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Why animal domestication need not be exploitative

This planet has a wide variety of life forms and incredible diversity BECAUSE most living things eat other living things, including ones we classify as "animals". Without the predation, there would have been no life, no evolution and no ecosystem. Without bird-shit, phosphorous would not be recycled, without ferns potash would not be drawn up and recycled, and nitrates would not move around throughout the soil without the actions of the vast underground net of the mycelium.

And without animals and their wastes, the nitrates and other complex organic materials could not return to the soil through the actions of earthworms and bacteria... and good soil is in a sense, vastly enriched by worm-poo. Without the predators, the grazers would over populate and starve, without the grazers, world ecosystems would not recycle nutrients as well as they do, nor would individual species of plants get fertilized and their seed
distributed far and wide...

The lion will never lie down with the lamb unless the lamb is dead, and that is how it should be, for the health of both the family of sheep and the family of big cats.

We humans, the compassionate predator, entered into a contract with a large number of species in the course of the past twenty thousand years (some think longer), and species like the wolf (our domestic dogs), Bos Taurus (domestic cattle), Tarpans (domestic horses of all breeds today) and a legion of others entered the relatively new ecological niche created within the sphere of the world's first compassionate predator. Many of these species, of both animals and plants, would never have been as successful had they not entered into the contract.

Let us not be blinded by the evil results of commercialization of this age old contract between us and these other species. Turning everything into money has betrayed these plants and animals as much as it has betrayed all of what is decent and compassionate about the human spirit.

When we turn our backs on the factory farms and the horrors they have unleashed, do not also be tempted to turn our backs on our long history of trust and co-adaptation that created the ecosystem of domestication. It is an
incredibly rich and rewarding ecosystem to live within, and one we have all but lost in our miserably urban wastelands.

The death and drawnout horror of being eaten alive by parasites or merciless predators without any capacity for compassion is one of the reasons many now think animals like sheep and goats and pigs sought out the human sphere in the first place.

Sure, it is hard on the heart to put an animal down to eat it, but it is infinitely better than to let these creatures be abandoned to the "wild". The death and drawnout horror of being eaten alive by parasites or merciless predators without any capacity for compassion is one of the reasons many now think animals like sheep and goats and pigs sought out the human sphere in the first place.

There are some that came early and were always under-appreciated like the cat and the dog, or even reviled, like the mice and the rats. But now we know that house mice by colonizing our ecosystem keep other kinds of mice out of it, like the deer mice that carry the deadly Hanta virus. But now look at how mice and rats have served us in research and still can be delightful housepets... (and the story of the bubonic plague is not nearly as simple as some have previously thought).

And what about house sparrows and chickens and starlings and crows? Pigeons? Even set "free" they congregate around humans.

The most ancient vegetarian cultures in the world revere all these animals, and certainly do not chase the domestic animals within their local ecosystems out into the wilderness or consider it politically incorrect to allow such creatures to breed and raise their young.

Please not be misled by some of the flawed arguments in favour of vegetarianism put by some misguided animal rights proponents. Choosing not to eat meat should not immediately mean you must disapprove of those who do,1 nor that keeping our place in nature, within a vast ecosystem of symbiosis with numerous other species, must be rejected.

Animals may have chosen to be part of our homes and part of the human ecosystem niche on the planet, and we have no more right to turn our back on them than we have to turn our back on the plight of the whales or the plight of the tuna.

The agenda of the present AR movement is an evil and ugly one. No pets to snuggle in bed with at night, no glorious mornings to see the new calf just born, no milking the cow while the calf takes the other teats, no playing with puppies and mornings awakening to the happy crowing of the the rooster as he calls his flock of plump hens out to feed. No sense of searing tenderness as one is privileged to watch how carefully he attends the hen with the new family of downy chicks, blinking in their first view of the morning sunlight world, and makes sure these littlest one get the first crack at a tasty nest of ants...

Everything neutered. One generation and out. gone. No more poodles, and collies, labrador retrievers, haughty siamese, cosy angoras, athletic family mousers, no more pigs who love their backs scratched. No more omelets, souffles or angel cakes, and no more milk or butter or cheese or yogurt or ice cream. No more children wide-eyed with wonder to see the nest of baby bunnies for the first time, no more horse crazy teenagers or watching your daughter ride her first pony, with an expression of such incandescent joy that it almost hurts the heart to see it--often through tears. Rescued by the rowdy happiness of the pony himself, suddenly so careful to keep the novice safe on board.

Well, it is a long way from weeds and manure but it is all the same thing. I offer it to you all freely. It is not really free, of course. You have to have compassion and all the qualities that brought the creatures to offer themselves to join our world in the first place. Care. Love. Wonder. Gentleness. Courage. All the aspects that hunter-gatherers have, in caring for the animals around them, drawing them as close as kinfolk and often keeping them from harm.

The road that led, in some times and places, to that one further step we have come to call domestication.

There was no point when we conquered nature. We are still in nature.

The AR movement would sever that - or try to. Be very wary of this. It is
the last thing we can afford to do, both for the good of our species and for the
health of the planet.

As an aside to this main note, there is the following information, compiled by a staff writer at the New York Times:

Here is what he writes:

Plants are actively intelligent: What does this mean for vegetarians?

Saturday, February 20, 2010 by: Ethan A. Huff, staff writer

(NaturalNews) Most vegetarians believe that by not eating animals, they are preserving life. Everyone knows that plants are alive but they are not viewed with the same level of intelligence as animals are. As science continues to uncover the complex nature of plants, it is becoming more apparent that plants are actively intelligent life that pursue their continued existence in similar ways as do animals.

Research on the subject naturally flies in the face of strict vegetarianism which often insists that eating animals is murder but eating plants is just fine. Yet the facts illustrate that the characteristics of animals used to argue that eating them is murder also apply to plants. In other words, in order for strict vegetarians to be consistent in their beliefs, they would also have to stop
eating fruits and vegetables.

Plants are very sensitive to environmental changes and they have many built-in mechanisms to ward off attackers. They strive to find the best resources and have been observed to actually anticipate hurdles to survival and work to overcome them in advance.

According to Monika Hilker from the Institute of Biology at the Free University of Berlin, plants are intelligent life that communicate through chemical signals. They are capable of listening, talking, seeing, and feeling, all senses for which most people think only animals have the capability.

Linda Walling from the University of California agrees, noting that animals actively ward off predators in order to survive. Many plants release chemicals or other deterrents when a bug nips at their leaves or stems, similar to how the immune system releases antibodies to ward off infection or disease. Plants are also able to identify nearby plant competitors and alter their growth patterns away from other plants.

Researchers from Pennsylvania State University analyzed plant responses to predators and found that in less than 20 minutes, a plant being eaten by a caterpillar was able to convert carbon from the air into a chemical compound designed to deter the caterpillar from continuing. It appeared to perform this task entirely from scratch.

Plants also send signals that are the equivalent of a cry for help, often attracting predators of their predators who snatch up the attackers and eat them. This is just one of many ways in which plants communicate with the living world around them in order to survive.

Rather than serve as a point of contention, the facts about intelligent plant life merely call into question the alleged ethics of eating only plants rather than animals. Both are intelligent creatures designed to maintain survival. Humans are even more intelligent creatures, choosing to survive by eating plants, animals, or both.

Footnotes

1. Editorial comment: In my personal experience, animal rights activists and vegans in particular go out of their way not to cast judgement upon those who consume meat and other animal products. - JS

Comments

Interesting article Helga. Correct me if I'm wrong but I thought an organism needed to possess a central nervous system before it could be termed a sentient being. The abilties of plants to deter predators is an adaptation they have developed through natural selection. They have no more conscious control over these biological actions than we do the beating of our own hearts. I have however encountered people who refuse to eat any plant material that has resulted in the death of a whole individual (I'm not sure I believe them).

The domestication of animals particularly for food has benefited humans immensely but it is debatable how much benefit the animals concerned have gained. Wildlife, particularly predators of these domesticated animals have lost out as have any endemic herbivores that potentially compete for feed. I wouldn't be so quick to portray the "wild" as being such a bad place either. What we preceive as being a horrible fate in nature such as disease or being ripped apart by predators is irrelevant. It is these very forces that have shaped the natural world for a very long time. For example, I am very fond of kangaroos but I would still rather a kangaroo joey fall victim to a dingo than by smashed against a towbar by a kangaroo shooter. Calling humans a compassionate predator is drawing a very long bow indeed, maybe apathetic predator would be more appropriate especially in modern times.

The benefits of introduced animals such as the birds and rodents you mentioned may have some superficial benefits for those people in an urban environment starved of any other animal interaction. Unfortunately they are all too often responsible for the further decline of endemic species. For example rats are notorious for raiding the nests of native birds and introduced birds tend to displace native species. Yes the natural world has been shaped to some degree by the interaction of predator/prey but humans as a species are taking this relationship into unchartered territory. Top order predators such as humans are traditionally present in much smaller numbers than their prey. We have got around this rule of nature by producing our own prey using methods developed by our own intelligence. How long we can continue to do this is anyones guess. What seems clear though is that the taking of animals from the natural world is no longer sustainable, there are just too many of us. I believe we lost our place in nature a long time ago, most likely when we as a species began worshipping other things instead of the natural world around us.

Ideal prophesising to protect and care for all animals saps energy that is desperately needed to focus on those most at threat.

It is pointless to waste energies on this when meanwhile species are becoming extinct. There is no return from extinction.

So while I don't advocate cruelty to livestock, focus on saving Tigers ahead of designing legislation to ensure higher standards of care and treatment for livestock like battery hens for instance.

Check Australia's number of threatened species on the CITES website.

CITES stands for the CONVENTION ON INTERNATIONAL TRADE IN ENDANGERED SPECIES OF WILD FAUNA AND FLORA. It is having a conference currently in Qatar this week. The focus is to stop international trade in Polar Bears, threatened shark species, African elephants for ivory, the grey wolf and others close to extinction.

This is where our energy and discussion needs to be.
Get serious!

Tiger Quoll
Snowy River 3885
Australia

But, Tigerquoll, Australian governments keep incompetent or non-existent statistics on our wildlife populations, so CITES only reflects a very inadequately researched picture. There would be many more threatened species in Australia than are formally identified.

CITES is a start. But how do you know about these known unknowns with statistics? Hunch?

Given Australia has possibly the worst human record causing species extinctions, and is a first world country with no excuse, it should be attending and presenting at the CITES conference defending the species against poaching and illegal trade particularly in our region.

Garrett should have been preparing for the conference not looking after insulation. Garrett and the Rudd Government have done little to address the risks of species extinction in Australia and have no voice on the world stage to protest against and address trade in threatened species.

What was the most recent national park in Australia listed?
Why are threatened species recovery plans not funded federally?

Tiger Quoll
Snowy River 3885
Australia

It's not unknown. I'm referring to various state auditors' reports on wildlife statistics on threat and planning to mitigate it. Basically our lack of useful data means that we are not keeping up with species threats and extinctions and, given the massively destructive processes associated with human expansion and intensification of development, threats, endangerment and extinctions can only be increasing.

See this site tag on auditor generals' reports: http://candobetter.org/taxonomy/term/1719, notably "Damning Auditor General Report on Fauna protection for Victoria," posted January 3rd, 2010 and 09, and "Tasmania, West Australia, Victoria - our wildlife are ignored by government", posted January 3rd, 2010 by Sheila Newman. The first article summarises:

"In a press release on April Fools Day 2009, Gavin Jennings interpreted as a 'pat on the back' a terrible report by the Auditor General on the Victorian Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988.[1] The report said "the government's lack of baseline data or output performance measures means that it is not possible to conclude whether or not the Act has achieved its primary objectives. The available data, which is patchy, indicates that it has not," and notes failure to use the conservation and control measures in the Act, inadequate listing of threatened species, failure to develop action statements, to monitor implementation of these, or to assess their effectiveness, and that penalties for offences under the Act have not been reviewed or updated and therefore are not an effective deterrent." So government has no reliable statistical basis to make statements on wildlife numbers and health or to issue cull-permits in Victoria. Local independent counts are potentially more influential - like this one."

There is every reason to assume the same problems in all the other states and territories.

This information is of utmost importance and can be used in important battles, such as in the Environment East Gippsland trial about endangered species. The Victorian government's response to the Auditor General's report was that they would do what they can within budgetary constraints - which is to say that, despite spending taxpayer money to launch unsustainable growth, they won't spare a penny to fulfill their meager obligations towards wildlife under their own laws. The Auditor General's report for Victoria noted that it would take them 30 years or so to achieve what they had said they would do under the law at the pace they had undertaken.

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Extreme animal rights, with no animals for pets, is one that even activists would unlikely to adhere to. However, from extremes we can get a more holistic vision of just how we take for granted that animals are human resources, for confinement, for experimenting with, for meat and dairy, for transport and entertainment. The lion will never lay down with the lamb in our world as it is, but humans are the biggest predators and the most numerous. Humans are classed as omnivores, but the choice of eating meat, eggs, fish and dairy products are optional and not a basic requirement for existence, not in developed societies.

Even pets, our companions, are raised for profits and "managed" in shelters so that their breeding can continue.

Raising animals for agriculture is cultural, and a measure of civilisation. Now we have massive monocultures of livestock. Killing wild animals is not sustainable, not with growing human numbers. Even our fish stocks, despite all the controls, is being depleted. No more animals can be domesticated.

People worship science and Darwinism is prevalent, but it is ignored when convenient. If we study our closest non-human relative, chimps, they eat some meat. Other primates are mostly vegetarian. However, chimps only eat a very small amount of meat, and mostly eat nuts and fruits. Our evolutionary basis is as foraging herbivores. So many modern Western diseases and ills can be attributed to our over-indulgence in rich, livestock-based foods.