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On Wasps And Foxes: Rethinking Our Relationship With Animals

17/05/2017 13:25

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The decisions we make as humans have too often thwarted logic. Nothing confirms this more than the last two years of western politics, where democracy has offered us Trump, Brexit, food banks, a crumbling NHS and catastrophic environmental regulations. Last week, Theresa May announced her intention to lift the ban on foxhunting if the Conservatives are re-elected in June, despite 84% of the population opposing the practice. I'm a firm supporter of the ban; foxhunting is barbaric and outdated, and while I appreciate the need to control numbers in certain situations, the idea that hunting with dogs is humane or efficient is laughable.

My disappointment in Theresa May is equal to my disdain for rail replacement buses. As an environmentalist it's almost inevitable that I wouldn't like our prime minister, who adores fracking, the badger cull, and closed down the Department for Energy and Climate Change in 2016. But, like a rail replacement bus, I'm not keen to waste energy being angry with her. She's a bad person, but an excellent politician who knows how to crush society like a moribund banana and still convince voters it will end with warm banana bread. This time around, I've been more concerned with how friends and acquaintances have reacted to the latest foxhunting news.

It's been wonderful to see how many people support the foxhunting ban on social media, particularly Twitter, my favourite forum. Statistics and science galore have illuminated the horrors of such a cruel practice, and plenty of healthy debate has been slowly educating the 16% who might need a little convincing. What bothers me is the use of 'cute' photos of foxes circulating among animal welfare groups. Don't get me wrong - who doesn't love a photo of a happy fox? Some are sleeping, smiling, looking generally peaceful. These photos are being used to highlight the calm and loveable nature of foxes, to counteract their unfair reputation as sneaky chicken-murderers with top hats and monocles. While these images may serve a purpose in reminding animal lovers that foxes are lovely, they should not be necessary to justify the ban on hunting. They are in danger of undermining the logic, science and decency required to build a strong case against the practice, and can even make compassion look neurotic and infantile.

Beyond this, our relationship with these animals has revealed a more complicated issue to me; why do we cherish some species but vilify others? An important example is the campaign to stop the annual Yulin Dog Meat Festival in China, in which 10,000 dogs are killed and eaten in the name of culture. The festival is, of course, brutal. Few civilised people could approve of such an event and the campaign team are a brilliant group on a mission to finish it forever. Why, then, do we declare ourselves so against the Yulin Festival, but turn away from the millions of pigs, cows and other livestock who suffer every day around the world in order to fill our plates? Pigs bred for bacon in Denmark, among several other countries, are forced to live in abhorrent conditions where they are unable to turn around, socialise, eat properly and stay hydrated, just so we can enjoy cheap meat in Tesco. How is it that we can find ourselves so emotionally attached to the Yulin dogs, yet completely disconnect ourselves from a creature that is equally intelligent?

Similarly, when I worked in a tearoom as a teenager, we used to trap wasps in jam jars to stop them bothering the customers in the garden. We grow up believing that wasps are the devil; they sting and pester us, eating our picnic food and making children cry. Why, then, do we treasure our bees so differently? In the last few decades we have all been educated on the plight of bees, who suffer heavily from intensive farming and pesticide use, but are responsible for so much of our human food production. But did you know that our supposedly malevolent friend the wasp is equally vital to our ecosystem? Aside from their role as general pollinators and pest-controllers, almost 100 species of orchid are solely reliant on the action of wasps for pollination, and a chemical found in the venom of tropical wasps has been shown to selectively destroy cancerous cells. We adore the chubby bumblebee but destroy wasps at first sight, but how are we so assured in our love and contempt for different species?

The last thing I want to do is diminish the love humans have for bees and dogs and foxes. Please keep sharing sentiment and cuddly photos; these creatures need protecting in any way they can and, in all honesty, who would go on Twitter without bear cubs and kittens? What a waste of time. Perhaps, though, it is our relationship with these animals that needs reimagining. I don't want to feel maternal or condescending to another creature; animals are not there to be symbolically cuddled by humans, but respected within their own right to exist. I should disapprove of foxhunting because I disagree with the idea that a fox should be taunted, chased and ripped apart by dogs, not because they are cuter and smaller than me. Wasps have an amazing existence within their own social webs, interacting with the world around them that is simply astounding; they don't deserve to be snuffed out simply because they dared to land on your bakewell tart. I stopped eating meat a few years ago for a similar reason. Why should another creature be raised and slaughtered just to feed me a luxury item I don't need? My relationship with animals is changing every day, and I am certainly guilty of googling dog memes and having a nervous breakdown over a flock of baby ducks. But in order to support the millions of other species we share our planet with, perhaps we should stop treating them like orphaned children that need mothering, and more like other species who just need the space and resources to live healthy (albeit cute) lives.

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