Sunday, February 22, 2015

Sniping at the Truth While Ignoring Reality

Original article source
The headlines and opening paragraphs in The Telegraph article are fairly breathless:
Foxes are becoming such a pest for London homeowners that they have begun calling in snipers. Specialists are charging £75 for the first animal and £50 for any more foxes after that, according to the New York Times, who followed a sniper named ‘Phil’ during his working week.

It is claimed there are now more foxes in the capital than double-decker buses, with 10,000 roaming streets, gardens and wasteland in search of food. Sports clubs, urban farms and families are so fed up of the creatures, which root through bins and can kill pets, that they have begun hiring gunmen to tackle the problem.

They have even been known to attack children. Nine-month-old twins Lola and Isabella Koupparis were hospitalized with face and arm injuries after a fox had entered their North London bedroom in 2010. Last year four-week old Denny Dolan needed to have his finger reattached after he was bitten by a fox near Bromley.
Hyperventilating about foxes as dangerous strikes Americans are downright silly, as it should for any thinking person.

Pet dogs kill and maim FAR more people in the U.K. than foxes, but no one has set out "snipers" on them, much less on the cab drivers, swimming pool owners, and the doddering nincompoops with open umbrellas on crowded sidewalks who are far greater threats.

So what's going on in the U.K.? Have they all gone mad?

Not quite... but sort of.

The first thing to understand about fox is that most people have never so much as seen one. Fox are nocturnal and stealthy. The fox of London, New York, Washington, and Paris did not colonize urban spaces by being stupid or bold.

The second thing to understand about fox in the U.K. is that everything about the animal is double-dipped in myth and bunko heaped on in massive dollops by a bloviating press corps, the mounted hunts, and the local drunks down at the pub. The push on this front is for the fox to be a crazed killer. That way fox hunting can be wrapped in the mantle of protecting women and babies.

A fox bit a baby once?! When was that? Five years ago? Oh! My! God! Right. Just kidding. Babies in the U.K., and around the world, face a far greater threat every day from their mothers than they do from a fox population numbering in the millions. Do you KNOW about many babies are killed by their mothers? Sadly, we will not have to go back 5 years for an example!  Not even Jack Russell Terriers are as dangerous.

Finally, we get down to the fact that the U.K. has no wilderness or larger predators left. The mythology of the wolf has, in the absence of any other contender, been laid on the fox. As I noted on this blog some years back:

There is something vaguely ridiculous about European hunting with its dress-up clothes and potted birds.

Even some of the descriptions of terrier work can border on the absurd. Does every fox have to be described as a "lamb killer"? I suppose so in a country that has no coyote, wolf, bobcat, mountain lion, black bear, alligator, or grizzly! When your biggest game animal eats worms and bulbs, and your largest predator dines on mice, you may have to dress up your rationale for the hunt every bit as much you dress up yourself. Mere sport with dogs cannot do!

In America, of course, such a claim would be met with laughter. A red fox threatens your farm? A badger? Please! We have real predators from one end of this country to another. No need for tales of Beowulf here! A country full of bears and coyotes does not need to invent dragons.

To be clear, what makes America special is not some extra gene coursing through our blood. What makes American special is the land, and the fact that, unlike Europe, we have not killed off everything big enough to kill a cat.

No one ever said it better than Aldo Leopold who, back in 1925, wrote an essay called "Wilderness As a Form of Land Use," in which he reminded us of what we were (American), and warned us of what we might become (European):
The day is almost upon us when canoe travel will consist in paddling up the noisy wake of a motor launch and portaging through the back yard of a summer cottage. When that day comes canoe travel will be dead, and dead too will be a part of our Americanism. Joliet and LaSalle will be words in a book, Champlain will be a spot on a map, and canoes will be merely things of wood and canvas, with a connotation of white duck pants and bathing "beauties."

The time is almost upon us when a pack-train must wind it’s way up a graveled highway and turn it’s bell-mare in the pasture of a summer hotel. When that day comes, the pack-train will be dead, the diamond hitch will be merely rope, and Kit Carson and Jim Bridger will be names in a history lesson. And thenceforth the march of empire will be a matter of gasoline and four wheel brakes.

European outdoor recreation is largely devoid of the thing that wilderness areas would be the means of preserving in this country. Europeans do not camp, cook or pack in the woods for pleasure. They hunt and fish when they can afford to, but their hunting and fishing is merely hunting and fishing, staged in a set of ready-made hunting lodges, elaborate fare, and hired beaters. The whole thing carries the atmosphere of a picnic, rather than that of a pack trip. The test of skill is confined almost entirely to the act of killing, itself. Its value as a human experience is reduced accordingly.

There is a strong movement in this country to preserve the distinctive democracy of our field sports by preserving free hunting and fishing, as distinguished from the European condition of commercialized hunting and fishing privileges. Public shooting grounds and organized cooperative relations between sportsmen and landowners are the means proposed for keeping these sports within reach of the American of moderate means. Free hunting and fishing is a most worthy objective, but it deals with only one of the distinctive characteristics of American sport. The other characteristic is that our test of skill is primarily the act of living in the open, and only secondarily the act of killing game. It is to preserve this primary characteristic that public wilderness playgrounds are necessary."
Read the whole essay which I have linked to here [PDF]. Are we there yet? Is our land so gut-shot with people that we have lost the wild and become European?

Not quite. The coyote population is growing, and so too is the population of mountain lion, wolf, black bear, grizzly, and alligator.

We are not yet European, thank God!

Yet we may get there if we do not do more to slow population growth, most of which is now fueled by unbridled legal and illegal immigration. We cannot take all of the world's displeased and dispossessed, and it's high time we stopped trying.

Above all, we need to remember that we need to fight to continue to preserve large blocks of wild lands, including wilderness.

Preserving wilderness and wild lands is about nothing less than preserving America's soul.

Save it now, or someday soon, it may be gone forever.

To be clear, nothing I have said here
is meant to suggest any American superiority. We are wrecking this great land of ours with population growth as fast as we can, and the only reason we have not already wrecked it beyond all understanding is that there is so much of it.

I think American wildlife management and America's land ethic is the best in the world, and I will not broach much disagreement on that front. That said, even here the real credit has to be given to the fecundity of Mother Nature and Father Time. If we will only take our boot off Mother Nature's neck, she will generally bounce up and dance a jig.  There is a place for bag limits and hunting seasons. Someone tell the British.

I am no American Pollyanna. We are a great nation, and yet we fall down in so many ways as to be a global embarrassment. As I write this, the big box office film in our theaters is called American Sniper -- a film about how we sent some kid halfway around the world, to a country that never did a damn thing to us, in order to have this kid shoot people he never met and had no quarrel with. That's not the story told, of course. Instead we get the Great American Lie in which everything is ripped clean of historical context and presented as a black-and-white, good-vs-evil fairy tale.

So London has its fairy tale, and we have ours, and snipers seem to be involved in both.

Trust me, our story is not better.


Gaddy Bergmann said...

So, here's the thing about carnivorans. Being predators, they are necessarily an order of magnitude less abundant than their prey. They are also intelligent, iconic animals related to our own domestic carnivorans (dogs, foxes, cats, and ferrets). Moreover, many traditions have taboos against killing and eating them. For these reasons, I could never hunt them. Not only do I have too much respect for them, but I do not view them as sustainable prey.

Having said that, urban mesopredators like foxes and coyotes can become overpopulated in the presence of abundant food, and in the absence of larger predators to suppress them. As with any animal, when they become crowded, they can spread diseases and become pests. So, although I do not condone fox hunting as a sport or pastime, I can understand the need to dispatch troublesome individuals, or to keep numbers down.

However, I do not consider urban foxes to be such a blight as to require this on a regular or large-scale basis. For the most part, just let them be. They are urban wildlife, and have stepped in where many of their larger cousins like wolves, bears, and cats have been long-since extirpated. I'm glad there are still many folks who are comfortable with wildlife, but I'm always shocked at how many are not.

Ka D said...

The best time to take care of a problem is BEFORE it is out of control. Foxes carry rabies, parasites, and fleas and ticks that can transmit disease. Foxes can and do attack people and their pets. Wild animals belong in the wild, not urban areas.

jeffrey thurston said...

It's sad what America has become. Here within our borders we live a great life for the most part- as someone who grew up in South America I can tell you even our poor are relatively well off. America at home is the land of the Good Life and natural beauty and inventive enterprising people. But as an expat I can tell you that for most of the world America is The Evil Empire with our Predators and illegal wars and our worship of cowards who kill from afar and our denial of the hideous damage we do. Even as we speak we're busy restarting the Cold War and possibly WW3.And even here in our "Homeland" (yuuk) we have become a premier surveillance state- officially beating out the Stasi. So I just enjoy being an American for what it is- but I'm disgusted all the same. As you say though- it's great being in a country with wolves, lions and bears...

Mary Pang said...

Substitute "nuisance" for "dangerous". We need to deal with our rubbish better. I don't think foxes should be fed either.
Surely every Londoner has seen a fox? Last time I saw one was in December. I don't get the impression that we're plagued by foxes. I saw them more frequently in Bristol, which is greener than London.
I'd be interested to know how the shooting is going, if at all. I think we'll just go back to whingeing about it, it's the british way!