Politics of the Montana Wolf Hunt” by ecologist and author George Wuerthner.)

Here’s the crux of the matter:

With the exception of hideously cruel snaring, sportsmen’s and ranchers’ wish lists were filled by the benevolent state agency, whose spokesperson has already engaged in some pre-damage damage control: “These trappers must be thoughtful and they need to understand that they’ll be representing their fellow Montanans and hunters and trappers everywhere.” Likewise, a rancher and trapper offered this caution: “Without a ton of ethics and a ton of experience, we’re going to be in trouble. Trapping is under major attack, and we are going to be under the microscope.”

Thoughtful trappers who possess a ton ofethics? These are people who bait, load, and conceal maiming and deadly weapons on public lands and walk away from them. There’s no so-called “fair chase”–there’s no chase at all. “We trappers do cause pain and suffering to animals and apologize to no one,” said a local trapper in an oft-quoted guest column. How’s that for thoughtful?

Wish I could check this out for Jag’s reaction. If he doesn’t like seeing animals in cages, imagine how he must feel about traps.

This post first appeared at animal law blog Animal Blawg, where comments are accepted.

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