Many of you probably have pets at home. Whether they’re the standard dog or cat, or even something a little more odd like a miniature pig, chameleon, hedgehog or stoat (seriously, look them up, they’re adorable), we love and provide for them. We want to make sure our pets are safe, well nourished and healthy, treating them like a member of our own family. But when it comes to animals that we do not call “pets,” our desire to protect and defend goes out the window.
For a long time, humans have considered themselves the top of the animal kingdom. Intellectually, perhaps. We have some brain capacities that other developed and complex organisms have yet to match. Our reasoning is finely tuned, and our ability to perceive potential results helps us to plan and avoid problematic outcomes. But then again, we claimed the title “top of the animal kingdom” ourselves. No other animal has said “Ah yes, homo sapiens are indeed superior to us in terms of X, Y and Z.” We gave ourselves that title and have placed ourselves at the top and categorized other animals in relation to the widespread hairless ape.
I guess I should announce that I’m a whole-hearted believer in evolution. In fact, it’s my major. I know there has been a disconnecton between humans and the rest of the animal kingdom for centuries, and Charles Darwin, Thomas Malthus and Thomas Huxley were some of the first to take the stance that we weren’t an exception to the rules of nature. But recently, there has been a lack of concern for those that we’re not close to, or those that we do not consider as family.
In America, we don’t have that many native large creatures. Yes, bears and buffalo can be huge, but how often do we actually see these in physical proximity to ourselves? Humans are the ones that are large and smart, in comparison to the dogs and cats and other pets with which we are constantly interacting. I think that this is why there’s not as much stress to protect the animals that are not around us, because there’s a twisted perception of how we, as humans, are in the animal kingdom. We’re not dwarfed in stature by many animals, and we’re hardly rivaled in strength. Therefore, our lives are not in perspective.
Elephants are the largest land mammal. These enormous creatures are found in high concentrations throughout India, Africa and Sri Lanka, interacting with humans in many settings, such as transportation, tourist attractions and when habitats collide. Though they can be deemed as sensitive and docile animals, they can cause great damage to small towns, demolishing homes and cars. A similar situation can be found in Africa with gorillas and rhinoceroses attacking humans when they feel threatened. Those individuals who interact with them on a constant basis are aware of the power that they possess. It allows humans to see their place in the animal kingdom, where we stand in physical strength and emotional capabilities such as mourning and outrage. When we lose that perspective, I think we lose respect for the other creatures with which we share this planet.
We’re constantly driven by our own selfish endeavors, regardless of the consequences for the creatures that cannot speak. Destruction of habitats, killing for sport and killing for products like ivory or hands (yes, gorilla hands are a commodity) are driving these creatures to extinction. We think that humans are at the top, mighty over these beasts. But if they could have the chance to defend themselves, humans would easily lose. A gunshot can end any life, whether it’s that of a human, a cat or a massive pachyderm. But if left to nature’s rules, those that are strong would prevail.
Unfortunately, those who hold the gun are at the top and dictate what happens in nature. Just because they’re not our pets doesn’t mean that we can disrespect these animals. They’re on the same phylogenetic tree that we are. We are not an addendum to the animal kingdom, but rather in it together.
Sara Shamaskin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.