Peacegal's Reviews > All Wild Creatures

All Wild Creatures by Patricia Curtis
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Jun 07, 11

bookshelves: humane-education
Read in June, 2011

Elements of a fledgling animal rights movement can be seen within the pages of All Wild Creatures Welcome. In addition to providing factual information about the day-to-day functions of a wildlife rehabilitation clinic, Curtis provides well-developed philosophical arguments in favor of animals’ inherent value.

Essentially all major wildlife welfare issues afford a mention within the text. As many of the animals who arrive at rehab have been affected by hunting or trapping activities, Curtis spends a great deal of time discussing these “sports.”

Most state parks, all national forests, and half of our wildlife refuges allow hunting or trapping or both. …[Hunters] use the word harvested instead of killed, as if the animals were a crop of vegetables. … Wildlife officials usually are not concerned with the welfare of individual animals—their aim is to increase the size of target populations.

Hunters usually eat what they kill, for game is considered a delicacy. Sometimes hunting provides a welcome addition to the tables of low-income families. But the overwhelming attraction of hunting is for recreation. Hunting gear and equipment support a multibillion-dollar industry.

Curtis’s evidence against hunting is surprisingly well-rounded, when one considers the publishing date as well as the book’s intended middle-school audience. She explains, for example, the management tactics that are deliberately designed to create a huntable surplus of animals.

Trapping is of course much more indiscriminate than hunting, and the wildlife rehabber can find herself encountering non-target animals which have been harmed by traps. Birds of prey, for example, are often attracted to the bait trappers leave next to their sets. One rehab worker at the clinic is quoted:

“A leading cause of injury to eagles, by the way, is the leghold trap. Their legs have only two veins. The trap shuts off the blood supply, and gangrene results.”

Of trappers’ arguments that they check their traps frequently, Curtis writes:

Even if the trapper checks his trap daily, 24 hours is a long time for the captured animal or bird to endure…

Apparently, some rehabbers have butted heads with state wildlife departments, whose goal is in part to encourage hunting and other consumptive uses of wildlife. The NY wildlife dept. apparently had some reservations about the intern program headed by the rehab clinic featured in this book:

The last thing it wanted to see was a project that might influence young people to oppose hunting and trapping. The DEC officials were suspicious of Betty’s intern program. They apparently began to worry that young people who spent time caring for wildlings and trying to help them may take a negative view slaughtering them for sport or money. Armed DEC officers started showing up without warning, often at odd hours…They threatened to close down Lifeline for Wildlife.

While the two parties eventually reached an amicable agreement,

Most wildlife rehabilitators privately are opposed to hunting and trapping, though they may keep quiet about it. Many have been given to understand by their state wildlife agencies that if they were to speak out publicly against these activities, they might lose their rehabilitation permits.

Wildlife rehabbers have perhaps even stronger words for people who take animals from the wild and attempt to raise them as pets. Rehab centers take in many raccoons, squirrels, and other animals who are who are too wild to be pets and too domesticated to be wild.

While [wild animals] may be tame and loving as infants, they become less and less petlike as they become adults. Our homes are definitely not their natural habitat, and it is really cruel to keep them.

While sometimes the author shows great insight into wildlife welfare issues, at other times she seems mistaken, most likely a product of her times. For instance, she writes:

Japanese fishermen caused international horror and anger a few years ago by driving a herd of dolphins into shallow water and slaughtering them merely for revenge.

Curtis was most likely referring to a “drive fishery” of the type exposed in the movie “The Cove.” The dolphins and small whales are indeed driven into shallow water and killed, and it is an annual event, not a one-time thing. Most of the animals are used for meat, and the fishermen have developed a lucrative side industry by selling off the best specimens to marine entertainment parks.

Of greatest interest to me was the philosophical content, in which the rehabbers explain what drives their work:

“If a child sees that nobody cares about an injured or orphaned rabbit, for instance, the child concludes that the rabbit’s life is of no consequence. If its life is unimportant, the child may then reason, perhaps other lives don’t matter either. This kind of thinking brutalizes us, makes us callous. … Lifeline’s goal is to instill and encourage respect for all life. “

[Rehabber Marc Payne] had worked in a pet store when he was a teenager. It bothered him that sometimes the pet store owner would simply throw out surplus living creatures, such as lizards and frogs, into the trash can. … “That’s why I love my work in wildlife rehabilitation. Having been part of the other side, I especially appreciate what we do. Our work is to conserve, not destroy. I believe animals have intrinsic rights—they’re here for a reason, not just to serve us.
(Bravo, Marc!)

[C]aring what happens to wildlife is a matter of justice, not of sentimentality. You don’t have to get teary-eyed over the plight of a fawn to believe that the animal is entitled to its life.

While the above paragraphs deserve applause, the following receives a standing ovation from me:

Hunters often remind their critics of the inconsistency they see in people who denounce them for killing wildlife but who themselves eat animals and birds that have been raised in captivity and killed in slaughterhouses. They have a point. … Many of the staff at Lifeline for Wildlife see all animals in a different light and have begun to question attitudes they grew up with. … Many have become vegetarian.

Wow! In an era when even most of the largest animal groups served up meat at their fundraising functions, the importance of these lines should not be minimized. It is wonderful to see that these folks, nearly 30 years ago, made a connection that many “animal lovers” to this day still cannot.
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