In human / animal interactions, animals will always be the losers. As the latest tragedy at the Lion Park illustrates – where an American tourist was killed by a lioness – whenever a human is injured or killed by a wild animal in spite of the human’s stupidity, the animal is killed. The term “put down” does not do justice to the callous act of retribution.
Fortunately in this case the animal will be spared its life. Instead it will be removed from the pride and kept in isolation. This measure is an injustice and violates its “animal rights.” Unlike leopards, lions are social animals and operate in clans. Being isolated from her clan is akin to being kept in solitary confinement for a human.
Main picture: Notice on entering the lion enclosure at the Lion Park. On the Talk Shows some have criticised the Park Management for the lack of a “prominent sign” which I dispute. Secondly I contend that such a sign is unnecessary as one is entering a lion enclosure in a nature reserve called The Lion Park. I have no doubt that as the victim was American, the Lion Park will be sued for vast sums for negligence in allowing the woman to open her window.
Even that measure is too harsh. Kevin Richardson, South Africa’s so-called Lion Whisperer, has led calls for the animal to be returned to its pride.
In principle I am opposed to zoos. Animals are born to be free, to feel grass under their paws, to have the wind blow through their feathers, scales or hair and not to be confined in a concrete cubicle barely a few metres square. In the case of birds they must be allowed to soar into the clouds, to sail in the breezes and to bask in their freedom.
At least most of the animals at the Joburg Zoo are not subjected to the indignity of concrete enclosures. Nonetheless the conditions do not replicate those found in the wild. My heart goes out to those animals that continually pace up and down in their cages. This is indicative of an animal in distress, one that is yearning for a proper existence. Even if their cages are larger, often the animal is alone in the cage without another animal of the same species to keep them company
A recent National Geographic program on the culling of wild boar in Germany brought the problem of animals in developed countries home to me. As wild boars have no road sense – how many animals do – they are a danger on the roads. In order to curb the number of accidents and the general nuisance that they cause, Germany has instituted a culling program.
After 10 minutes I changed channels in disgust. Shooting animals because of their nuisance value is a travesty. Rather employ other methods such as fencing off areas at risk as an example. Surely a country as wealthy as Germany could adopt a more humane animal friendly solution.
One of the highlights of my hiking career was when we were hiking the 5 day Outeniqua Trail from outside George to past Knysna. On the last day of the hike one traverses through a fern forest. This area passes through a stream bed populated with gigantic ferns some as tall as 4 metres. It is akin to entering a fairy tale world. All that is absent is the sprinkling of crisp snow that one can crunch underfoot as one trespasses on this idyll. There, between the fern trees, was a sow – a female wild pig – playing contentedly with her suckling piglets blissfully unaware that humans had intruded into their playpen.
It was a magical moment as both sets of creatures – men and pigs – stared in wonderment at each other. Fearing the worst, the sow gathered up her drove and scuttled off through the undergrowth.
Finally the spell had been broken. There could not have been a more fitting end to such an amazing hike.
Naturally those subjected to the nuisance value of animals such as the inhabitants of Umhlanga where monkeys are a pest will be vocal in their desire for their killing. Removal would be a preferable solution. Baboons at Cape Point has terrorised the tourists to such an extent that they are being relocated.
One of my “pet” dislikes – hate is perhaps my real emotion – is birds in cages. Birds were meant to be free to soar in the breezes and cavort in the sky. Instead they are cooped in a cage where they are barely able to flap their wings. The Moroccan barber around the corner also hates to cage a bird. Instead he lets his pet Cape Sparrow – mossie to South Africans – fly unhindered around the shop. The young bird barely past its fledgling phase, refuses to fly outside the shop. Instead it perches contentedly on the barber’s shoulder chirping away.
Isn’t this what nature intended?
It is unthinkable what man will subject animals to in the name of vanity whether as a food or as an item of clothing. Fortunately the wearing of firs has become unfashionable what with all the negative publicity but there is one type of food which I particularly abhor: shark fin soup.
In order to obtain two tasteless portions of skin, the dorsal fins of a shark are sliced off. The shark then is tossed back into the sea to die an appalling death on the sea floor. But for the sauces that are used on these fins, nobody would attempt to eat them.
Another plague which is ravaging animal populations is the wanton killing of rhinos. On a recent hike through the Kruger Park, the black guides admitted that it was their fellow guides who were partially culpable for this slaughter.
How can somebody whose mission in life is to protect wild life participate in these animals destruction?
It is unthinkable.
So far in spite of the best endeavours of various groups, this scourge has not abated. If anything it is accelerating. The demand for rhino horn with its supposed aphrodisiac properties is fuelling this demand. How a substance with the properties of keratin can possess such miraculous abilities is not even debatable. But it fuels the slaughter of one of world’s finest animals.
One can deplore the slaughter of whales by the Japanese under the aegis of “research” and the killing of dolphins but to no avail.
Mankind has the upper hand. Either through deliberate acts or the unintended consequences of habitat destruction, the rights of animals are not considered.
Instead of the current generation being the custodians of animals bequeathing a rich and varied heritage on to our descendants, in our selfish desire for increased wealth, luxury and better everything, the consequences for animal life in all its manifestations is being compromised.
All that future generations will receive in their wills is the remnants of the once mighty herds cramped on land unsuitable for mankind’s use or locked forlornly in zoos outside their nature habitat.
A developed continent such as Europe is the forerunner of this phenomenon. Where once bears roamed wild over much of its landmass, its range has been severely curtailed & compromises minute parcels of land in some countries. Likewise the wolf. Only isolated mountain peaks are its refuge from mankind.
Soon all continents will all follow the path of Europe with Asia losing its tigers, elephants and rhinos. Ultimately even Africa, home of the Big Five, will lose its much vaunted wide open plains such as the Serengeti one of the most famous animal nirvanas on earth. With Africa’s population projected to balloon to 2 billion by the turn of the century, what hope is there for its vast herds of wild animals?
Like Europe, it too will be paved over and the vast plains converted into malls, roads and sprawling suburbs.
I have been truly blessed to have been able to travel for days through the Botswana bush never to see another human being let alone any sign of civilisation.
Similarly the 5 day hikes through the Amatola Mountains in the Hogsback area and the Fish River Canyon in Namibia have the same phenomena: no civilisation to be seen. Even a hint of a human artifact detracts from the wildness of the place.
Before I die, I need once more to experience the thrill of wide open spaces devoid of the human touch.
That is not the heritage that mankind will to bequeath to its children. Instead it will be like the useless baubles with which that ancient mariners and explorers used as barter when encountering native peoples; shiny and sparkling but with no intrinsic worth apart from vanity.