A living organism characterized by voluntary movement
W e are surrounded by animals everywhere, aren’t we? Animals are part of the natural world we inhabit.
There are also thousands of different species of insects, reptiles, and birds, which I would also like to include in our discussion here.
Some are big, some are tiny, some look nice, and others we see as ugly; some are scary, and some are deadly. Here’s the thing; they’re all part of the earth, just like us, although perhaps we would consider ourselves above everything else on earth.
We are superior. We are human beings; the most intelligent species on the planet, characterized by superior intelligence, articulate speech, and erect carriage; and we have consciousness (an alert cognitive state in which you are aware of yourself and your situation), which we believe all other creatures on the planet do not.
We’re the boss. We rule the earth. Which is all very nice for us, the human; the supreme predator. We can do what we want. We can kill animals, make them extinct, or change their habitat so drastically they can’t live there anymore; no one can stop us, we are invincible!
Yet we don’t really seem to know a lot about our friends we share the earth with, do we? Sure, we study them, measure them, curate them, and domesticate them; but what do we really know about them?
As humans, we selfishly consider “Why am I here, what is the purpose of my life, and what is the true meaning of life?” We pray to gods for salvation; we look forward to reincarnation, or heaven; to nirvana, a place where life is better and all your dreams come true. But we never care to ask: Why are they here? Probably because we don’t care; we’re too busy progressing to worry about that.
As far as we’re concerned they’re a pretty tasty meal, and as for the ones we don’t eat; well, as long as they stay out of our way, we’ll let them live. Perhaps we may stick them in a cage or a zoo to look at if they’re cute, but definitely keep them out of towns and cities; we don’t want to get too close to them.
According to evolutionary theories, we are a relative of the ape, and have evolved over millions of years to reach the point we are at now. We are different from the apes as we have evolved into a biped (walking on two feet), and are now able to free up our hands for complex tool making and other tasks. Our brain has grown as well, and we are now capable of complex thought and decision making. We seem to have outgrown the rest of the planet in our abilities. For now there is no one to challenge us psychologically or physically, although that being said; we are not able to challenge lions or tigers hand to hand, but with the development of weapons we can control them and other creatures that could pose us a threat; from a distance.
I have one question for you though: do you consider yourself part of the animal kingdom, or do you see yourself apart, as something so different to other life on earth that you have no connection to it anymore?” From observation of people, I would have to say that the latter is probably true. But let’s get back to our main question: What are animals doing here?
They don’t have ambition, they don’t drive nice cars, they don’t pray to gods, they aren’t worried about their credit cards, they aren’t looking for a promotion, they aren’t lying to one another constantly, they aren’t digging up the planet to make more money; in fact, they don’t know what money is. They don’t go to casinos, or drink fine wines, and they don’t wage war or destroy their own environment. All in all, animals are pretty useless, aren’t they? It’s no wonder we don’t care about them. They don’t contribute at all!
We are the ones who build the schools, the hospitals, the roads, the telecommunication links; we do!
We generate the wealth, build the planes, the cars, and grow food for the nations. In fact, we do everything; what do the animals do?
Stop for a moment and just observe …
Have you ever stopped to watch a worm in the soil, and then watch a bird come and eat it? Have you ever lifted a log to see the ants and other insects busying themselves with activity, or watched deer in the forest, or hedgehogs at night? Have you looked at the spider’s web in the fresh morning dew, or watched a bee buzzing around flowers in the summer?
If you have, you’ll know that it’s an incredible sight to see; millions of different creatures all performing different tasks; and the strange thing is, they’re not complaining, they’re not unhappy with their lot; they just get on with the task in hand. Why? Because it needs to be done!
This is the difference between us; they have a specific task to do which must be done every day, but through our complex thought and abilities we don’t have a specific task to do every day. Well, not one that keeps the world in balance. We are able to grow food on a huge scale now, so we are no longer having to hunt and gather, which leaves us with a lot of extra time on our hands.
Now we spend our time trying to make more than anyone needs, create products that addict our bodies and minds, and indulge ourselves in the pursuit of money and pleasure. Let’s face it, we haven’t got anything else to do, so we have invented new ways of occupying ourselves.
We’re still busy; in fact busier than our ancestors ever were, but not in the same way. We have progressed to such an extent that the idea of working just for food and water is laughable to us; although this still goes on in some countries, whom we call poor, and third world. Our pursuit is now money, and what we can acquire with it. Meanwhile, our unintelligent friends are still busying themselves every day, whilst we worry about the mortgage, fight over land, kill each other with bombs, stress about work, are unhappy in our relationships, try to lose weight, or try to give up smoking. We humans have got it tough; they should be glad they’re not as intelligent as us!
We see ourselves above nature. We see nature as something to be admired, feared, and then controlled. One thing’s for sure, we are not a part of it anymore. We have intelligence; we can create art, design sculptures, put on ballets and theatre. We can split the atom, design a machine that flies in the air, fly a pineapple from one part of the globe to another and keep it fresh enough to eat. Show me one creature that can do that? I couldn’t, and neither could anyone else. Do you know why? Because the creatures on the earth don’t care about those things; they are here for a purpose. It is the that we are missing – the purpose, of keeping the world in balance.
A system formed by the interaction of a community of organisms with their physical environment
As with nature, when we talk about the ecosystem, we talk about something that is external to us. We never see ourselves as part of it.
Let’s try to find out why. In the summertime, I have often wondered about the purpose of wasps, especially while I am eating my meal outside. Their purpose, as I see it, is to distract me from the enjoyment of a nice salad and maybe sting me in the process. Scientists can tell you everything these days; what the purpose of this flower is or the purpose of that insect is, but no one can tell you what your purpose is in this great ecosystem. We know we are the ultimate predator, but that’s it. We artificially grow food in huge quantities, and farm animals for meat, outside of the natural system.
We destroy pests that come too close to our food production system with chemicals, and we kill animals that try to eat our livestock. We deny the rest of the animal kingdom access to any of our food sources.
We protect our cities from the intrusion of animals by making them of concrete. We keep our city parks clear of wild animals and birds, unless we have semi-domesticated them. We move species from country to country, introducing new species without any thought to whether this will upset the balance of the local ecosystem. We are not helping the world to stay in balance – we are actively upsetting it.
Why? Because of the human thought: “If you don’t understand something, control it or destroy it.”
How many times has a fly or a bee come into your house, or a spider sneaked out behind the woodwork, or an ant crawled across the floor?Quite regularly, I would assume.
What’s your reaction? Well, I know some people are in absolute terror! They instantly swipe at it or stamp on it until it’s dead. “Phew that’s better!” they think, calmly sweeping away the remains into the bin. Other people may spray them with insecticide, or desperately try to get them outside without killing them, but one things for sure; you don’t want them in your house, do you? This is an animal free zone. No birds, no creatures, no insects, just humans (oh, and maybe your dog, cat, fish, or bird in a cage).
You may be wondering why we keep what we call pets, so let’s look into it together.
A domesticated animal kept for companionship or amusement
Dogs are cute aren’t they? And they’re pretty funny too. My labrador kept me amused with his antics every day, even when he was eating my shoes or chewing on a piece of the sofa. When I was lonely he used to come over and put his head in my lap – he was great company. But of course, dogs weren’t always like this. Our ancestors domesticated (make fit for cultivation, domestic life, and service to humans) the wild dog many thousands of years ago, and have been gradually cross-breeding, and changing the characteristics of the dog, until you have the perfect companion we have today – “man’s best friend.”
Some people are cat lovers, as cats are more independent, but still show affection. Other people just keep a fish in a fifty centimetre glass bowl, and watch it aimlessly swimming round and round; or even keep a bird in a small cage, so it can never fly.
But if you let the bird out for a moment it would fly away, wouldn’t it? And quite right too. Freedom!
Whatever pet we keep (some keep what they call exotic pets, like snakes, lizards, and tropical spiders which are not domesticated), we have taken the animal out of its natural environment, whether now or in the distant past. We have tried to change the animal into something we like – we are not happy for it to remain wild. As for dogs and cats, we have tried to make them more human. We bathe them, feed them human food, dress them in a coat when they are cold, give them beds, and even let them sleep with us. We love them like children. We are proud to walk our dogs, and we like to come home to our cats – they are almost a substitute for human company (some people prefer them, as they don’t answer back!).
They are part of the family, except in other countries where dogs and cats are on the menu. “How could you?” the dog and cat owners scream. But in reality they are just the same as other meat; and probably quite tasty!
It is how we see our animals that matters. Some are seen as animals for company which we could never kill, and others are just seen as dinner. If you’re an animal it just depends on what country your living in whether you get eaten or treated to a nice warm house and a snack before bed.
Some people revere the cow, whilst others enjoy it as medium rare steak
So, our views on animals depend on what species they are, and what country we’re living in.
Domesticated animals are not feared, but you would run a mile if a pack of wild dogs were running round your local park, wouldn’t you?
Fear of animals is mostly unfounded, as we aren’t actually on anyone’s menu. Even lions and tigers don’t like humans as their first preference, neither do great white sharks in the oceans; but they look like they are going to kill us at the first opportunity they get (admittedly, we would probably do best to stay out of their way, just in case they mistook us for a zebra or seal). The thing is, they look scary, and in the past, when we were actually hunting wild animals, it was much more dangerous. We had a fairly high chance of being killed, so maybe this is a fear that hasn’t evolved out of us yet? We are scared of the natural world. How many of you have camped out in the forest, or walked in a wood at night with the noise of the animals moving around and calling out to each other? Scary isn’t it? Especially if a spider’s web touches your face! It’s enough to make you run screaming back to the comfort of the city; where, if you remember from other topics, you have much more chance of coming to harm at the hands of one of your own species, than you ever would at the hands of an animal in the forest.
It’s just a fear of the unknown that makes us scared; although animals, insects, and birds manage to co-exist quite happily together, even though they are definitely on someone menu.
Yes, it’s much more tense being an animal than a human in the forest; but although they may have fear, they carry on with their job as part of the ecosystem. A human wouldn’t go within a hundred miles of somewhere he may be eaten, even if the ecosystem depended on it.
So to recap. As long as we have control over the animal world we feel safe, and although we like to have animals in our house, it has to be one we can domesticate, humanise, and one that looks attractive. If you have eight legs, big eyes, a fat hairy body, and you sneak in and out of the sink; I’m afraid you can forget it. The only thing a human will give you is death. So we have started to create a list of animals we like, others we like to eat, and others we avoid in case they eat us. By the way, anything with more than four legs, no legs, or is in any way slimy, scaly, prickly, or small (think mice in the kitchen) is to be avoided at all costs, whether dangerous or not. Although we still do like to think of ourselves as animal lovers, don’t we? Look at the cute bear on tv…
Have you ever watched animated films for children? What sort of animals are they? They have insects, birds, lions, tigers, spiders, and bears, all of whom could be dangerous or poisonous in the wild; yet they look somewhat different. Have you noticed it? Their eyes are bigger like a child’s, their features are more human, they have the ability to smile, and wait for it… They talk in a language we understand! Very unlike the animals we meet in the forest, aren’t they? It makes them altogether more likeable. I find myself becoming fond of skunks, tortoises, rabbits, bears, and squirrels.
Everywhere you look, there’s animated films with talking animals; even adults love them, because the animals all look cute and cuddly. Just like a toy, they look as if you could cuddle them when you feel sad or lonely. In other words, the animals look like they would be comforting.
Please excuse the repetitiveness of this word cute (attractive especially by means of smallness or prettiness or quaintness), but I think it is an apt term here. We think that animals are important to children. We buy them picture books with cute animals in them, take them to the zoo, we show them nature programs about animals, and get them to draw pictures of their favourite animals, then we say: “Hurry up and eat your meat.” “Who wants a sausage?” “Mmmmm, do you want a burger?” “How about some nice ham?” “Would you like a fish finger?”
Children being children (innocent), do not know the link between “the little piggy” in the book, and the sausage; or the cow going “moooo” in the field, and a cheeseburger; or the “talking fish” in the cartoon and a fish finger. It doesn’t cross a child’s mind, and we try to protect children from what we are; from what we do as humans, by dressing it up in “cute” pictures and language. We would never drive past a cow and say: “See that cow, alan? Soon it will become your burger.” And why not? Because we don’t want to upset the child.
This is true even as we grow up into adults. We buy our chicken breast, steak, and pork chops from the supermarket, where it’s all nicely packaged in plastic, and doesn’t look anything like the animals in the fields. If it did, we’d probably all be vegetarians by now. Gone are the days when we used to hunt a wild beast with a spear and eat its flesh. We’re much too scared now; in fact, even now, when we could kill animals with guns, which some people class a sport (deer hunting or duck hunting), how many people could really say they would be happy removing the intestines and cleaning the flesh? Not many I bet.
So we have an uneasy relationship with nature, don’t we? On the one hand, we love animals and on the other, we want to control, kill, and eat them. We’re afraid of them, yet they should be infinitely more scared of us. We like to visit them in zoos, but we would go mad if they were running wild in our cities. We seek to understand them, but only at a distance. I would like you to do one thing for me will you, as animal lovers, if that’s all right? Take an hour on a saturday, or anytime you have available, and go down to a slaughterhouse (a place where animals are butchered). Oh, and be sure to take the whole family with you, especially young children.
It really is pleasant to see how we electrocute and carve up our favourite animals with huge machines, so we can have a sausage or a chicken burger.
Most people have probably never seen an animal die in close quarters. Some die in silence, most scream in pain, all experience great fear. Stand for a moment and take in the smell, the putrid smell of flesh, and see our magnificent triumphs over the animals, great hunters…
Let’s imagine a fictional scenario, where the animals are in charge, shall we? They set up big factories where they farm the humans, keep them in little cages with no room to move, or fatten them up, because animal christmas is about to arrive.
They kill millions of you every year by putting you on electric spikes, or with a bolt of electricity to the brain. You are chopped, diced, sliced, minced, processed, and cut into tasty morsels so the animals wouldn’t know what they were eating; shipped to the animal supermarket, bought and cooked, only for baby bear to throw you on the floor and say “mum, I’m not hungry,” and throw you in the bin.
Now reverse that story, and that’s what goes on now.
Why are they here?
One question that you may feel we haven’t dealt with in its entirety, is why animals are here; and before you answer, it’s not just to provide us with meat and sport. Why? It’s simply because the world exists. And the world needs taken care of.
They give life as they take life. The animals, the fish, the mammals, the insects, the trees, and the birds; they’re the real custodians of the planet. We’d just ruin it if it was left to us.
So next time you walk in the forest, in the park, or go to swat a fly, or kill a spider, think about the important job that all the animals, birds, and insects do; and extend them a little respect, as they go about their daily business of keeping the world in balance.