Anthropocentricism is so deeply imbedded into the human psyche that these days it’s even hard to find a wildlife-related action alert which doesn’t focus on how some group of people might benefit from the continued existence of a given species. The well-being of the individual animal—let alone its species—so often takes a back seat to the ways humans benefit or profit from them.
Take wolves, for example. When Montana’s wildlife lawmakers were considering closing a few small areas around Yellowstone to wolf hunting and trapping, the primary reasons given by most wolf proponents for wanting the exclusion zones had to do with the value wolves have as tourist attractions and as part of a scientific study. To the majority of those who testified, the facts that the wolves themselves are sentient beings and/or are essential elements in nature’s design—who don’t deserve to be shot on sight as vermin—seemed secondary to the ways in which watchers and biologists were affected by the wrongful deaths of Yellowstone wolves.
Similarly, a petition to force Facebook to remove the page, Wolf Butchering, Cooking, and Recipes reads, “To protect the Wolves, and the Sensitivities of Native Americans. It is offensive, and a discrimination against the Religious Beliefs of Native Americans.” Of course I signed the petition, but I did so for the sake of the wolves, not because of anyone’s purported religious beliefs. I’m against cannibalism as well—for the sake of the victims of such barbarity, not because the culinary choice is considered a cultural taboo. At the same time, I don’t want migratory waterfowl habitat set aside just so I can go bird watching, or to save the whales so I can go whale watching. It’s about them, not about our perception or enjoyment of them.
As we’ve all heard, ad nauseam, “sportsmen” help wildlife by hunting—or so they would have us believe. As James McWilliams blogged in a timely post entitled Hunting, Land Conservation, and Blood Lust, “This land preservation defense of hunting is a common one. Get enough people who like to blow away animals on board and you can prevent undeveloped land from becoming a Walmart,” dispelling this myth with, “The vast majority of conservation-driven hunting policies are designed not to improve the quality of a particular ecosystem but to improve the quality of the hunt.”
Westerners didn’t know okapis or orangutans even existed until around a century ago. Were the lives of such unutilized and therefore unappreciated animals meaningless up until the day they were “discovered”? You or I may never get the chance to see a black rhino or a snow leopard, but that certainly doesn’t diminish their intrinsic value.