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Excerpt from Thought To Exist In the Wild

Deadly Business (p. 12)

Zoos remain a deadly business. We’ve all heard the litany of animals killed by abusive patrons, of deer beaten to death by visitors who climbed the fence to get at them, of sea lions stoned to death, of sea lions blinded by cherry bombs, of giraffes stabbed by pitchforks, of the routine poisonings of captive animals, of the sticks, rocks, and other weapons wielded by those who enact the phrase quoted above: “You show power by keeping an animal captive; how much more powerful are you if you kill it?” And we all know that when these animals fight back, it is not their tormenters who get shot.

A century ago a supervisor at the Moscow zoo stated in language equally applicable today, “All day long, an immense crowd, rowdy and bothersome, filed past the cages. This multitude, which would have been seized by mortal panic at the distant sight of any one of these animals at liberty, took great delight in seeing them thus disarmed, humiliated and debased. They took revenge for their own cowardice by deriding them, heckling them in loud voices, and shaking their chains, and the keepers‟ remonstrations would come up against an unanswerable argument: “I’ve paid.”

The killing of animals is not at issue here; life feeds off life. It always has, and always will. At issue here is relationship. One reason indigenous cultures do not kill their landbases is that they recognize and participate in the fundamental predator/prey relationship: when you consume the flesh of another you take responsibility for the continuation of the other’s community. In addition, you are bound to respect the other and to give thanks for the life it gave to sustain yours, in full recognition that someday it will be your turn to give your life to sustain someone else.

One reason civilizations destroy their landbases—and one reason the current global civilization is killing the entire planet—is that as a whole they do not recognize and participate in this relationship: they neither respect nor take responsibility for nonhuman (or for that matter human) communities.

The truth is, civilizations don’t much recognize or participate in relationships at all, especially with nonhumans.