The official lack of compassion extended to the emaciated and possibly sick or wounded sea lion which I talked about in my post, “Compassion For All, Not Just the Endangered,” was only one of many frustrating experiences I’ve had with the “let nature take its course” approach. It’s a policy that the U.S. National Park Service embraces as well, no matter that national parks aren’t entirely natural any longer thanks to all the anthropogenic activity that goes on there these days.
It’s not just that the powers that be don’t get involved in helping animals in distress; they don’t allow anyone else to do anything for a non-human either. I’ve seen extreme examples of this policy in Yellowstone, the nation’s oldest, largest—and at times busiest—national park.
In the Madison River valley, near the park’s West Entrance, I stopped by a pair of park rangers who were impassively watching something that turned out to be a cow elk with her neck and head caught in a forked lodgepole pine tree. She must have stumbled down the steep hill and when she landed, found herself hanging with only her hind feet able to touch the ground.
Defying the rangers’ directive of hands-off noninvolvement, I intervened on behalf of the elk. At first I was going to try to push her back up the hill, since the force of gravity was making her situation worse by the minute. But she understandably panicked at the sight of a human approaching, no matter how soothingly I spoke to her, and I didn’t want to cause her to lose her unstable footing. I decided the only safe way to get her out of her predicament was to find a veterinarian in the nearby town of West Yellowstone who could give her a sedative so she wouldn’t struggle while we moved her or cut the tree enough to free her.
I found a vet willing and eager to help out, but he was turned away at the park’s entrance gate once they learned that his purpose was to help a wild animal. Ultimately, the park service got their way and nature took its course—the elk could not hold herself up forever and ended up choking to death.
Another example of park service heartlessness: bison sometimes thrash about for days with a painful breech birth when any vet in ranch country (which the land around Yellowstone is certainly considered) would have no trouble helping a cow out of that often fatal situation. But, I’ve seen more than one bison mother left to suffer interminably and die, along with her calf.
In case you’re wondering what all this has to do with anti-hunting, I’ll tell you. Hunters sometimes use the pretext that they want to “participate in nature,” but when the going gets tough and nature gets the upper hand they back down, turn tail and run home to their pampered human world.
If a pregnant hunter suddenly went into labor and was having major difficulty, no one in their right mind would say, “Sorry, ma’am, you chose to ‘participate’ in nature, now you’re on your own.” No, anyone passing would call 911 on their cell phone, I-phone or OnStar and she’d be rushed to the nearest clinic or hospital and treated according to the Hippocratic Oath. If they really wanted to fully partake in nature, hunters should sign living wills stating, in the event that they get sick or injured out there, doctors must waive their oath and let nature take its course.
Thankfully, we don’t do things that way in civilized society. When fishermen wash ashore sick or wounded and emaciated, we don’t leave them there to languish for weeks on end and allow nature to take its course. So why shouldn’t we treat a highly evolved, intelligent mammal like a sea lion, elk or bison with a little of that compassion? Surely there’s enough to go around.
Nature is not “cruel,” as people are fond of saying; that’s anthropomorphizing. Only people—when they knowingly choose callousness towards suffering—deserve that characterization.