What are animals to us?

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Workbook

What are animals to us? 

They’re our friends, our families

They’re entertainment. They’re beauty. They’re food.

Sometimes researchers dress up as pandas so they can get closer to study them. To medieval poets, animals are teachers themselves.

Some animals are threats to us.

Rampaging pigs are “super invaders” in the Bay Area.

Bats may well be the ultimate source of the covid pandemic.

Chinese virologist Zhi Shengli, whose lab is now the center of many people’s theories about the origins of Sars-CoV-2, has been working on bat coronaviruses for years. She spoke to Jane Qiu in a piece I helped edit.

Some animals are threats to themselves.

Today the Canada goose is among the most common birds you’ll see, living in the lakes and waterways of big cities nearly everywhere, but in the early 20th it had been hunted almost to the point of extinction. 

John Green tells a story about them being the victims of “live decoys.” That is, a hunter would take a goose, clip its wings, and place it in a pond. The honking call was a siren song to other flocks, who would be drawn to the decoy and then promptly get dispatched by the men waiting in the bushes with guns. 

Live decoys were made illegal in America in 1935: now there are millions of Canada geese around the world.

The same idea is still in use elsewhere, though.

Judas goats are used to lead sheep or cows to the slaughterhouse.

In the Galapagos, they were used to help eradicate an invasive population.

Judas goats probably don’t feel guilty, but then again, they never asked for the job. They never asked to be taken to remote Pacific islands, either.

So what are animals to us? They are resources to be harvested; technologies to be deployed. 

We’re using their organs for xenotransplantation.

We’re even turning them into explorers.

Phil Lubin, a cosmologist in Santa Barbara, has a neat and slightly bananas plan for interstellar travel that uses tiny vessels that can travel at immense speed. His latest idea is to send tardigrades into space

So now they’re emissaries now, too.

Perhaps they’ll be the first creatures from Earth to meet an alien race. 

I wonder what they’ll say about us.

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