Animal Inventory Blog

Keeping track of animals in popular culture.

Archive for January, 2009

Kill the Geese?

Posted by lisagbrown on January 17, 2009

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As you have no doubt heard by now, an airplane bound from New York’s LaGuardia Airport to North Carolina struck a flock of geese and was forced to make crash landing into the Hudson River on Thursday, January 15th. Thankfully, all 155 people aboard survived, to the credit of the skilled pilot and flight crew.

Unfortunately, the birds may not come out of this as unharmed as the passengers. At least a few of the birds died when they struck the aircraft, and now there are cries for ALL the Canadian geese around the airport to be killed in order to ensure the safety of air travelers. In today’s New York Post, this perspective is abundantly clear:

“Round them up – and get rid of them!” Or even kill them if you like. That’s the sure answer to eliminating the potentially deadly Canada geese that threaten air travel around New York, says wildlife biologist Steve Garber, who once ran the wildlife-mitigation program at Kennedy, La Guardia and Newark airports.

However, as the Post mentions later in the article (much to it’s own chagrin), Canadian geese, along with other migratory birds, are protected by state, federal AND international laws. That’s a whole lotta laws — laws that were put in place for a good reason. You see, migratory birds impact the habitats of multiple environments, and the loss of their piece of the environmental puzzle can have a detrimental effect on each of these many ecosystems. So before the Post encourages its readers to pull out their guns and have a hunting party on a protected species, they may want to check out the other methods that have, thus far, been working quite well; methods like: making airport environs less hospitable to certain bird species; moving standing bodies of water farther away from airports to encourage the birds to go elsewhere; or utilizing unappealing sights, sounds or smells that would drive the birds away.

I am entirely sympathetic to the people who experienced this terrible ordeal, and I certainly believe that aviation and wildlife experts need to take a closer look at how birds and aircraft can coexist more safely. However, lest we forget, WE are the ones invading THEIR airspace. These birds are not fiends (as the Post describes them), nor do they intend to hurt anyone. They do not wish to fly into the engine of an aircraft and die. They simply wish to get where they are going as safely and quickly as possible … not unlike we do.

Posted in Animal Behavior, Animal Welfare, Animals, Birds, Conservation, Ethics, Public Policy, Representations | Leave a Comment »

Telling Nature’s Story: A Manifesto, By Boria Sax

Posted by lisagbrown on January 12, 2009

nilaslogoNature in Legend and Story (Nilas) is an academic list serve that caters to scholars and storytellers who engage in the narrative of nature, animals and human culture.  As described on the Nilas website, “H-NILAS is a moderated internet discussion forum sponsored by the Nature in Legend and Story Society (NILAS). NILAS is a group of people dedicated to understanding relationships between human beings and the natural world, through the mediation of stories, poems, legends, pictures, and other cultural products.”

The group’s founder, Boria Sax, recently posted an essay that I thought would be of interest to Animal Inventory readers. Sax has graciously allowed me to post the manifesto, which also appears on his blog, Raven’s Wing.

Telling Nature’s Story: A Manifesto

Stories are not confined to human beings. Every animal, plant, stream, or mountain has a story.

Scholars are storytellers, who must now help to tell the story of humankind, of the earth, of the cosmos, of the troubled marriage between Mother Nature and Father Culture. These should be told in a language that can convey both intellectual nuance and emotional intensity, together with high drama, humor, pathos, adventure, and romance.

To tell the story of a tree or a butterfly is to grant it what is sometimes called “personhood.”

The majestic protocols of scholarship add authority and dignity, but they should not become the reason why we write. Documentation should enhance, not overwhelm, the story. Noting special cases should add interest and variety, and qualifications should enhance suppleness. But the accumulated mass of detail must not distract us from the line of narrative.

Language is not confined to human beings, though our language is like no other. There is also the dance of a bee, the changing colors of an octopus, the architecture of a bower bird, and the howling of a wolf. There is the language of the genetic code, with which strands of DNA speak to an embryo, or of plants as they bend and turn to share the sun.

The laws of physics are the grammar of a language in which the stars and galaxies communicate with one another. Are we speaking metaphorically? Sure. But that is how our language works.

Computers also have languages. We may use their languages when we communicate with them, but human beings do not use computer languages to talk with one another. We also do not habitually dance like bees or bark like crows. That is because our language is not simply an accessory. It is a basic part of what we are.

Humankind does not simply have a story; humankind is a story. While that story is still told, humanity will live. When the story ends, humankind will be no more. Our DNA, if it survives, will be one more monument alongside Stonehenge and the paintings in Lascaux.

What is Nature? All things that we are not. It is our beloved partner and adversary. Nature is a spider, gazing at a boy as she turns, with each of eight arachnid eyes, hanging from a filament catches the sun momentarily and then seems to disappear.

Didn’t Aristotle point out that things are opposite only through the qualities they share. The story of nature is our story, just like the reflection in a pond is our image, in reverse. Without Nature we could not live, in fact we could not even die.

By Boria Sax

Posted in Animal Behavior, Animals, Guest Blogger, Human-Animal Studies, Identity, Literature, Representations, Theory | Leave a Comment »

Finding Integration

Posted by lisagbrown on January 7, 2009

cgan738lI recently suffered a minor injury that has caused me to limit my writing and use of the computer. You may have noticed that this has altered the length and quantity of my blog postings over the last month. The experience has been frustrating and painful, but it has also forced me to slow down and take a step back. The injury has placed me very viscerally inside of my physical body, and while that is not always a pleasant place to be right now, it has also enabled me to reflect upon how long it’s been since I’ve been there. Here. That is, inside this living, breathing physical structure. The truth is that I typically spend most of my time inside my creaky, crowded brain and even my relationship with animals — my queries, feelings and thoughts — has become the dominion of my intellect, rather than my visceral core.

There was a time when the reverse was true — I worked with animals at a job that had very little room for braininess. My work was about connecting with the animals on a deeply emotional level, communicating with them through movement, touch and a rawness that people sometimes call instinct. The way that I felt about those beings transcended wordy description or heady explanation. I was strongly rooted in my body because that physicality helped me to understand the needs of my animal charges. It made me a better caretaker and a skilled communicator.  

But ultimately, the physical intelligence I honed at that job led me to realize that I was missing a piece of the animal puzzle. Despite my visceral understanding of these particular animals (and the colony as a whole), there were larger questions that I needed to ask.  So I left my job in order to learn about the history, culture, philosophy, ethics and policy surrounding human relationships with animals. I set up camp in a place that was all brain and thought and intellect. Many of my questions were answered, which led to more questions, and more answers, and more questions, still. And I lived in that cycle until about a month ago, when my body broke down and reminded me that, literally and figuratively, I had forgotten my physical roots.

My two divergent selves — intellect and body — inform me about how to understand animals.  I have found multiple ways to communicate with animals, to see them fully and completely, yet I have not found a way to join together these two sides of myself, to enable brain and body to connect and communicate with each other in order to facilitate an integrated understanding of animals. It is this integration — of the visceral and the intellectual — that is, in some sense, at the very core of human-animal studies. This is not a battle over who has what — animals have instinct, humans have smarts, or vice versa — this is an acceptance of the fact that there can be no holistic understanding of  animals unless we humans are more fully integrated selves. Or, let me state it another way. I’m not sure I can achieve a deeper understanding of animals until I achieve more integration between my intellectual and visceral understandings of animals.

At the very least, I think that’s what my strained body is trying to tell me, and these days I’m trying very hard to listen.

Posted in Animal Behavior, Animals, Ethics, Human-Animal Bond, Human-Animal Studies, Identity, Public Policy, Theory | 2 Comments »