We love animals to death. The reverse is also true.
I have a multitude of reasons why we as conservationists and animal lovers must put at the top of our priorities a constant vigilance against anthropomorphizing. If we start to think of the marvelous diversity of life as being just like us, then we lose diversity. Ultimately, our arguments for conservation become diluted.
But the easiest reason to avoid anthropomorphizing is because it can kill us.
Last Wednesday in a brazen and viscous attack, two hyaenas mauled to death two residents near the quite busy and developed city of Machakos in Kenya.
You probably weren’t expecting me to tell a story about hyaenas, but this extreme emphasizes my point. Whether it’s Animal Planet or the Harrar Hyaena Man, there are plenty of examples of humans foolishly tempting hyaenas with humanity.
“We have never seen hyenas attacking human beings. We have always regarded them as cowardly creatures,” said Machakos resident, Mrs Beatrace Peter, to Nairobi’s Daily Nation as she hastened home at around 7pm on Saturday.
The hyenas attacked and mauled the two young men returning from a friend’s house around 7 p.m. It was hardly dark, and it was on the edge of the town. One of the boys was killed on the spot and the other died the next day in the hospital. Their screams attracted police that shot one hyaena and scared off the other.
I’m not suggesting we should rewrite the script for Lion King but I am suggesting that we guard ourselves against perspectives that attach human emotions like love, or human intellect to animals of any kind.
I am endlessly fascinated reading the science and trying to imagine which early hominid finally achieved consciousness similar to mine. I have never for a moment wondered that about my cat or dog, or the elephant I’m viewing in Tarangire, or even the chimp I see in Kibale.
The more subtle reasons for avoiding anthropomorphizing may, in fact, address more extensive, systemic flaws in our human culture that over long periods of time might inhibit our greater understandings of ourselves and nature.
But this story isn’t as deep. Shows on Animal Planet that stress and tempt animal behavior are simply wrong, scurrilous TV. Might just as well syndicate the Guatanamo tapes.