Wild Encounters

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Love for Critters

When I turned ten, I got a kitten for my birthday. A gray tabby with a white face, white paws and a pink nose. I named her Strudel. I had never had a pet before. My dad kept an aquarium of salt water fish when we lived in Michigan (I think it was a distraction from the fact that we lived in Michigan and it was -14 degrees) but I was too young to appreciate how awesome they were, or understand that fish can be pets too and need to be cared for. I wanted a pet more than anything in the world. Cats are pretty easy to train, so my mom, in an effort to keep the white carpet white, agreed that I could get a kitten with the condition that I was responsible for all of the care. That was fine with me; I was just excited to get my new friend.

I remember really caring about animals when I was a kid. Like most kids, I didn’t really comprehend that eating bacon was eating a pig. If I had, you wouldn’t have been able to pay me to eat it. I loved pigs. My kindergarden class went on a field trip to a farm. While we were there, I volunteered to hold a piglet in some sort of demonstration. I was smitten. The farmer let me carry the piglet around for the rest of the day and I was heartbroken when I had to leave him. Although I had always loved animals, the piglet was the first one that I really felt like I bonded with.

Looking back now, I can see that each time I bonded with an animal, it made my love for other animals grow stronger too. Some time after the field trip, I was walking home from the bus stop, when out of the corner of my eye, I saw something flailing in the grass. Upon closer inspection, I realized that it was in injured baby squirrel that looked like it was attacked by a cat. I used one of my mom’s oven mitts to pick it up, and when I got home I put it in a shoebox with a warmed-up towel inside. I named it pepper, because it’s fur was a salt and pepper color. Pepper died at the vet.

By the time I got Strudel, I already had a considerable amount of experience with animals, even though they weren’t pets. I understood that animals have shorter lives than people, and are much more vulnerable to injuries. I think that this made me appreciate her a lot more. I’ll never forget the first night I got her. She was teeny-tiny, she probably weighed two pounds (at the most). She sat on the bed next to my pillow and howled all night. I didn’t care…I loved her so much that I didn’t mind not sleeping at all. 

This class made me remember all the things I used to think about animals when I was a kid. It made me realize that it is really important to get kids acquainted with animals, and make sure that they have positive interactions. At my bus stop in elementary school, there was a boy who used to throw frogs at girls. They girls used to scream and cry because the frogs were “disgusting.” I wasn’t afraid of frogs, and because I wasn’t afraid of them they didn’t get thrown my way. Nevertheless, I told my dad that this was happening, and I distinctly remember him freaking out about what a terrible thing that kid was doing. Throwing frogs like they are snowballs is not okay. It is a perfect example of why kids need to be educated about animals and supervised when they around them by an adult who can answer questions.

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Don’t Feed the Monkeys

When I was seven, I got in a lot of trouble at the zoo. My best friend and I went to the zoo, via our moms. I had some chocolate ice cream to eat, and I wandered over to look at my favorite animals…the monkeys. They were my favorite because I loved to watch them swing around and do flips and tricks. While I was watching them, I decided I didn’t want my ice cream any more. Using my spoon as a catapult, I started to fling the ice cream into their enclosure. They gobbled it up. However, when I ran out of it, they became enraged. I wasn’t there to see it (because I knew it was time to go) but I was later told that the monkeys threw things at other zoo guests, and the monkey exhibit had to be closed for the rest of the day. Everyone told me that I had done something bad, and I apologized to the zoo worker, but secretly I felt victorious. I fed my favorite animals.

I have always had mixed feelings about zoos. Before this class, I hadn’t been to the zoo in a few years. However, discussing zoos back in August inspired me to go check it out. So off to the zoo I went. 

I have to say, I was really surprised when I got there. The Jacksonville Zoo have certainly spruced themselves up. I didn’t notice that there were a lot of new animals (except for the kangaroos, I don’t think they had those last time I was there) but they added a lot of gardens which makes it very nice while you are wandering from one exhibit to another. 

As zoos go, Jacksonville has a pretty nice one. The enclosures aren’t the biggest ever, but I’ve definitely seen smaller. It seems a shame to have a cheetah in any size enclosure. I think that is the problem that I have with zoos. I want to see cheetahs, and rhinos, and elephants, and giraffes, and gorillas, and jaguars. But not like that. It is sad to see a cheetah being lethargic because it has nowhere to run. I’ve always said that at least at the zoo you get to see an animal that otherwise you may have never seen. Maybe kids get inspired when they go to the zoo. Maybe they leave feeling victorious that they got to meet their favorite animal (hopefully not from illegally feeding it though—that really was bad). But I don’t know anymore if a traditional zoo set up is best.

One of the quotes that stands out to me about zoos is that they are an “epitaph to the relationship that we will never have with animals.” Well, ain’t that a shame. What a negative way to look at zoos. What if zoos were a little different? What if, instead of cramming 75 species of animals into a relatively small location, there were wildlife sanctuaries to visit? A place where, not just kids, could go and interact with animals and feel like they have learned something. Why do we pace more significance on seeing exotic animals? What about florida panthers? Bobcats? Key deer? Cows? Pigs?

Unfortunately, I think that zoos can potentially send the wrong message to kids. When I went, I got the message that we value exotic animals because they are fun to look at. It is okay to keep them enclosed. You should go to the gift shop and buy a stuffed version of your favorite critter. Then, you should go to the cafe and get a bacon cheeseburger or a hot dog before you head home. Now, they do not explicitly reinforce the hierarchy of animals, but they certainly reinforce it implicitly. Over by the gorilla enclosure, there is some literature about the market for bush meat (gorilla meat). They do a really good job of showing the horrors of killing gorillas for their meat. But they sell meat in their cafe. No, it is not gorilla meat. But it is meat. Gorillas are important. We should protect them. Cows, pigs and chickens don’t matter. We should eat them. That’s the message.

Of course, zoos will probably never be transformed into something totally different. But I think there are some small steps that they could take to make things better. First of all, change the kinds of things being sold in the gift shop. Sell eco-friendly toys, not plastic ones that are going to get pitched out once the kid is tired of it. Second, stop selling meat. Explain why there is no meat for sale. The zoo is a place where people go to learn. Let them learn something important.

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You’re Feeding Your Kid That?

I recently had something of a debate with a friend of mine over the ethics of how to raise a child. My friend is a self proclaimed “vegetarian” (she eats fish) and she has a two year-old daughter. She feeds her daughter pretty much anything. She feeds her meat, and the majority of her diet is actually just junk food. My question to her, and anyone who is a vegetarian for moral reasons and is raising a child, is why are you feeding her meat?

I’m sure that I couldn’t possibly understand that much of what it is like to have a kid and try to teach it right from wrong, because I’ve never done it before. However I grew up with parents who taught me right from wrong, and although we ate meat, there were other things that they taught me. It is wrong to hurt an animal. This seems counterintuitive given that we were contributing to the harm of animals by eating them, but I digress. Seems like it would be pretty simple to teach your child that harming animals is bad, and animals are harmed in the process of becoming food, so we also shouldn’t eat them.

My friend’s argument is that kids like chicken nuggets. And cheeseburgers. And corn dogs. She doesn’t want to destroy her childhood by making her eat vegetables and quinoa. (I left out that she is willing to destroy not just her childhood but maybe her entire life by setting her up to be obese.)

I think that there are a couple of problems with her argument (other than the obesity issue.) If you grow up doing something, and then when you are thirteen or fourteen you try to stop, its going to be tough. I know enough Southern Baptist-turned-Atheist kids to know that the habits that you learned when you were a kid don’t just leave you. They stay with you and they will crop up when it is inconvenient and you are trying as hard as you can to leave them behind.

I also think that if you, as an adult, are not eating meat because of moral reasons but you are feeding it to your child…what kind of confusion does that cause? I don’t know. Like I said, I’ve never raised a kid. 

To be honest, I can’t imagine what it would be like to grow up not eating any meat. I grew up with my parents cooking meat for dinner every night. Every night. Imagine my surprise when they became vegans, overnight. And my dad urged me to stop eating meat. “It’s poison, Leah! Don’t eat it!” Wait, what? I thought meat was good and we need it for protein? It is pretty tough to grow up doing something and then try to stop. I’m sure it is just like breaking any other habit, except harder because it is what you are used to eating. 

I sometimes wonder what it would have been like to grow up without ever eating meat. I have a friend who grew up in another country, and he’s never eaten meat. His name is Parthiv. I remember when he was explaining to me that he had never eaten meat before because of his religion. I was in eleventh grade, and I was a big-time meat-eater. “Meat really isn’t necessary to maintain a healthy body,” He explained. I remember looking him over for some sign of weakness. I didn’t find one. Surely he must have eaten some meat, at some time. “What about turkey? Shrimp? Crab? The last two aren’t even meat!” He answered all of my judgmental questions calmly—no doubt he was used to them. I remember feeling so sorry for him. Wow, what a life. All the things he misses out on. He told me that he never wondered about meat, because he had never tried it. He wasn’t willing to ever try it, because that would mean risking eating a reincarnated person. Now when I think about Parthiv, I feel envious of him and his totally meat-free life.

After reading Eating Animals, and learning things that I’ll never unlearn, I think I would have a hard time feeding my child meat. I told my friend about the birds that absorb the fecal soup, and how those are the same birds that you are feeding your two year-old. She sort of laughed it off. I don’t think it is because she really thinks it’s funny that her toddler is literally eating crap. I think it is because she doesn’t know how to stop feeding her meat. I think that this is the same reaction a lot of people would have, and that’s too bad.

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Love For Animals

Just about two years ago, I started writing a book that began as homework for a creative writing class. I had the idea for the book since high school, but I didn’t know where I wanted to take it. I turned the first two chapters in for homework, and with class discussion, the characters decided to take over. I have always loved animals, which is part of the reason why I took this class. My parents got their first cat before they had me, and I have always had a cat at home. I need to play with animals every once in a while, and that “no pets” rule at UNF makes that difficult. I have to go to Petsmart and settle with sticking my fingers in between the bars of the cages. Although my book is based off of reality, it still is completely fantasy. One of my main characters is half wolf, and as a Shapeshifter, he can transform into essentially any animal he wants to. He was born and raised as a wolf, and so thinks like one, but because he is half human, he can handle being within human society if he keeps mainly to himself. My other main character, Elizabeth, is completely human, and she has a cat. Her calico is already a spoiled rotten princess, but she becomes even more so once the wolf shows up, because he can translate. As Erica Fudge states, “even if we accept that the pet can never be used to speak of our relationship with other (non-pet) animals, there is still something in our intimacy with them that raises a number of issues about how we, humans, currently understand the world around us. Majorie Garber has argued that the close bonds we form with animals have many positive benefits for humans: for one thing, she argues, they ‘humanize’ us” (Fudge 32). This is certainly true for the wolf. He has no idea how to act human, and Elizabeth’s cat is able to get him to act in a way that the humans won’t question him when Elizabeth is not around.

Elizabeth is from Massachusetts, and the wolf is from Alaska. The characters hike cross-country for the majority of the book from MA to AK. Before they really start hiking, the characters go into a supermarket for Elizabeth to get provisions. The wolf gets himself into a little bit of trouble by acting like a wolf, tearing open a package of raw meat, and starts chowing on it. The other humans, of course, take it as eccentric behavior and overlook him for what he really is. Elizabeth quickly stops him.

I bring up the topic of hunting. It’s what he’s used to, and the characters have to rely on it to survive. Before she starts hiking, Elizabeth has never eaten venison before, and thinks to herself that the only food she’s ever had over a fire are marshmallows. A point in the book comes where he is forced to bring her on his hunts. Elizabeth is terrified of hunting, but she lets him teach her because she realizes that she’s relying on him too much. When they first start discussing hunting, Elizabeth tells the wolf that she’s scared of it, something that surprises him. She explains that she’s never seen an animal being attacked and killed before. He comes to an understanding, remembering that all the meat he had seen in the supermarket was already nicely packaged and ready to eat. Elizabeth eventually gets the hang of hunting even though she despises every minute of it, and she’s more willing to hunt with him than by herself.

Throughout the book, the wolf is portrayed as “tame,” even though he can fight and has had to act like a wolf on a couple of times for self-defense. He was originally terrified of humans, due to a run-in with a poacher on his territory before the story-line of the book. But he later goes to Elizabeth, realizing that she had a cat, and that she “couldn’t be too bad if she liked animals.” There is a lot of character growth between the both of them. During the hike, the wolf teaches Elizabeth how to survive in the wild, while she teaches him how to read and write, and essentially how to be human. At the beginning of the book, the wolf says that he was born as a wolf, and that’s the form he’s most comfortable in. He certainly spends more time in his wolf form in the first half of the book, but he gradually gets completely used to his human form in the second half and especially towards the end.

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Hand-feeding Turtles

During the second weekend of October, my parents came up from Orlando to visit me during Family Weekend. We’ve been to all of the Family Weekends except one. Orlando is a two-and-a-half hour drive, and I am only able to go home during holidays. Throughout the entire event, we were talking about feeding the turtles and other critters here on campus. We had the time after the free lunch on Saturday. We swiped a burger bun from the food stand. We already knew that if you stuck your head over the side of the wall at the pond by the library, the turtles would come racing towards you in swarms. They have been completely and totally habituated. We split the burger bun in three different sections to share and dropped a piece into the pond one at a time for the turtles to eat. We quickly ran out of the burger bun, so Mom had me go back to my dorm and get the rest of the loaf of bread I still had from Town Center. When we were feeding the turtles the burger bun, Dad had asked “I wonder what would happen if we had tossed the entire bun in there?” So that’s exactly what we did with a couple of pieces of the bread. It was kind of fun to watch—there were at least a dozen of turtles all going after the same piece. Every once in a while one turtle was lucky enough to get the entire piece away from the rest of the group, and then it became a chase.

My family has always liked turtles. We try to rescue them if we see them crossing the road, and we even had a one as pet we rescued from the little pond behind our house. Dad found him floundering after he had somehow been flipped onto his back. My mom sees turtles fairly often at work. She used to be a wedding coordinator for Disney. Now she is an entertainment manager. She still works a lot with weddings, but is now more “behind-the-scenes.” She had told me that when she was a wedding coordinator, she worked with a lot of Japanese couples. She had pointed some turtles out to a Japanese couple, but they didn’t show any interest. She asked a Japanese friend of ours who explained that they eat turtles. Foer states in Eating Animals that “there are some things, though, we don’t need labels to know. Although one can realistically expect that at least some percentage of cows and pigs are slaughtered with speed and care, no fish gets a good death. Not a single one. You never have to wonder if the fish on your plate had to suffer. It did” (Foer 193). The fact could very well be the same with turtles.

We decided to feed the turtles again in another area on campus, next to the mail center by the dorms. The turtles here have been habituated as well, and come swarming over as soon as they see you looking over the bridge. We sat right next to the water. We did toss a couple of pieces into the water for the turtles to gobble up, but we also held some in an attempt to get the turtles to take the bread right out of our hand, and it worked. Even the Canadian Geese came over when they realized we were feeding the turtles. The geese we a little more shy than the turtles were, but they eventually started taking the bread right from our hands as well. I was the first person to have an animal come out of the water and take the bread from my hand. It was a red-eared slider. We had fun feeding them and taking pictures. It was fun watching them come up for a bite, and then sliding back down the little slope into the water. They didn’t seem to care if another turtle was under them or not.

A soft-shell turtle came over and decided he wanted some food. The sliders were gentle, but after a bit of feeding, the soft-shell ended  up taking chunks of my middle finger and thumb as well as a piece of bread. It hurt, and I quickly stopped feeding them. I gave the rest the piece of bread to a goose that was begging for some. We made our way to the Family Weekend dinner. I washed my hands with soap and water to prevent an infection. My hand throbbed and I got really light-headed. According to Mom I got really pale, too. The cafeteria found a couple of Band-Aids for me since we didn’t have any of our own. Thankfully the queasiness passed quickly and I was able to eat dinner. My fingers took a couple of weeks to heal, and I put Neosporin on them every day. Even though my fingers have healed, a month later you can still see where the soft-shell got me. He left a pigment change—there’re a couple of sections on my thumb and middle finger that are a shade darker than the rest of the skin. But it was still a blast having the turtles take bread right out of my hand. The turtles in the little pond behind our house run as soon as we get close to them, and feeding them is out of the question. I wouldn’t hesitate to feed the turtles by the mail room again. This time I’ll just remember to toss the pieces of bread out to the soft-shell should he appear again, instead of feeding him by hand.

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Disguises of Good


Beast Blog 5

In an effort to come to terms with the dichotomy of animal and man, I continue to examine those agendas of those who champion animal rights. In the 2011 article Animal Welfare: A Good Cause Gone Bad, posted on Liberty Gibbert.com. This article is saturated with examples of misguided intent. The article compelled me to discuss it twice. This article should have been titled Disguises of Good. The article continues to promote man’s duplicitous relationships.  It also made me realize how naive we are in determining the good will of animals.  Historically there was some merit to the information. 

Early settlers and industrialization created conditions that cause myopic owners to mistreat their pit ponies.  The article reveals that some organizations have admirable intentions. It also reveals those same organizations who championed animals’ entitlement to fair and good treatment have hidden agendas. Anyone would commend abolitionist William Wilberforce and other prominent citizens for their advocacy of animal protection.

Their efforts encouraged laws such as Hitler’s Tierschutzgesetz, the Cruelty To Animals Act of 1835, The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), and internationally located branches in Northern Ireland (1836), Scotland (1839), the United States (1866), Australia (1871) and New Zealand (1882).  Those who chose to become vegetarians abstaining from eating the flesh of animals are in good company.  They share a common goal with Adolph Hitler. He too felt compassion for the animal kingdom. He like other predators would not use violence to consume animal flesh.  Researching the premise of their efforts in conjunction with this article led me to the article, Martin G. Hulsey’s article, The Implications of Nazi Animal Protection. Here Huley discusses sociologists Arnold Arluke and Boria Sax article Anthrozooz. The Anthrozooz article includes the following passage:    

“On one romantic date, his female companion ordered sausage, at which Hitler looked disgusted and said: ‘Go ahead and have it, but I don’t understand why you want it. I didn’t think you wanted to devour a corpse… the flesh of dead animals. Cadavers!'”

The article goes on to debate whether Hitler was really a vegetarian.  According to Hulsey, Arluke and Sax also noted Goebbels, Nazi Minister of Propaganda, noted:

“The Fuhrer is deeply religious, though completely anti-Christian. He views Christianity as a symptom of decay. Rightly so. It is a branch of the Jewish race… Both [Judaism and Christianity] have no point of contact to the animal element, and thus, in the end, they will be destroyed. The Fuhrer is a convinced vegetarian, on principle. His arguments cannot be refuted on any serious basis. They are totally unanswerable.”

These well-meaning people would enact violence on those who do not share their beliefs.

I submit that any parties committing acts of unprovoked acts of violence under the guise of protecting another holds malice in their hearts.  They also hold hidden agendas.

Many of those organizations had great intentions.  Conflicts arose when corporate agenda and animal rights clash. Ultimately boundaries clash and those established boundaries dissipate under the reality of profit. Man’s tendencies to supersede the rights of animals for his own comfort is disturbing. 

Readers are further informed that esteem professionals like Australian bioethicist Peter Singer used publications such as the Bible and Animal Liberation to support their extreme philosophies.    Singer’s work proposes moral justifications coining the term speciesism to denote conflict between animal and man (1975).   Using a theological perspective Singer rejects the philosophical notion of inalienable rights for both animals and humans. The article suggests that Singer believes the issue of treatment resides in   Here readers are prompted to accept that good intents can sometimes pose endangerment. The greatest example is the extremists who tend to advocate that animal rights should be presented in the courts.  Nothing is further from the truth.  Can an organization which euthanizes its charges be trusted to champion the cause of animals who would gladly relinquish their right for compassionate care? To me, this seems to be another ploy to exploit those whom polite society is charged to protect.

Consider the land developer who proposes to take on a species dwelling on land that is ideal for the next high rise, parking garage, or leisure property. The developer promises the courts to relocate the species in question in a humane manner. Once given guardianship, the developer rounds up all the animals relocating them to a habitat that is not suitable to the species’ survival. Has the developer fulfilled his or her obligations? 

To answer this question most legal systems will allow the vested parties to quibble in front of a jury exhausting days and opportunities for said animals to thrive in their chosen habitat.  Another consideration is how would the court determine if said animals are made whole? Answering these questions has little bearing on the adequate survival species. What is important is that man comes to grips with the responsibility of adequately caring for animals. 


I see this whole animal property rights as a ploy to rob animals of their habitats.  There appears to be no escaping the double standard man inflicts on animals. It is my opinion that man considers animal rights movement a method of advancing agendas than protecting animals from human whim.

















Works Cited


Fudge, Erica. Animal.  William. Reakinton Books 2002. Libanus Press. Chicago University Press. 2002.159-165. Print.














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Gazing Sheep

Before I moved to Jacksonville last year, California’s Joshua Tree National Park was my backyard. The 1200 square mile desert park is smaller and less well-known than nearby Death Valley National Park, but that’s just fine with me. Joshua Tree is split between high-altitude Mojave Desert (my home was at 3,000 feet,) and low-basin Sonoran desert. The altitude makes for a favorable climate (for a desert) and, for me, that means inviting hiking nearly year around. I still have not learned to love the Florida outdoors as much as the high desert, where there are few insects, no humidity, and absolutely nothing obstructing a view of sometimes hundreds of miles. I’m sure that one can hike into Florida’s wilderness and enjoy just as much solitude as in the desert, but on desert mountains, a look around in all directions confirms and reinforces that you are alone. There are no people for miles, and it may be as far away from other humans as you will ever get. This feeling of isolation is one of my favorite things about exploring the desert, and I was fortunate to once have it disturbed by a couple of desert bighorn sheep.


My best bighorn sheep shot.

The desert bighorn is not an endangered species, but is rare in Joshua Tree National Park. “Two hundred fifty or so desert bighorn live in Joshua Tree National Park. If you happen to see one, consider yourself really lucky!” proclaims the park’s homepage. I once read an interview with a park ranger in a local newspaper, and he lamented that after a couple of years of service, he had been unable to spot a bighorn. Of course, I discovered all of these expressions on the bighorn after my own encounter. The verifiably endangered, closely related peninsular bighorn sheep lives just across the Coachella valley, south of the park; its range extends into Mexico. I was ignorant to all the preceding information at the time of my own encounter, but even if I had been more educated at the time, I don’t think my unexpected observation of two large mammals from afar in an otherwise barren-seeming desert could have been any more exciting. Like Bergman’s encounter with the spotted owl (4), I felt I wanted more…but I still can’t say what I wanted more of.

I feel like I developed a knack for spotting things in the desert during my time living there. While hiking with my wife, I was at times able to pick out a red-tailed hawk or a desert tortoise (who does make an appearance on the endangered species list) before she saw them, and I never had a problem sighting an unusual-looking rock formation or an especially unique Joshua Tree. I think the desert has a way of putting some at ease and thus making us more receptive to its valuables. I saw the bighorn sheep while I was on a routine October hike with my wife, almost exactly three years ago. I wanted to show her a great trail that I had found in the Little San Bernardino Mountain range. It was seldom-used by park visitors and offered a stunning view of the Coachella Valley. Traveling through the desert with a companion has little effect on its powerful way of humbling and isolating the travelers. That is probably why the unexpected appearance of the sheep was so fascinating at the time. My wife and I were taking in the view of the distant San Jacinto Mountains when I noticed some movement below. I immediately identified a mammal of some sort, and initially I thought it was a mule deer. Like Columbus with the manatee (Bergman 112), I find it interesting that I first tried to assimilate the animal into something I was familiar with. Growing up in the south, I have seen plenty of deer, but never this particular animal. And like Bergman (109), I became tyrannized by my own need to see. The only thing I could do to take my eyes off the animals, as a second ewe appeared, was to grab my camera and try to get some pictures. The fact that these sheep were not male rams, with their familiar horns, added to my confusion and, as I later found out, to the uniqueness of the encounter. Upon further research, I found that it is unusual to see ewes away from the greater herd.

collar sheep

A desert bighorn in the Mojave, being tracked for a recent pneumonia epidemic survey.
Photo by KCDZ 107.7 FM News

My brief experience with the desert bighorns helps me relate to Bergman’s urge to see endangered animals, and to see the animals seeing us. Although very far away, I am sure that the sheep I saw were aware of our presence;  sheep and goats, both domestic and wild, have sharp eyesight that protects them from predators. But unlike most of Bergman’s sightings, I wasn’t looking for anything. The animal showed itself to me, which makes the experience even more remarkable. And here, three years later, it is still showing itself to me. Seeing the bighorn sheep inspired me to learn more about them, and I am still seeing them as I sit here and write about them. I wonder, as I still look at them, if they are somehow still looking back at me.

Bergman, Charles. Wild Echoes: Encounters with the Most Endangered Animals in North America. Urbana & Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2003. Print

Joshua Tree National Park Website. U. S. National Park Service, 2013. Web. 16 Nov. 2013.

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The Jacksonville Zoo

About two weekends ago, my boyfriend and I journeyed to the great Jacksonville Zoo. The goal was for my boyfriend and I to do something fun and different, and also do something that neither of us had done since we were little kids. I can say that as an adult, there is certainly a nostalgia that the zoo brings forth, but also a strange sense of guilt. As a child, nothing brought me greater joy than to see the cheetah pace the field. As a child so small, the enclosure that the cheetah occupied seemed so large. But since the cheetah enclosure is closed at this time (not sure as to why), I realize as an adult how inadequate of a space it really is. Although pangs of guilt hit me throughout the day at the zoo, I will admit that it was an enjoyable experience!It was enjoyable in the sense that I was obtaining a lost part of my childhood. It was stimulating in that I was able to gauge the interactions with the animals, and realize how one-sided it really is. The zoo is almost like a hybrid space of some sort. We create and feign these environments for these animals to “live” in; we enclose them so that we can see them. We are almost setting a stage for which we expect these animals to perform. John Berger does assert the notion that zoos are somewhat theatrical, in that the humans are the audience and the spaces occupied by nonhuman animals consist of props (23-24). We are trying to combine our worlds it feels like. We want to be engaged in the natural world, but only if it is manipulated to our liking. What are we really gaining from looking at the animals? Is this really even interaction? When we are observing the animals, it is a much more emotional/anthropomorphic experience than educational experience it seems. And while zoos are incorporating interactive activities with some of the animals, something still doesn’t feel quite right.

Stingray Bay is a somewhat new exhibit that allows humans to pet and feed the stingrays. My boyfriend wasn’t interested in feeding them, nor was he interested in petting them, but the idea of being able to interact with the animal instead of look at it made me feel excited. I jumped at the chance to feed them! Same with the giraffes! You are able to feed them (not pet them), but the special thing is you are able to interact with a nonhuman animal you would otherwise never see. I will admit that anthropomorphizing with stingrays is a bit more difficult to do than with a giraffe or a jaguar, and perhaps this has to do with what Erica Fudge calls the “cute response.” We tend to see ourselves more in animals that look attractive or resemble us.

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Aside from the gorillas, I will say that the big cats seem to be the easiest to identify with. The jaguars were curled up in their enclosure, (which, quite frankly, is in no way adequate enough room for them), sleeping peacefully. Even when kids yelled and poked at the cage, the only reaction one of the jaguars gave was a fierce look of indignation before resting its head back down. The bobcat exhibit tugged at my heart. One of the bobcats paced, looked at my boyfriend and I menacingly. It seemed angry to be there, angry that it was a spectacle. The other bobcat in the enclosure looked at us, a gloss over his eyes, and turned away from us, as if he didn’t want to be seen in a cage. After turning and slowly walking a few steps, the bobcat curled up in the farthest corner of the enclosure. I can’t help but the feel that some of these animals are absolutely miserable in these enclosures.

Elizabeth Costello states (roughly) in The Lives of Animals that human and nonhuman animals share one very basic thing in common- the ability to live life and experience joy. What kind of lives are these animals living though? Is it of good quality? And even though I experience joy in feeding the giraffe and petting the stingrays, are the animals experiencing any joy from these interactions?

I will admit that I think the zoo is a fun experience, but I also willingly acknowledge the problems in regard to human/nonhuman animal interaction and the conditions under which these animals live. As a child, nothing can compare to the excitement of seeing elephants that seem as big as a skyscraper, or watching a zebra trot around. As an adult, you are able to comprehend that these animals feel, they think, they are capable of reason. They are not just circus attractions to oogle at. They are beings, just like us.



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Why Look at Quito

The Jacksonville Zoo is home to many incredible creatures. In a single day a visitor can encounter white rhinos, giraffes, a jaguar, and primates of all kinds. Any of these extraordinary animals could be the face of the Jacksonville Zoo, but for most, only one face comes to mind—that is the face of the recently deceased Silverback gorilla, Quito. Prior to his death, it was unlikely for a person to talk about their trip to the Jacksonville Zoo without mentioning the great ape. Yet, these conversations rarely formed over amazement of his hulking stature or tremendous intelligence. What they mostly comprised of were observations on what seemed to be a gorilla overcome with melancholy. While such talk may be dismissed as ignorant anthropomorphism, I believe there was certainly something to it. I think the look Quito often offered epitomized the loss between man and wild animal John Berger describes in his essay “Why Look at Animals?”

Quito 2-14-2012

Quito, Feb. 14, 2012

My first trip to the zoo as an adult two years ago seemed to bring about many conflicting emotions. There is a part of me that loves the zoo, it offers the chance to encounter animals one may otherwise never experience. Berger captures this feeling when he says, “the zoo to which people go to meet animals, to observe them, to see them, is, in fact, a monument to the impossibility of such encounters” (19). Seeing the looks in these animals’ eyes often makes me wonder what the true cost of such an experience really is. Watching Quito grasp his twig as he peered at me through the glass partition, I could only think of Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael. In the story, the narrator first encounters a philosophical gorilla named Ishmael from behind a glass divider:

“He sat and gazed into my eyes and nibbled the end of his branch and waited. No, he wasn’t waiting; he was merely there, had been there before I arrived and would be there when I’d left. I had the feeling I was of no more significance to him than a passing cloud is to a shepherd resting on a hillside.” (Quinn 8)

While I’d like to believe that Quito spent his thirty-one years behind glass like Ishmael, critiquing the human species’ insistence on precipitating their own extinction, I think he was more likely to fit Ishmael’s description of all the other animals he had witnessed in zoos. These he describes as the beings that pace in their cages for the majority of their lives. He believes these animals likely have one thought and that thought is “why?” (Quinn 11). Although they may not be able to elaborate or analyze this thought, Ishmael contends that the word captures the predominant emotion burning within them throughout their lifetime. I am aware Ishmael is using this as a metaphor for humans within a restrictive society; however, his words have literal value as well.

Wild Gorillas are nomadic creatures who require an expansive habitat . Therefore, an animal like Quito who is forced to spend his life on a patch of grass smaller than a baseball field surrounded by voyeuristic humans may be unable to know why he is unhappy, but will instinctively want something other than what he is forced to endure. Isn’t it possible that he did not want to be looked at all the time? Isn’t it also possible that Quito saw his artificial scenery and compared that to the colorful vegetation that he ate and wanted more, something real? Berger argues that the scenery we provide these animals are like theater props, which only offer the bare minimum resemblance to the animal’s natural habitat. (Berger 23). Nigel Rothfels contends that the provided scenery is often more for human benefit than that of the animals. He points out that the vines on trees within the gorilla exhibit at the Bronx Zoo are electrified in order to prevent the gorillas from damaging the trees (Rothfels 484). If Quito consistently wanted something throughout his life that he had never truly experienced in the first place, I believe it is likely that he felt something very  similar to what we feel when we ask the question “why”.

For this reason I often wonder if “Quito the sad and angry gorilla” is an anthropomorphic thought at all. Perhaps the look on Quito’s face was exactly as it seemed to those visitors who took the time to notice. Furthermore, I question my ability to be anthropomorphic towards something that shares over 96% of my genes. Even if Quito was perfectly content in his tiny world behind the glass enclosure, it may be that people perceived him as unhappy because they knew what he was missing out on. They at some level knew  Quito’s marginalization was a result of a mindset about non-human animals they were somehow perpetuating. Now that Quito is gone I wonder what animal is next in line to be the unofficial face of the Jacksonville Zoo. Though I hope that I am wrong, I cannot help but think that whatever animal is chosen, I will be unable to look into its eyes without receiving the same look bestowed to me by Quito on that chilly afternoon. And, as if I know that I am there simply to confirm this look, I will stay a while and move on to the next exhibit.

Works Cited

Berger, John. “Why Look at Animals.” Blackboard.   Web. 10 Nov 2013.

Rothfels, Nigel. “Zoos, the Academy, and Captivity.”Blackboard. Web. 8 Nov 2013.

Quinn, Daniel . Ishmael. New York : Bantam, 1995. print.

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Good Cause Gone Bad

Jerald Wheat

Beast Blog 4


Animal Welfare: A Good Cause Gone Bad, a 2011 article posted on Liberty Gibbert.com is a demonstration of man’s duplicitous relationship between animal and man. The article itself does not presents academic and historical contexts that might challenge the political correctness of most animal activists. It is not surprising the animal rights movement has honorable and surprising origins.  This article informs readers that in 1824 abolitionist William Wilberforce and other prominent citizens were compelled to protect the rights of working animals.

Subsequently the Cruelty To Animals Act of 1835 was passed. Supported by Queen Victoria’s royal warrant, The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) was issued. It was not long before these decrees jumped the proverbial pond making its presence in America. RSPCA generated international support rallying consensus from similar organizations in Northern Ireland (1836), Scotland (1839), the United States (1866), Australia (1871) and New Zealand (1882). The most stunning surprise was the existence of an act known as Tierschutzgesetz, the world’s strictest animal law code. This law as passed under the rule of vegetarian Adolph Hitler. The irony here is surprising. Retribution for animals took precedence of the rights of man. I consider myself an animal lover and a civilized member of society.

Knowing I share anything in common with such a man brings me pause. Yet, I like many accept the premise that man has a moral responsibility of man to nurture and protect animals is a lesson often taken for granted.  Parents attempt to pass this lesson down from generation to generation of well-meaning children starry eyed for a pet. Eventually, these children grown up accepting the practicality of their lust for control over animals.  According to this article, this premise is not easily embraced. Man’s moral duty hinges on man’s neural desires to survive on the top of the food chain. This alone is a dilemma which brings conflict front and center.

Ideals and policies devised to protect are now those same tools which can lead to the demise of animals lower on the food chain.  This article includes other notable articles which further demonstrates a critical dichotomy. One notable example is Dr. John Hadley’s stance on property rights of animals. It does not appear that Hadley, a Western Sydney academic has been shy about his beliefs.   The Conversation, a new Australian academic website prints the following statement as Hadley’s quote:

“Under an animal guardianship system, landholders who want to modify habitat on their land would have to negotiate with a guardian acting on behalf of a designated group of animals.” Dr. Hadley further advocates, “Ideally, guardians would be registered with an independent tribunal and be qualified to make environmentally and ethically-informed decisions.”

These may be reasonable political views to some.  However, the underlying message presents one question. Who is Dr. Hadley really advocating for?  Is he supporting animals or business interests? The possibility of animals pleading victoriously in a court of law is laughable.  It would not matter who acted in these cases.  Only the interest of man will be adequately served. It is generally accepted that animals cannot compete intellectually in man’s world. I can agree on one a critical point of the article. Removing human emotions from legal issues surrounding the regarding the treatment of animals forces us to realize treatment of animals is most important in the context of how that animal’s treatment effects man. This is a point that Erica Fudge’s work, Animal suggests as she writes, ‘We should think about animals as animals . . .’ (159)

We all profess to loving animals in our worlds. Science tell us that man is wired to anthropomorphically project onto animals. This is due to a mirror neuron system which provides our responses to our relationships with people and animals.  According to the Indian Journal of Psychiatry, mirror neuron system (MNS) are a group of specialized neurons that “mirrors” the actions and behavior of others. The involvement of mirror neuron system (MNS) is implicated in neurocognitive functions (social cognition, language, empathy, theory of mind) and neuropsychiatric disorders.

This is an area that dogs in particularly exceed man’s capacity. Regardless of circumstances, dogs are capable of unconditional love and devotion oblivious to the complications of interacting with man. This is continually demonstrated in the film industry. According to Tim Jardim’s doctoral dissertation paper,  Anthropomorphic Character Design in Animation and Sequential Art: The symbolic use of the animal to portray personality Animal anthropomorphism is the standard that film makers use to depict our culture’s relationships with animals and their perceptions of our world.










Works Cited


Fudge, Erica. Animal.  William. Reakinton Books 2002. Libanus Press. Chicago University Press. 2002.159-165. Print.