It’s a beautiful Saturday morning. You wake up early and go to Crescent Lake Park for a jog and some fresh air. You get there, and you virtually have the entire park to yourself. Beyond the old woman who sits on the bench, your only companions are the animals that live there. You start jogging.
She smiles at you, and says good morning as you pass by. You appreciate the gesture and it brightens your day. Then suddenly, things change. Your running shoes no longer have traction. You look at the ground, and it occurs to you that you’ve been running through piles of something that’s green and wet. It’s everywhere you step, and you know exactly where it’s come from. The geese. The park is overrun with geese. They’re big, they’re fearless, they’re defensive, and their numbers increase every year. Looking over your shoulder, you notice a nearby nest. Adult geese are there standing guard, watching your every move. Contentious of your presence, they squawk at you in unison, punching at the air with their beaks as if trying to tell you to get lost. You keep jogging.
The pathway takes you back to the old lady once again. Nearly an entire full flock has now surrounded her. They’re feasting at her feet. Reaching into her purse, she throws out raisins, stale breads, and dried corn. You’ve now stopped jogging. You can’t help but be impressed by her generosity. Noticing your presence, she briefly looks up from her pile of goods to see you standing, staring at her in wonder. She gives you a smile, and then promptly returns her focus on the geese. You get back to jogging.
You think to yourself, what a nice person she must be. Here you are, upset for a dirty pair of sneakers and yet, there she is, selflessly catering for the innocent animal you determined to be a nuisance. She, someone who’s literally more than twice your age, has just made you feel like a curmudgeon. You’ve been made to feel embarrassed inside your own mind. You start jogging faster, and soon you start running. Passing the same nest, you now don’t even notice. Ahead your direction, fifty-feet in front, a lone goose sits, obstructing your path. And although it sees that you’re coming, it does not flee. It stands up and plants its feet, puffing its body and rustling its feathers, squawking at you as you continue to run closer. Running now even faster, you’re only ten-feet apart and yet there it still stands, still squawking, and you, you keep charging. With no moment to spare, the goose finally flees, scrambling off to the grass. You’ve won the game of chicken. You keep running.
But what could you have done different? Many things, of course, no one said you had to play chicken with an actual bird. But could you have done anything different that would benefit not only yourself but the goose as well? Probably not. The geese of Crescent Lake Park are now its residents. But they are wild animals, urban or not, and no matter how often humans may feed them, they remain wild animals.
But that’s not to say that feeding them comes without consequence. Many things can and do happen from feeding the geese. For one thing, their poop is not harmless. And although geese most certainly will defecate whether we feed them or not, we don’t do ourselves any favors by encouraging the process where we live. It causes a lot of damage to property, and it costs us a lot of money, not just to repair our walkways, but our roadways, our fields, our lawns, our children’s playgrounds, our beaches, even our drinking water. Not to mention, it’s organic pollution.
Perhaps even more troublesome yet, is that by feeding them, they will in turn lose their natural fear of us. Many of us know that it is not good to feed alligators, and many of us are also wise enough not to feed bears. We don’t feed those kinds of animals because we value our lives. It wouldn’t be smart to challenge a sitting bear to a game of chicken, and bravery may not be required to play Marco Polo with alligators, but it would be stupid to do it. We keep cautious around them for the same reason we decided to call them man-eaters. Geese are not man-eaters. But just as bears and alligators, geese do become far more likely to stay around humans when humans have fed them. No matter what the animal may be, if it is wild, it is never wise to tinker with its natural instincts.
As migratory creatures, geese are designed by nature to seek out ideal habitats. Considering that we do tend to deliberately feed them, and that our manmade habitats are kept free of their natural predators, it makes good sense why they come to us. In the wild, merely to be alive is a constant challenge. When geese enter into human environments, that burden becomes far lighter, and it is why their populations skyrocket.
The worst things that can happen from this are irreversibly bad. When populations grow exponentially, the cost to nature is disruption to the ecosystem, which in terms of its importance, cannot be overstated. As an interconnected system, one change to one part brings one change to one other. And as human beings, we are just as much one part to that system as is anything else that is living. In terms of our own value, we may be worth nothing greater than a salamander, may well be worth less than a fungus. And although we may like to believe we are supreme, we are the greatest living threat to our own existence. Geese just can’t compete with the kinds of damages we routinely cause to the environment. Considering that Geese populations spurted directly in relation to our own influence, it may be worthwhile for us to simply stop feeding them.
But we can’t put a stop to feeding animals altogether, of course. Our pets do need for us to feed them, and our livestock does require nutrition if we want for it to return us the favor. Protecting animals is tricky. The desire to do so, as admirable and necessary as it may be, is far too greatly muddled by the constant and ranging disagreements we hold for it. The seemingly immortal controversy and stigma that attaches with activist groups such as P.E.T.A. speaks for itself. Some have argued as far as proposing that animals should be given personhood. But giving animals the full rights of a human being may prove to be dangerous.
In conceptual terms, it is best for the animals that we consider them as not having rights. The very crux to giving animals rights is that rights imply responsibility. We have rights because we created our rights. Humans are unique to have rights because only we can understand what they are. We created our rights out of our own self-interest. They are suited to fit our roles and functioning, both in society and under law, by not only what we see in ourselves, but by what we recognize as present in others. Animals cannot have rights per se, but they may still receive due protection from us.
In the wild, man has no place. His laws mean nothing there. His presence is alien there. There are no rights in the wild. But yet for wild animals, the wild is the only place in this world where they can live in freedom. And if we are intelligent enough to understand this concept of freedom, then we may be righteous enough to uphold it. But if we can’t always manage to uphold it for ourselves, which we don’t, then how can we expect to ensure it, for something we don’t even know is able to understand it?
The best interest of the animals is that we view them as animals. If we truly respect them, we will embrace them for their true natures, despite whatever perversions we care to force against our own. All too often what seems right today becomes wrong tomorrow. Our ideas most generally prove feeble. Considering that the greatest challenge we face in modern times is to somehow figure out a way to not end up killing our own planet, we should know better than to force our interests upon animals that, sentient of it or not are at the complete mercy of our desires. We are the most dangerous killers on Earth by any comparison, but if it is so that we must involve ourselves with the animals, then we’ve determined it our right to do so, and if it is our right to do so, then such animals are our responsibility.
All of the animals, from the pets that we love, to the livestock we slaughter; from the geese in our parks, to the rabbits in our gardens, the spiders in our cellars, the deer on our roadways, the fish on our hooks, the monkeys in our zoos, the pythons in the Everglades, and the seals that drown in our in oil, are our responsibility.