Monday, September 04, 2006

The Question of Animal Ethics

This has been an interesting week in animal related incidents for Chris and I. On Thursday we watched “Grizzly Man”, the story of Timothy Treadwell, who lived with grizzly bears in Alaska for 13 years. The documentary, much of the footage shot by Treadwell himself, clearly depicts Treadwell’s passion (obsession is probably a better word) and desire to save the grizzly bears. He names the bears, touches them, and talks to them constantly. Not surprisingly, he also was also killed by one of these bears in 2003. He and his girlfriend were found partially eaten at their campsite on the last day of their summer stay in the wild. While his devotion to the cause was admirable; I couldn’t help but come away from the film feeling that his crusade had done more harm than good. I came to mostly the same conclusion that the director did: while the bears were impressive animals, I simply couldn’t feel the connection that Treadwell so obviously did and I cringed every time he approached a bear, already knowing the eventual outcome. While these animals are certainly to be admired and studied, I think that I’ll do so from a distance.

And, of course, Steve Irwin died today after being stung by the barb on a stingray. Mr. Irwin, the self-styled “Crocodile Hunter”, was also obsessed with animals and shared some of the same characteristics as Mr. Treadwell. He constantly put himself in danger, talked to his animals, and, of course, was constantly touching (or wrestling) the animals.

I think that at some point you have to draw the line at acceptable behavior towards wild animals. Mr. Irwin was accused of disturbing animals in Antarctica while filming one of his documentaries and I was certainly disturbed watching Mr. Treadwell petting grizzly bears. Also, I think you have to consider your actions and the affect that they will have on the general welfare of the animals. But I don’t think it’s entirely fair to lump Mr. Irwin into the “animal crazy” category along with Mr. Treadwell. Mr. Irwin was especially noted as a conservationist and he had bought large tracks of land in Australia and New Guinea in an effort to provide a sanctuary to endangered species in addition to donating large sums of money to various causes. Of course, the ethical questions of zoos can also be brought into this discussion, but I think we’ll leave that one for another time.

It’s too bad that people that are especially passionate about animals are often killed by the very animals that they are trying to protect. The very occurrence of their death causes a lot of fear in the public and perhaps even adds to the notion that the dangerous animals should simply be exterminated rather than left alone. Of course, leaving wild animals alone these days is not a simple matter; incidents of mountain lion attacks in California have increased significantly as people encroach on land that was once their habitat.