Interview of Con Slobodchikoff ― Resistance Radio

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Jensen: Hi, I’m Derrick Jensen. This is Resistance Radio on the Progressive Radio Network.

My guest today is Con Slobodchikoff. He’s an animal behaviorist and conservation biologist. He is a professor at Northern Arizona University, where he studies referential communication, using prairie dogs as a model species. Much of his recent research has shown a complex communicative ability of the Gunnison prairie dog alarm calls. In early 2008 he formed the Animal Language Institute, to create a place where people can find and share research in animal communication.

Thank you so much for being on the program today.

Slobodchikoff: Thank you for having me.

DJ: I guess just sort of an open-ended start is, tell me about and tell listeners about prairie-dog communication. Do prairie dogs communicate? How do they communicate? Do they have language?

CS: Sure. Let me tell you specifically about prairie-dog communication and then frame it within the broader question of animal language.

When I first started with prairie dogs, which was around 30 years ago, people knew that prairie dogs had an alarm call, which sounds sort of like a bird chirp. It sounds sort of like “cheep,” and they repeat it multiple times, “cheep, cheep, cheep, cheep,” and so on. People thought that the prairie dogs were giving this alarm call in response to a predator that they happened to notice simply because they were afraid. It was kind of like us yelling “eek” if we saw a snake or something like that.

When I first started working with prairie dogs, I was primarily interested in their social system, which turns out to be a very elaborate social system, somewhat like human social systems. But I noticed that the cheep sort of sounded different.

At that time a person had published a paper about some California ground squirrels that had two types of alarm calls, one for aerial predators like hawks and eagles, another one for terrestrial predators like coyotes.

I thought, wouldn’t it be interesting if prairie dogs actually had two types of alarm calls? So I started recording, and I noticed that indeed you could separate out the alarm calls into two general types, one for aerial predators, one for terrestrial predators. But there was a lot of variation in those calls. I couldn’t figure out why that variation was there.

Then I had sort of an insight. What if that variation is because they’re giving alarm calls in different ways to different species of predators? So I set up experiments to do that. Also one of my students recorded prairie dogs in the field to different predators. We found that, sure enough, they did have different calls for different predators. They had one call for a coyote, another one for human, another one for a dog, another one for a red-tailed hawk, another one for a badger, and so on.

And there was still a lot of variation in there, not as much as before, but still a lot of variation. I had an insight. What if they are describing the physical features of an individual predator? So we did some experiments. I set up some experiments in the field with prairie dogs, and found that, indeed, they were describing the physical features as well as the species of the predator. For a human, they could describe the general size and shape of the human. They could describe the color of clothes that a human is wearing. They could describe something about the speed of travel of the human.

So that cheep essentially translates into something like what we would have as a sentence, where the cheep says, “Here is a tall, thin human, walking slowly, wearing a blue shirt, coming towards us.”

As I continued looking at the prairie-dog communication system, I found that there was more and more complexity. Essentially, ultimately I found that prairie dogs have all of the criteria that linguists traditionally considered that you had to have in order to show that an animal has language.

This set me to thinking, what about other animal species that I’ve always assumed might have just a simple kind of communication system? What do we know about other animal species in terms of language? Here we have a prairie dog who’s a rodent, who weighs one or two pounds, and it has this very sophisticated communication system that could be called language. So I started investigating this and ultimately wrote a book called Chasing Dr. Doolittle: Learning the Language of Animals, which was published by St. Martin’s Press, where I essentially summarized in a popular fashion—it’s not written in a scientific way but in a popular way—I summarized what we knew about other animals in an animal-language context.

Ultimately I looked at something like 250 different papers in the scientific literature, and virtually all of them did not say that they were dealing with language because this is very unfashionable in scientific circles, and among linguists, philosophers, and scientists. Even now you really cannot say that an animal has language and expect to have a paper published in the scientific literature.

But the evidence was very clear. Lots of animals have language. Lots of animals have complex language. Lots of animals have grammar. They have different words for different situations in different contexts. The whole animal world essentially is speaking to us—or not to us, I should say, but speaking to each other—in some form of language, and we just basically have not been listening, because in our human arrogance we assume that we humans are the only ones who are capable of language, and no other animal is capable of that. So we have assumed for a long time, and we still assume this among many scientists and philosophers, that there is a vast gulf between us as humans and them, the rest of the animals, and that this gulf is not a quantitative gulf but it’s a qualitative gulf. We can have animals [language?] because we’re so special. The rest of the animals can’t have language because they’re not as special as we are.

DJ: Which is awfully convenient when it comes to exploiting them.

CS: Absolutely.

DJ: Can we go back to something you said in your very first sentence about complex social organization, I believe. I want to address all the larger stuff you brought up too, which I think is incredibly important, but can you tell me more about the prairie dog’s social structures?

CS: Sure. Prairie dogs live in fixed colonies. They’re fixed in space. And the colonies are called towns. They typically live in grassland habitats, and because we are rapidly destroying grassland habitats, we’re now down to about one to two percent of the numbers of prairie dogs that we had a hundred years ago because these towns are wonderful places to build parking lots and shopping malls and housing developments and so on.

Nevertheless, they live in colonies. Now each colony has maybe about a hundred individuals. In the past colonies had millions of individuals. Within each colony prairie dogs set up a territory where anywhere between one prairie dog and perhaps 20 prairie dogs defense the boundaries of the territory. Within that territory are the food resources that the prairie dogs need to eat and also because they burrow down into the ground is an extensive burrow system that goes down anywhere between five and ten feet and can run for up to 50 feet horizontally and has multiple entrances and exits, also has sleeping chambers, bathroom chambers, resting chambers, so it has a very complex kind of architecture.

The prairie dogs within this particular territory—often there’s at least one male, one or more females, sometimes there are multiple males and multiple females—live inside this territory. They collectively defend the boundaries of their territory against other prairie dogs living in adjacent territories. And within the territory they spend a lot of time in social interaction such as kissing. Moms will kiss their young. Dads will kiss their young. Moms and Dads will kiss each other. And they open up their mouths, press their tongues together for several seconds and stand there kissing, and then happily go off and feed next to each other or do whatever they were doing.

We used to think that these territories were family groups. This is sort of the model that people have been working with in mammals, that mammalian sociality is the result of animals forming family groups of related individuals. This is the model that we worked with for a long time with prairie dogs until one of my students and I started looking at DNA evidence of relatedness on a territory.

We found, much to our surprise, that yes, some of the territories are family groups, but a lot of the territories are not family groups. They’re not related to each other. Apparently, they just somehow decide to come together and cooperate with each other even though they’re not related to each other. They cooperate with each other to maintain the burrow’s systems, to maintain the territorial boundaries. In effect, it’s kind of like a medieval village, where you have different households that maintain the integrity of the household in a larger setting.

We’ve been finding that they have complex social networks, that they preferentially interact with some individuals within a territory more than they interact with other individuals. And again, that’s very similar to what we have in human society, where some individuals, say, in a group of friends, prefer certain friends to other friends and prefer to interact with them more. So there are many parallels between their sociality and human sociality.

I have found that the size of the territory depends on the distribution of the food resources that they have. If the food resources are fairly uniformly distributed as we used to have in grasslands where essentially the grass was pretty uniform throughout, then we have small groups of perhaps a male and a female. But when the food resources become patchily distributed as we have with the development of agriculture, as we have with the development of more complex societies, we have more individuals occupying a territory.

The more patchily the food resources are distributed, the more individuals occupy the territory, presumably because it takes a lot more individuals to cooperate in defending the boundaries of the territory against other groups which are trying to encroach on it, again very similar to sort of the development of human societies from kind of a hunter-gatherer type of society to more agrarian society to more of a larger, more complex society.

DJ: Whenever we talk about pre-conquest numbers of bison—one of the numbers that gets thrown out is 60 million and, I believe, for prong-horned antelope it was like 25 million or 20 million or 30 million—do we have any sort of . . . I mean, what I’ve read about . . . and that’s mind-boggling, or the flocks or passenger pigeons or Eskimo curlews that darkened the sky for days at a time . . . do we have any sort of similarly mind-boggling estimates for . . . I mean can you give me some sort of mind-boggling images of pre-conquest prairie dog numbers or anything?

CS: One estimate that I’ve seen—and keep in mind that these are only estimates because we really don’t have any good data on it—but one estimate was five billion prairie dogs once upon a time. We are now probably in the less than hundreds of thousands range, and probably a lot less than that, maybe in the 20 thousand range.

DJ: One of the many, many things that breaks my heart on that is that, as opposed to, for example, some species of shellfish who are extremely sensitive to water pollution, prairie dogs seem to be, and let me know if I’m wrong, they seem to be one of the most forgiving animals around. I’ve seen them having their homes on median strips of interstates. So they seem to be very forgiving, and they’ve still been absolutely slaughtered.

CS: Well, one of the reasons they’ve been slaughtered—actually there are four reasons why they’ve been slaughtered—but one of the reasons is that we introduced a human disease into animal populations, and this disease is called bubonic plague. Bubonic plague used to be a big killer in human populations. It wiped out at least half of medieval Europe. It wiped out a third of Asian populations.

In recent times it has not been a big factor in human disease, but it was introduced into California, into San Francisco, in about 1900, probably in rats coming in from China, and spread. This is a disease that is spread by fleas. One flea bites an animal that’s infected, gets the infection itself, and then goes and bites another animal and transmits the bacteria into the other animal’s bloodstream.

It has been spreading throughout the western United States and now is somewhere east of the Mississippi River from 1900 to the present. It’s found in a variety of animal populations, but prairie dogs are particularly susceptible to that. When plague comes into a prairie dog colony, anywhere from 98% to 100% of the animals in the colony die from plague.

Now some animals in the wild are more susceptible than others. Cats, for example, tend to die from plague, whereas dogs, coyotes tend to be very resistant to plague. Plague also affects a variety of other rodents and other animals, but we don’t see them dying from plague because they don’t live in colonies the way that prairie dogs do. Because plague has been spreading across the West, prairie dogs have been dying off a lot. So that’s one of the factors.

Another factor is that prairie dogs have been considered to be pests because they have been considered to compete with cattle for grass. The actual scientific evidence for this is sparse. In fact, some studies have shown that when prairie dogs and cattle are together, the cattle actually gain weight instead of losing weight because the prairie dogs clip vegetation. The vegetation re-sprouts, and it’s tender and sweet, which the cattle can eat, so the cattle can gain weight. Other studies have shown that perhaps they do lose weight, but the evidence is very sparse. Nevertheless, population perception is that prairie dogs are pests because they cause cattle to lose weight, and they cause people who grow cattle to lose money. So that’s another factor.

A third factor is that people shoot prairie dogs for recreational purposes. They go out and they use high-powered rifles with telescopic sights, and within a week or two they can wipe out an entire colony these days.

The fourth thing is that prairie dog colonies occur where people like to build parking lots and shopping malls and housing developments, and so their habitat is being progressively destroyed. And you’re absolutely right that they can exist within median strips, they can exist next to railroads and so on. It’s hard for me to believe that these are preferential sites, but they’ve been sort of squeezed into that kind of habitat by human activity.

DJ: I grew up in the West. I grew up in eastern Colorado and then lived in Nevada for a while, then moved up to Idaho. The point is that ever since I was a kid, the larger culture has . . . I’ve always been completely befuddled by what seems to be the really strong cultural hatred of prairie dogs in terms of like laws in Kansas requiring landowners to kill, requiring landowners to kill prairie dogs. They seem to be demonized. Frankly, I’ve written a lot in my books about how much I love the salmon, but honestly, if I still lived in eastern Colorado, I would write about how much I love prairie dogs because they’re so damn cute. They’re really extraordinary creatures. Do you understand the hatred of them?

CS: I think the hatred comes from the old days when there were ranching cultures that were very dominant. What would often happen is that the ranchers, particularly once they started penning up cattle with fences, the cattle would overgraze a particular habitat. There wouldn’t be any grass left for the cattle anymore, but prairie dogs can exist in habitats like that because a significant part of their diet consists of seeds from grasses and annual plants and so on.

You would go to a place that would be overgrazed, and there would be nothing there except prairie dogs who here happily digging up seeds, and somebody could say, “Well, see now, the prairie dogs have killed all of the grass and there’s nothing left for the cattle to eat.”

I think that’s how the myth arose that prairie dogs are bad for the environment because they eat all of the grass that’s intended for cows.

DJ: Which is just so crazy on so many levels. I mean how did the grasslands survive for millions and millions of years if the prairie dogs were so destructive?

CS: Absolutely, and how did the prairie dogs and the buffalo, technically bison, coexist for millions of years if prairie dogs were so destructive?

DJ: I guess I want to ask one more thing about prairie dogs before we jump to the larger animal communication. I think some people might know this, but I think it would be really good for people to hear more about how incredibly important prairie dogs are to grassland communities and how they provide homes, they provide food. They’re central to it, really.

CS: Sure. Prairie dogs are considered to be a keystone species in grasslands, and what that means is that so many other different species have their lives revolving around prairie dogs because of several things that prairie dogs do. First of all, since they dig burrows, the burrows provide refuges for a variety of animals. They also provide nesting sites for animals. Burrowing owls will nest inside prairie dog burrows. A variety of animals seek shelter in these burrows.

Also, additionally, by clipping the vegetation selectively, what the prairie dogs do is they provide very nutritious sources of plant material for a lot of herbivores, so a lot of herbivores will preferentially feed in prairie-dog towns, even cattle. We would find in some of our prairie-dog study sites that when people would bring cattle in to that entire range, the first thing the cattle would do would be to graze on the prairie-dog towns because that’s where the nutritious plant material is.

At the present time we know that there are something like about two hundred species of vertebrates associated either in an obligate way, meaning that they have to live with prairie dogs, or in a loose way, with prairie-dog colonies. And there’s a huge number of invertebrate species which are also associated with prairie-dog towns as well.

So they have a huge ecological impact. They essentially provide the underpinnings for grassland ecosystems. This is something that people seem to have a very hard time understanding, that these animals actually have a very significant role in grassland ecosystems, and if we get rid of these animals, the whole grassland ecosystem starts to collapse.

DJ: This is kind of off-topic, but I’m almost done with the book I’m working on right now about human supremacism. One of the things I’m hammering in the book is that there’s this notion—it’s a word called teleology—and part of it has to do with this notion that only human functionality is true functionality. Natural functionality is not truly functional.

On the one hand, this seems so obviously insane to me that I didn’t want to talk about it for even a page, but on the other hand, it really does run this culture, this weird idea that . . . I was just thinking about this yesterday, I just wrote something yesterday about how water is allocated in the west through that prior use notion that whoever used the water first has the rights to the water. The interesting thing is what is defined as use is industrial or agricultural use, like fish don’t count as actually having actually used the water. So I take it back to here. I’m just seeing this larger cultural problem of not believing that non-humans are actually functional within a larger community. I don’t know if you want to say anything about that. It just boggles my mind that we are that stupid.

CS: Well, this goes back to the idea that humans are special, and the rest of the animals really don’t count. And what we humans do, we do because of our superb intelligence, and the rest of the animals don’t have any intelligence to speak of, and so they don’t know what they’re doing, and so they can’t plan ahead, and they can’t do a variety of things such as maintain an ecosystem because they just happen to be there. We can plan. We can do all kinds of things. You can see how far our planning has gotten us.

DJ: Tell me a bit more about some of your studies. Can you talk about a couple of non-human animals that people might find a bit surprising that they have really great communication abilities? We all know about parrots, and we know about dolphins, and we know about chimpanzees. Do you want to talk about any others?

CS: Sure. When I was writing the book Chasing Dr. Doolittle, I knew for example that humpback whale males sing. And they sing songs. During the course of a season the songs change, so that everybody in a particular population might start out singing one particular song, and then over time the song changes and changes and changes, so at the end of the season, the initial song is not recognizable. I knew that before.

What I didn’t know was that humpback whales are also poets. Their songs have a rhyming capacity just like our songs have a rhyming capacity. At the end of a stanza, you have something that rhymes with sounds at the end of the next stanza and so on.

Another thing I didn’t know about: I used to watch lizards a lot, and I have a variety of lizards living on the walls of my house. I would see the lizards would bob their heads up and down. In my traditional animal behavior upbringing, when I was a student learning about animal behavior, people said that this is how lizards can separate out each species, based on the head bob. So one species would have one particular pattern of head bob. Another species would have a different pattern. And they could tell which the species were and never try to mate with each other.

But what I found is that it’s actually much more complex than that because these lizards within a species have actually a grammar of how they use different body parts to signal different aspects about their lives. They might lift up one particular foot. They might lift up their tail. They might lift up their entire body. They might lower their head and so on. And all of this has meaning as a language essentially, with a grammar, to other lizards of the same species who are nearby. Again, initially, I might not have assumed that lizards would have a grammar, would have a language, and yet here they are essentially conveying complex ideas from one to the other, which I never would have expected initially.

DJ: That raises a huge point about other forms of language. It cracks me up too that so often a lot of mechanistic scientists will say, “Oh gosh, you should never anthropomorphize.” The word itself just pisses me off.

CS: [laughter]

DJ: But then what they’ll do is they’ll say basically that any language that doesn’t resemble human language, by which I mean auditory in this case, isn’t language. It’s like how much more anthropomorphic could you get than to presume that every language has to resemble ours?

CS: Absolutely. You know that for a long time linguists argued that sign language was not a genuine language, that it was much more like communication like something much more primitive. And now linguists are willing to accept that sign language is a genuine language with its own linguistic characteristics. But you’re absolutely right. We essentially assume that we have an auditory language, and yet, as I write about in my book, we ourselves have a variety of body language signals, which we pick up either at a conscious level or at an unconscious level.

For example, studies have shown that if you’re going to be speaking in front of a group, you have exactly seven seconds as you walk out in front of that group in which to impress the audience enough so that they’re going to listen to you. And if you don’t do that in seven seconds, whatever you say is going to be entirely tuned out. And how do you impress them? Through body language. How do you hold yourself? What is the position of your head? What is the position of your shoulders? And so on.

And also, to a certain extent, the linguistic aspect that when you start to speak, what is the timbre of your voice? What is the quality of your voice? And that’s going to impress people. You can tell them all kinds of miraculous things, and if you don’t impress them, they won’t listen.

DJ: I’m wanting to read a quote by Neil Evernden in his tremendous book, The Natural Alien, and I’m wondering if could respond to this quote. He describes how some vivisectionists “adopted a routine precaution. Out the outset of an experiment they would sever the vocal cords of the animal on the table so that it could not bark or cry out during the operation. This is a significant action for in doing it, the physiologist was doing two other things. He was denying his humanity and he was affirming it. He was denying it in that he was able to cut the vocal cords and pretend the animal could feel no pain, that it was merely the machine Descartes claimed it could be. But he was also affirming his humanity in that had he not cut the cords, the desperate cries of the animal would have told him what he already knew, that it was a sentient, feeling being and not a machine at all.

“The act is an appropriate metaphor for the creation of a biological scientist out of a nature lover. The rite of passage into the scientific way of being centers on the ability to apply the knife to the vocal cords, not just of the dog on the table but of life itself. Inwardly he must be able to sever the cords of his own consciousness. Outwardly the effect must be the destruction of the larynx of the biosphere, essential to the transformation of the world into a material object subservient to the laws of classical physics. In effect, he must deny life in order to study it.”

So I’m wondering if you can just dive into that or anything else you want to talk about for like ten minutes.

CS: I basically agree with that entire statement. As I look at some of my fellow scientists, some of them got into animal behavior, for example, because they loved animals, because they loved nature. But the scientific method has a way of weeding that out of you, because you have to set up experiments, which are often invasive experiments. For example, people told me that with my prairie dogs, what I should do is I should deafen some young prairie dogs and see what sort of vocalizations developed with the deafened ones, and I refused to do that.

DJ: Oh my god.

CS: And people told me I could get grant funds for that, and I refused to do that because this is not what I want to do. I want to be nonintrusive in animals’ lives. I can observe them from a distance, but I’m not intruding on them. But so much scientific experimentation involves intruding on animals’ lives in sometimes very aggressive ways, such as cutting the vocal cords or such as deafening animals and so on.

I’m sure that this must set up some kind of conflict among people who got into the whole aspect of liking animals and liking nature and at the same time trying to follow the dictates of the scientific method and experimentation where you are sometimes encouraged to do fairly violent things to animals and create pain and create suffering.

I think that in a way, unfortunately, science or at least animal behavior has kind of moved away from being in touch with nature and being in touch with our basic humanity in that we as scientists are willing to do sometimes horrible things to animals in the name of the greater good, we think, of science, in the name of finding out something about science.

The thing that I see is that in the past, there used to be people who called themselves naturalists, who could go out and observe the animals and observe plants and observe nature and do it in an non-intrusive way and get some idea of what is going on in nature. But the problem is, at least as far as the scientific outlook goes, is that they were not using the scientific method. They weren’t doing experiments. They weren’t doing statistical analyses of their work. They weren’t rigorously testing hypotheses. So that then has become labeled as anthropomorphism. And as you mentioned, anthropomorphism is something that’s a no-no in scientific circles. It’s essentially swept under the rug as something that’s not even worth considering.

I think that we as scientists in general have moved farther away from understanding nature because we no longer be with nature. We be with our machines, we be with our scalpels, we be with our statistics. Even as far as physics goes, we be with our cyclotrons and so on. We get away from a feeling for nature that many cultures who are not as scientifically advanced as we are actually have.

Perhaps some of these cultures who are not as scientifically advanced as we have a better sense of what’s going on with the animals and plants and nature than we do. Certainly they don’t seem to destroy nature, and destroy animals and plants, the way that we’re doing it.

DJ: So if you could have . . . okay I guess there are a couple of directions I want to go. One of them is, the first question I want to ask is, you’re a conservation biologist—I want to ask about that for a second—and the second one is, I want to hold the thought you just had about . . . I want to ask what you would say to a 17- or 18-year old who’s hearing this interview, who loves nature and wants to go into some study of nature somehow, and what you’d say to them.

So the first question, conservation biology. Reed Noss has called conservation biology “a combat discipline.” (a) If you agree, and (b) what is conservation biology, and what would it mean if it were a combat discipline?

CS: I’m not sure actually what is meant by a combat discipline.

DJ: I think he means it’s strong advocacy.

CS: There’s a whole range of conservation biologists. There are people who just simply study things and present data without actually advocating anything. And then at the other end of the spectrum are people who either generate their own data or take other people’s data and have a very strong advocacy role. You have a whole spectrum of people falling somewhere in between those two different categories.

Again, I think that the people who go into conservation biology go into it because they do have some sort of feeling for nature. They have some sort of sense of what nature is about. But I don’t really know what I would tell a 17-year-old who loves nature, who is thinking about going into something like conservation biology because it is so easy to get sucked into a situation where suddenly you’re doing intrusive experiments on something. I think that it’s possible not to do intrusive experiments, and I think that it’s possible to maintain a love of animals, but if you’re going to approach it from a scientific standpoint, the niches for that may be not very extensive.

DJ: So how did you maintain it in yourself, and how—I’m presuming you’ve attempted to nurture that with your students—and how have you done that?

CS: I have done that not being able to get any grant funds for any of my work.

DJ: That’ll do it.

CS: So because when I say what I want to do, reviewers say, well, you should do this, you should deafen animals, you should do that, and so on, so rewrite your grant proposal so it includes that, and I say I don’t want to do that.

DJ: Isn’t it great, by the way, that science is value-free?

CS: [laughter] Indeed, yes. But in terms of my students, I have always had more students who wanted to work with me than I could possibly accept, so I always chose carefully, choosing students who shared my love for nature and shared my love for animals and also shared my values for not harming the animals.

DJ: Obviously I agree with everything you say, so how do we change discourse, and how do we change society such that we can assist more people in general to perceive the natural world not as consisting of resources to be exploited but other beings out there whose lives are just as valuable to them as yours is to you and mine is to me?

CS: I think we’re doing it. I think that the books that you write have an impact. The books that I write have an impact. For example, I did a one-hour documentary that BBC produced and that Animal Planet showed, which got a lot of views, which has a very sympathetic view of animals and of prairie dogs.

I think that lots of people are working at this issue, and gradually, over time, society is changing. Look at how people now relate to their dogs and their cats. Not too long ago, 50 years ago, dogs were confined to back yards and put on chains and only occasionally fed, and now many people consider them to be members of the family. So I think that gradually society is changing from all of the efforts that all of us are doing, but it is something that does take time, and sometimes it seems very frustrating because the change seems so slow and so incremental, but I think it’s getting there.

DJ: I guess the last question here is if you could have the listeners to this interview take away one message like, oh, I heard this great interview today. What was it about? Oh, the guy said . . . and then give me like one or two sentences that you’d really want people to take home and perhaps change their lives.

CS: I think that one of the things that my language studies have done is that the more people who hear about the language studies, the more they have a chance to empathize with animals. What I really want people to do is I want to do is I want people to acknowledge that animals are thinking, sentient, feeling beings, and that it’s time for us to have a partnership with animals rather than exploit them, and the same thing for nature, that it’s time for us to have a partnership with nature instead of exploiting nature.

DJ: And if people want to go to your website and watch the fabulous eight-and-a-half minute or nine-minute video you have on prairie dogs, how do they get to your website?

CS: To get to my website, they would have to know how to spell my name, which is complicated. I would suggest that they go to the website that I have for my book Chasing Dr. Doolittle, which is called There they can find links to my website as well as they can find out information about some of the animals and pictures of some of the animals that I discuss in terms of language in Chasing Dr. Doolittle.

DJ: Thank you so much for being on the program today.

CS: Thank you very much for having me.

DJ: I’d like to thank listeners for listening. My guest today as been Con Slobodchicoff. This is Derrick Jensen for Resistance Radio on the Progressive Radio Network.

Okay, so that’s going to be the end of it. Thank you so much. You were fabulous.

CS: You had great questions.

DJ: Thank you.

CS: And thank you for all the work you’re doing. I think this is terrific, and that’s the kind of thing I was talking about just a few minutes ago, that this is the sort of thing that needs to get out there, that needs to get done. People are converted one person and a time.

DJ: Thank you for saying that. And also, I want to thank you for not deafening the prairie dogs. That made me cry when you were saying it.

CS: [laughter] I would never consider that.

DJ: Of course.

CS: You couldn’t offer me enough money to do that.

DJ: I live on 40 acres of second-growth redwood up in the Pacific Northwest.

CS: Oh cool.

DJ: I’m always talking to the Fish and Wildlife people like is there anything you want to do to improve the habitat? You know, whatever. I always say, look, you can come in and you can look—there’s a salmon-bearing stream that runs through it—and I say you can look at the stream, you can do any sort of non-invasive stuff you want, but don’t even think about bringing out a shocker.

CS: Great. Wonderful.

DJ: And so what they do, it’s kind of cool, they bring out little temporary fish traps. They just put food in, then drop it in, and then they’ll sit there and watch it. And within two minutes, the thing is completely surrounded and sometimes filled with little fish. But that’s fine because they let them go in about five minutes.

CS: Sure.

DJ: And they get some food for it.

CS: Sure. And there are lots of non-invasive things that people can do which they somehow don’t think of doing because it’s convenient to do things invasively. But once you draw the limit that you can’t do these invasive things, it’s amazing what people can come up with.

DJ: Yeah, exactly, Anyway, thank you so much for your work, and I’d love to stay in contact.

CS: I’d love to stay in contact with you too.

DJ: Good. I hope you have a great afternoon.

CS: Thanks, Derrick. I appreciate it.

Filed in Interviews by Derrick Jensen
No Responses — Written on August 17th — Filed in Interviews by Derrick Jensen

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