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Early 2019, my girlfriend Melanie and I exchanged our city of Ghent, Belgium for the countryside. Belgium is a very small and very densely populated country, so you’re never really far from civilization. We’re certainly not in the middle of nowhere, but we do live amidst the fields and forests, and have our own six acre forest as a backyard. One of the reasons for the move (which I’m aware is not the most environmentally friendly thing to do), was that Melanie wanted to have a lot of room for rescued (and adoptable) animals. While she does structural work for animals in a vegan non-profit organization, she feels she wants and needs direct contact with animals, and she’s very good at helping, rescuing or healing animals in need.
All of this boils down to the fact that since our move, individual animals – both domesticated and wild – are much more a part of my life. In this article I want to write about some things that I have observed in terms of dilemmas in dealing with animals, and especially about the wellbeing of wild animals.
All creatures, wild and not so wild
Right now, the animals that live on our domain can be divided in four groups:
- rescued farmed animals: chickens, turkeys, guinea fowl, rabbits. Most of these come from (factory) farms where they were raised for food. A group of chickens was used for animal testing in an animal production research facility (and later released). There are also some adopted peacocks.
All of these critters live in our yard in closed off areas (I’ll get into why they are not roaming in our forest later).
- rescued companion animals: two dogs and five cats. They come from shelters and now live in the house, with the option to go to the yard. These are the only animals we already had in our previous home in the city.
- rescued wild or semi-wild animals, like ducks and the pheasant Lady Gaga. They come from a wildlife rehabilitation center and were set free in our yard, where they now live by themselves.
- wild animals that are naturally around: foxes, squirrels, martens, rats, pigeons, crows, bats, salamanders, frogs, all kinds of birds (like crows, pigeons, owls…), and of course tiny animals like insects and worms. Also the occasional deer that jumps over the fence.
Caring about wild animals
The animals in the fourth category are largely out of our control and for many people also should be out of our control. “Nature” or “the wild” seems to be a fundamentally different sphere than the domesticated sphere. What happens in nature, so these people believe, should stay in nature. Humans should not interfere and should just allow nature to take its course.
My view is slightly different. Apart from the fact that we often do influence nature and wild animals, I believe that we should be concerned with what happens in nature whether we have an impact there or not. The different groups of animals I listed above have different relationships with us, and with people in general, but the one thing that they all have in common is that they are sentient, no matter how and where they live. Being sentient is the main relevant criterium for me to care or not care about what happens to someone or something. And so I obviously care about the wellbeing not just of my dogs and cats, or the pigs in the factory farms, but also of the animals in the wild. When they suffer, I care about their suffering, whether the cause of their suffering is humans or nature. I’ve heard some animal advocates even call it speciesist not to care about the suffering of wild animals, because we would care, for instance, about a human tribe in the Amazon that has had no contact with the rest of the world, but is suffering horribly. We would tend to interfere.
I had been reading about wild animal welfare for a couple of years, but the move to the countryside has made the plight of wild animals much more concrete for me. In the rest of this article, I’ll list some examples of confrontations with especially wild animals, and confrontations between wild and domesticated or rescued animals that made me think and that might make you think as well. This is a controversial topic. I suggest you try to practise slow opinion.
There are the foxes
One night not long after our move to the countryside, when me and Melanie were watching Netflix, our two dogs suddenly started barking at someone or something outside. Normally we don’t even look up from this, but that night they sounded angrier than usual. Through the window we saw, right on the corner of our property, two foxes. We had been warned by the previous owners and neighbours that their chickens and geese had been taken by foxes, so we were fearing the day they would discover our own flock. As my girlfriend went to the porch and shooed the animals away, I remember thinking that there were only a few options, all of them bad for someone who likes animals and is concerned with their wellbeing:
a. the foxes will catch some of our chickens
b. we manage to protect our chickens, but the foxes will get to someone else’s chickens, or will catch other animals
c. the foxes won’t catch chickens or enough other food and their young (extremely cute animals) will starve to death
And I thought: this system sucks.
We knew it was a matter of time before the foxes would come back. About a year later, they attacked the fenced off chicken-area (we have three of them) that is the furthest from the house. Previously, a roommate had stayed in a caravan right next to it, together with her two dogs, but because of Covid-19, she had chosen to live somewhere else. The dogs being gone was probably the reason that the foxes took their chance. This was also the only area where the coop didn’t have a locked door, so the chickens could come outside in the early morning as they wished. One morning, my girlfriend found several dead roosters and saw that several more had disappeared. In total, we lost six that night. We felt it was best to not bury the ones that the fox had left behind, but just leave the dead bodies for the predator to pick them up, so that they could still serve as meals.
We have since further secured that area with an electrical fence, and my girlfriend makes sure the chickens are inside every night and opens the door manually in the morning (the two other coops have automated doors, but we can’t find one big enough to allow entrance and exit for big roosters). In principle all the birds should be safe from the foxes now, except for the ducks. We’ll hope they’ll have the good sense (and the time) to retreat to the middle of one of the ponds when they see a fox. We also plan to build a little island for them (as an aside: the island should not have a coop on it because then the ducks might lay eggs where we wouldn’t be able to get to them, so we’d be bringing even more animals into the world).
Rats and the problem of thriving
Predation on our rescued animals is not the only issue we face. Take the example of rats. We naturally attract rats because the feed for our chickens is all over the place (the rats even climb up to the bird feeders and eat all the food we put out for the wild birds!). Recently we found a nest of little rats – extremely cute. A couple of rats is not a problem, but we don’t want to be inundated with them. This too, sucks: when a population does well and thrives, it may easily get too big. This blew my mind, but under ideal conditions, two rats can be responsible for – wait for it – up to fifteen thousand descendants in one year!
There are several ways for an animal population to be kept in check, and none of them is really good. Basically, when a population thrives, this will attract predators (whose population will grow) to feed on them. Or – in case the predators are absent or too low in numbers – the population might become too big for the resources available and individuals will die through lack of food. And then of course there’s also diseases etc. that may decimate them in painful or less painful ways.
In the case of our rats, with their reproduction rate, neither of these – in themselves cruel – solutions will work, so us humans will probably have to do something. We obviously don’t want to use poison. We have caught some young rats with a live trap, and released them a couple of miles further on, but it seems we won’t catch any more now. They’re very intelligent creatures.
If we can’t catch them and if we don’t want to kill them, it’s back to the other solutions. Some could be caught by predator birds, and our dogs and cats might catch one or two. These methods may give ourselves more peace of mind as we are not the ones doing the killing. We sort of delegate the task to other creatures who have no moral agency and therefore it can’t be considered a bad deed. But are the rats themselves any better off? While there is no real problem with other animals catching rats, it can still be painful or stressful for the rats to die that way. One exception is when predators catch animals that are already suffering.
The most humane way to deal with overpopulation, it seems to me, is contraception. Making sure individuals are not born seems always a kinder solution than killing the ones that are already alive. I need to investigate where we are with rat contraception, and if there’s any product that can do the job for us in a way that has as little side effects as possible.
Anyway, again, this system sucks.
Of squirrels, crows and owls
There are other things going on in our yard besides foxes attacking chickens and rats getting too numerous. We’ve sat on the edge of our seat watching baby squirrels learn the ropes and be too adventurous in the trees with too little experience. The first time we saw one of the creatures fall, he or she survived by landing on a pack of leaves. But at a later moment we found a young dead squirrel on the forest floor.
We know that the crows that are flying around have the horrible habit of making their prey defenseless by going for the eyes with their beaks. We actually heard a story of a hobby farmer (not a fan, obviously) who had to stop breeding his rarebreed pigs because the crows were attacking their eyes!
On several occasions we found dead pigeons, and once a dead owl – maybe he’d eaten a poisoned rat somewhere in the area – on the forest floor. We regularly find a bunch of feathers, a testimony to an attack by a predator. Bats apparently catch up to 8.000 insects in one night (do we care about them?). If the bats come out of hibernation too early, however, and there not enough insects yet, they may die of starvation.
A special dilemma – one caused by humans this time – is the situation with the fish. There are carps in one of the ponds, put out there by one of the previous owners to fish on. The carps would not naturally be there, and are not exactly good for the pond. They would also not be good for attracting more of the rare fire salamanders that we’ve spotted on two occasions. But what to do with the carp now that they are there?
Very rarely our own presence in nature is to blame for some casualties: we have seen our cats catch the occasional bird or rat, like I said, and we’ve seen some birds flying against our windows. All in all, I like to think that our presence is overall positive, and we take care of this piece of land as well as we can (we certainly do it more responsibly than previous owners).
I’m sure that as time goes by, I’ll unfortunately gather more examples of things going on in the trees, in the brush, in the ground… Things that I probably don’t even want to know.
Chickens and their eggs
Let me come back to the topic of population size one more time. My girlfriend has been rescuing animals – mainly cats – for years, and we are acutely aware of how many animals need help. We obviously try not to help bring more domesticated animals into this world. Still, our rescued chickens are a problem in themselves. Hens are going to lay eggs (I can put up a whole philosophical discussion about what a vegan does with the eggs, but that’s not what this article is about), and if you don’t watch out, before you know it you’ve got a hen brooding on her eggs somewhere and then suddenly appearing with a small army of little chicks.
One could of course opt not to have a roosters so the hens’ eggs can’t be fertile, but the presence of a rooster is good for the flock of hens (the rooster will protect the hens and will help look for food). And obviously, there are also roosters in need of adoption, so they need a place too.
When there’s a rooster among the flock, you’ll get fertile eggs (sterilizing roosters is not (cost)efficient). The next possible step is to try to prevent the chicken from sitting on her eggs until they hatch. That’s easy to do if the chickens live on a small area, but when they have ample space with a lot of brush and trees to hide in, it’s a challenge. So without wanting it, all of a sudden we had eight extra creatures to take care of. It’s funny how as soon as they are in the world, you feel responsible for them, and want to protect them from the rats and the owls and other predators. My girlfriend built an extra coop to protect them. So far, we lost two (to unknown predators). One can imagine how many of them don’t survive their first days or weeks or months when they are born in the wild.
Animals living under the protection of humans
This brings me to a last but important point: the benefits for animals of living together with humans.
Humans can do horrible things to nature and to animals. But as should be clear, nature itself, without humans being present, can also be a bloody and messy place, with beings preying upon each other in the most ferocious ways, thus keeping each other’s population in check. It is hard to assess how high, on average, the wellbeing of animals in the wild is, how often they feel good and how often they feel bad, how intense and how prolonged the periods of suffering can be. But what I think is starting to become clear to me is that animals living together with humans, in a form of symbiosis, might possibly have the best lives of all. I think our chickens are generally better off than their wild counterparts. Ours have ample food and water, they get protection from predators (in so far as we’re successful), they get medical care when they need it, are protected from the elements (my girlfriend has put a large bunch of them in the garage at night, during periods of intense heat)… We don’t take anything from them, but if in some cases people trade all of that for eggs, for instance, I’m not sure if that’s a problem.
Yes, they are not free to go literally anywhere they want, like a wild animal might be free (although that freedom is still relative), but I am assuming that given a large enough space to live, they might care less about that lack of freedom – which in optimal cases maybe they don’t even experience – than they would mind being painfully wounded or killed by predators or suffering through the absence of enough food or water, or medical problems.
Side note: even without the presence of foxes in our area, we would not let the chickens (and rabbits) roam freely in our forest instead of keeping them in the fenced off areas. Melanie noticed that, when the chickens were initially roaming free, they were catching wild frogs. The rabbits on their part were in danger of eating plants that are toxic for them. And so we put them in fenced areas both for their own good and for the good of other animals. So it’s interesting to note that we made a decision for them, and that in the case of the chickens, our concern for the frogs led us to put the chickens in a smaller space (still quite large) than they otherwise might have. We could of course also make the choice to “allow” the chickens to eat the frogs, but it seems we don’t want to be responsible for that.
Some preliminary conclusions
Being close to nature and animals, both wild and domesticated, confronts one with a picture that is much more complex than the picture that many animal advocates have from just dealing with animal rights and ethics in theory. I find that the dilemmas are plentiful, particularly if you take the wellbeing of wild animals seriously, and that there is still plenty of room for doubt, nuance, thinking, research, and new inventions.
Let me give you some of my preliminary takeaways from these concrete observations, as well as from my own decade long consideration of these topics.
- Nature is in many ways astounding, awe-inspiring, beautiful, wild, and many other things. But at least for many individuals through big parts of their lives, nature is not idyllic. It’s not a peaceful garden out there. If there’s a god who made it all, I think he or she didn’t really know what they were doing. Or they were drunk when they made it.
- Wild animal welfare, and especially the absence of it, matters. We may not be the cause of the suffering, and the cause of the suffering may be in most cases a-moral (no moral agency involved), but that doesn’t make it less harmful for the creatures suffering.
- We may not be able to do much about it at this moment, but we should have an open mind regarding searching and finding solutions in the future, technological and otherwise. Some forms of suffering will always exist, other forms of suffering we may help diminish, for instance through more efficient birth control schemes.
- While humans do an incredible amount of harm to animals, there are also benign humans, who, no matter their faults and shortcomings, try to be loving, caring, well-informed and well-intentioned towards all sentient beings. They might provide some animals with a life that’s better than a life in the wild, and this kind of symbiosis might provide for some of the best lives that can be found on this planet.
Conscious creatures in the wild have eaten each other and been eaten by each other for as long as they’ve existed. They have suffered adverse natural circumstances since they first appeared. Homo sapiens, the top predator, obvioulsy wreaks a lot of havoc on the natural world. But what is also true is that this same Homo sapiens is the first being who is aware of the scale of the suffering that is going on within nature, and that some individuals of our species are researching how we can possible make things a little better for the animals in the wild.
I am fully aware (there is really no need to tell me) that nature is an incredibly complex system, that interfering in it could cause more harm than it solves, and that we have interfered in nature many times with very bad consequences. I’m also fully aware that what humans are doing towards animals, in factory farms and beyond, is the worst, and needs to be tackled first. The dilemmas I listed should not paralyse us in tackling priorities.
And yet, I dream of nature being one day a better place for all who live in it, wild or domesticated.
And I like to think that things like these begin in dreams.
PS: I’m not a biologist, animal behaviorist, or philosopher – I am nothing, frankly – so if you spot any mistakes, or have tips to improve the lives of the animals we live with, let me know in the comments!
39 thoughts on “Into the wild: animal dilemmas I’m confronted with after moving to the countryside”
Did you ever get anywhere with the birth control for rats? I currently have rats living in my garden feasting on the birdseed and am worried about their population skyrocketing. I’m not willing to kill them, and have been trying scent-based deterrent methods but honestly since I live in a townhouse complex, I assume they may just move next door lol! If I don’t figure something out I’m sure a neighbor or the neighborhood association will resort to poison D:
Probably best not to put birdseed out, except perhaps during times of extremely heavy snowfall or long-lasting ice. The birds should be able to find adequate food on their own, and supplying them with seed could cause them to become dependent on it. It’s especially problematic if it is also attracting rodents.
the chickens obviously need feed all year round. for the wild birds, i’ve read different advices, some saying that it’s useful to feed them all year, others saying, like you, to only feed in winter…
still have to investigate… I did hear some cities have already experimented with it, so something at least exists.
I’m also very interested on updates on this topic 🙂
Mybluerat, if you were in the United States you could order this contraceptive:
But not yet in most of the rest of the world.
What dedicated young women you are! When I was young I raised a chicken that grew up and followed me everywhere… until a neighbor’s dog snapped his neck.
I am vegan and am tormented by the plight of factory-farmed animals. Yet I have a cat who regularly brings me dead rats, gophers and the occasional baby rabbit. What am I to do? I read that cats will not flourish on a vegetarian diet… they must have flesh. I feed my cat canned fish… someone else had to kill the fish. Even when not hungry, Teddy will chase and kill a rodent. It’s survival instinct. Nothing is perfect if some animals must kill others in order to survive. But at least I am not adding to the « imperfection » by eating animals when it not only is not necessary for me, but is actually harmful to my health. So my focus is helping others know about the plant-based way of healthy eating. We have a long way to go but progress is being made.
Thank you for your concern for factory farmed animals. How sad about your companion chicken.
It’s controversial whether cats can thrive on a vegan diet but we can at least try to provide our companion cats with a diet that causes less harm. Fishes are also factory farmed (they, in fact, constitute the largest number of farmed animals) and both fishing and fish farming are very cruel and environmentally detrimental. Feeding cats fish tends to entail the death of far more animals than feeding them other types of animals because of their smaller sizes and by-kill (animals who are incidentally caught in fishing gear). Fish is also not a healthful food for cats (see, for example: https://www.catwhisperer.se/why-fish-is-bad-for-cats/ ). You might also consider feeding the cat a partially vegan diet.
Since your cat kills wildlife, and doesn’t need to hunt in order to survive, s/he shouldn’t be allowed out unsupervised, and for the cat’s safety, too. Alternatively, you could build a catio.
I share your moral dilemma about feeding rescued cats. I am so happy that a company is going to start making cell-based mouse meat cat food, so we can feed our cats their natural diet without other animals being killed. You can get on their mailing list here. https://becauseanimals.com/
Take hedgehogs for example, they cannot exist on plant food, it makes them poorly, for some reason they can’t eat it, they might do, as they love their food and will try take a snack of things that aren’t good for them.
But their stomachs can only tolerate meat, so they have to survive on insects and slugs.
They might eat the odd mushroom in the wild now and again (as I have the odd fungi going and looks suspiciously like someone takes chunks out of it, then read someone that they do have the odd nibble), but it’s not good for them, but the odd nibble won’t do too much damage.
Animals bodies are built to digest certain food types, and we, as humans cannot change that. Our bodies also, but as a food types have a vast range, we can have the freedom to chose.
That’s the difference, I feel between nonhuman and human. We have accept that nature is nature. And we cannot force veganism on an animal when their bodies are not designed to survive on plant based food.
Terrific piece, Tobias. I always appreciate your willingness to tackle the tough issues. Yeah nature’s cruelty can be very tough to contemplate. I have just started reading Balcombe’s Pleasureable Kingdom, and one of his major points is that, in many or most cases, even prey animals have lots of pleasure and satisfaction in their lives before the moment they are killed.
I also don’t see a problem with constraining animals for their own good – we do that all the time with dogs and cats, and with ourselves and our own progeny.
Whether you ever come up with definitive answers for any of these quandaries or not, I believe they are well worth exploring, and important to our species’ continuing moral evolution.
i do hope jonathan is right, and it’s very well possible 🙂
Great photos. Thx
Hi, I wrote a blog on how to deal with rats some time ago (in Dutch): https://dezelfvoorzieningsbijbel.blogspot.com/2017/01/wat-doe-je-tegen-ratten.html
I have no solution either. I think the idea of birth control is interesting, however, we neutered our dog, and whereas I understand and agree with the pros of that, I regret it very often, too. Our dog is a beautiful animal, and we took away her right to reproduce, and isn’t reproducing — if you look at nature — the one thing we’re ‘meant’ to do? What gives us humans the right to interfere in our dog’s — or any animal’s — life to prevent it from having offspring? Our own convenience? Very tough…
thanks, i’ll take a look! 🙂
We have already interfered in the lives of domesticated animals, so I think you can feel good about your decision to neuter and help end the institution of domestication. We should provide sanctuary for the “refugees of domestication” already among us, but not add more to their numbers. You clearly love your dog but many humans neglect, abuse, and abandon their companion animals.
Excellent article. Thanks for sharing. I would like to hear your future observations and possible solutions. I believe there is much to be learned from nature, even if at times it can be very gruesome.
Dear…….I want to be a rat in your forest but not a chicken.
All the best……out of grid
Fridus the fox
Great article, thank you. I myself have been facing the same dilemmas – not in the same scale as we don’t “have” as many animals (only three cats), but no matter how happy I am not to have mice in the house, I hate when our cats kill mice or other animals (and if I can, I do try to stop them). I don’t know if you read French but there is an excellent essay treating the same subject, Dame Nature est Mythée (it’s a pun, meaning Mother Nature is “mitée”, meaning full of moth or rotten, but also full of myths). The text is unfortunately not translated to other languages as far as I know, but it can be accessed there: http://lacriee.free.fr/DMN-PDF.pdf
thanks, looks like an interesting text! will check it out
Hi Tobias, great article! I live in the countryside for over 5 years and have been in similar situations (and struggles). And I’ve learned a lot, with plenty of help and advice from people who know much more than I in these cases. Love to share experiences if you are up for it, we can learn from eachother I guess 😀.
For the chickens: there are timers for selfmade chickendoors, so you’re not limited bij standard doors.
hi danielle, thanks, i see if we can look into a solution for that door.
feel free to share your experiences (either here or by mail)
Dear Tobias, what a wonderful story! You look at ethical issues with animals exactly the way I do, but you can put it so much better into words. If I explain to people that nature isn’t all that good, and that it is all about sentience and welfare, they think I’m crazy. (I am thinking about making a video about it.) Thank you for you wonderful work. I hope we will meet one day. I’m living in Rotterdam, rather close I guess.
thanks monique, glad you like it. Yes, it would be nice to meet some day. Good luck with what you’re doing!
Wow, great place and good dilemmas you face. Thanks for sharing, very interesting read indeed. Reading about ecosystems has reminded me of this short video I love: https://youtu.be/ysa5OBhXz-Q
Perhaps Mother Nature isn’t either moral or amoral and, in fact, these are human concepts that are part of our species’ survival tool kit. ‘She’ just models the universal elements into different forms, each with a range of attributes, and off we go – make of it what we will. Any species or individual that ‘loses’ by failing to survive and adapt to conditions is returned to the universal pool and remodelled into something/someone else.
Who’s to say that our Mother is conscious and deliberate, or just a programme that we don’t understand? We have no way of knowing in our human form, unless She speaks in a way we can hear. It’s probably best not to judge Her/It’s motives until we have further clarity.
I think, Tobias, stick to your path – it’s a good one. Judge yourself according to your inner convictions and you won’t go wrong. Ultimately, none of it ‘matters’; in the sense that caring about it is your personal human perspective and not even quite the same perspective as Melanie’s, the chickens’, the ducks’, or the rats’. IT just is what it is.
Do what you want to do because it feels right. Listen to the inner voice – just in case the Mother is talking to you – and be real.
This is Love.
Thank you so much for this wonderful article and best wishes to your multi-species family. I’m glad that “Wild Animal Welfare” is an emerging field of study. Since our species has the capacity to reduce suffering for other species, we should explore the best means of doing so. Your essay is a meaningful contribution to that conversation.
As a cat rescuer myself, I am looking forward to cultivated meat becoming available for pets. I will be able to feed my cats knowing other animals were not harmed for their food. “Bond Pets” and “Wild Earth” are two of the companies developing cell-based pet food. Maybe a day will come when humans can provide such nutrition to predators to reduce the suffering of prey.
Is it not sentience that gives us autonomy, the right to choose our own fate? If so, how does that apply to sentient wild animals?
this sounds like it could be an interesting question but i’m not sure i understand it 🙂 Can you elaborate?
Perhaps there’s a conflation that sentience automatically assumes rights. Sentience is the capacity to sense, to feel, to experience – ( having consciousness is sapience).
Rights are usually conferred; a form of social contract, so wild animals ( in fact no-one) do not automatically have rights
I don’t think this is correct. We, and other animals, have an innate, biological sense of fairness. My rights derive from my own sense of justice. Social contracts can expand on that, but are not the only source.
With respect; our sense of fairness and justice arise from our personal values, beliefs, and desires. They’re not Rights as such. Rather, they’re what would make the world ‘right’ for us.
White supremacists, slavers, drug runners, and paedophiles would as easily view ‘fairness’ in relation to their perspective as you, and consider they had ‘rights’ around its expression.
Wild, or any sentient & salient, being with even a rudimentary level of goals, desires, and preferences would want the best outcome of success and personal comfort. They’d also want to not have something nasty happen (eg being killed, maimed, captured, eaten, losing their young etc) that they couldn’t prevent – a version of unfairness or injustice. However, this doesn’t mean they automatically have a ‘right’ for it to not happen.
For one thing, who would confer the Right? God? Mother Nature? That doesn’t make sense, given the natural foodchain.
I came across an organization that addresses some of what we’re talking about here. Those of you reading this post might be interested in checking them out. https://www.wildanimalinitiative.org/who-we-are
Great piece Tobias. Very thoughtful. A couple observations:
1. “Nature” in the most macro system is clearly amoral and indifferent to the well-being of sentient creatures. Whether through floods, asteroid collisions, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, droughts, and the list goes on, natural forces decimate sentient beings in dramatic ways continually and nature doesn’t care in any way that is discernible to sentient beings. This doesn’t mean that nature is cruel, but again, indifferent. Nature also provides avenues for species to flourish and procreate too.
2. Only individual sentient beings or groups of those beings have the ability to construct systems of fairness or justice–in this sense morality is a social construction and somewhat limited (yet deeply significant).
3. While we can never eliminate suffering in the world and many animals are required to inflict pain on others in order to survive, we can eliminate large forms of needless suffering–i.e. factory farming–which as you stated should be the absolute first priority.
I love your pictures, it looks like bliss.
I do have some appreciation with your issues with wildlife.
I have some wildlife in my garden, as I’ve taken down my fences and so it’s open plan, animals can get to my garden quite easily.
I have a wildlife camera, which isn’t all the great, but it does pick up some of what goes on in the night – but I sit quietly on my porch each night to try see some action myself (which causes me to not get quite enough sleep as I should do, but it’s worth it).
So I have a lot of birds chirping away from dawn to dusk as I have few trees, and plenty of trees around me.
I have considered given them food, but then, as I have a lot of wild hedgehogs that visited my garden, (I have found bird food not compatible with hogs but they love it), so decided I can’t feed the birds, but I have got a bird bath. Which, to accommodate the bees, and to ensure the hogs can get out (hoglets rather – the babies), I have found flat stones to create steps, which has done the trick.
But then the birds poo in it, so I have got a plastic feeding station, which keeps getting extended (adding more boxes on to it), which has the hog food and a dish of water, (so the birds cannot poo in the water).
Then I have a fox (quite a few actually), but the advice is not to feed the fox, as it will put the hogs in danger – but having second thoughts about that now, after I found that the hedgehog hospital feeds the foxes that visit her garden each night, and I saw a fox last night that looked a bit skinny, so I think I’ll start to leave a big bowl of dog food out away from the feeding station.
And I have a rat, which sometimes eats (only a small amount) of hedgehog food, and I think I saw it go in one of the wooden hedgehog houses to rest.
So I have got dilemmas with the wildlife in my garden too, who do I feed, who do I not feed. Hedgehogs are getting the priority as they are endangered and declining vastly in number.
Birds – my neighbour feeds them, so the hedgehogs might eat small amounts of bird food now and again, but the hogs mostly visit my garden (don’t usually bother with other gardens), before they go into the park next to me. So situation resolved there, and the birds enjoy the bird bath each day when it doesn’t rain.
The fox, I’m in a dilemma with, but think I will feed it, as I think it will visit my garden on a nightly basis anyway, as it has consistently done, so I don’t think it puts my hogs at any further risk if I do start feeding it, and the one I saw last night looked a bit skinny.
It’s the rat now, not sure what to do, at the moment, I’m not doing anything about it.
Obviously, cautious about using traps, as a hedgehog can get trapped. So I think I’m just gonna have to accept it.
Wildlife is a balancing act, and I have had the odd sleepness night thinking about what I should do.
I have the odd squirrel aswell, but he doesn’t stay to long in my garden, appears during daylight – It probably gets some of the left over bird food that my neighbour leaves for the birds, but it doesn’t attempt to eat the hedgehog food.
As for animals living with humans, I know my pet dog, who I grew up with had a very comfortable life, she did have her play mates with two other dogs in the family who she met up regularly with (during the days whilst other family members were out at work), so not just one walk with them, it will be all day long. Then she would be by herself with her humans in the evenings (sometimes, her two friends would have the odd sleepover).
So she did have her own little pack going on, where she was the leader of the 3 dogs. But the humans, worshipped her, enormous amounts of belly rubs, freedom to go into the garden when she wanted, and shared her night time bed with her humans, also allowed on the sofa’s (had her own armchair, had her own wooden (human) chair for outside), had two (actual) dog beds, one upstairs, one down.
And she didn’t have to worry about food, stuck to a routine with her, had two long walks a day , wasn’t left on her own for too long. Had plenty of chews to eat, and a box of toys for her possessions (which I found is good for dogs, mental wellbeing, to have their own prized possessions).
So yeah, happy life, she was a very happy dog.
However, Hedgehogs should not be kept in captivity, and is illegal in this country. It’s okay to rescue a hedgehog if it’s in need of care, but must be released back into the wild as soon as it’s possible. Hedgehog rescue centres, in the UK are flooded with hedgehogs all year round, and they will get veterinary care and also a transition period (where they can cope with being back outdoors again), before they get released back into the wild, and they go back to where they were originally found, unless they were found in an unsuitable site.
So although I do agree, most dogs have a luxiourious life with their humans, provided that they have some routine , outside, some freedom to run around on walks, and playtime, they appear quite content.
However, it doesn’t apply to all animals, such as Hogs, they will have a very miserable life even if they were enclosed in a big garden. In the spring, they spend all night exploring, courting, and only stay in temporary nests for a night or two. That’s the part of being a hedgehog that they like (but increases their risks of getting killed), take that away, and you just have one very unhappy hedgehog, and therefore, that’s why it’s illegal.
I work in conservation now, and I have more of an acceptance now (always struggled with it before) of the brutality of nature and as humans, we are in the privileged position to make choices, based on values, whereas, nonhumans aren’t as wired as we are to do this.
The fact that we are the only species that is able to blow ourselves up on a massive scale (nuclear, atomic), without the need for supernatural powers, is a significant difference from other species.
To us, the fact we see hunt and kill in animals, is barbaric, but in compassion, where animals do it for survival, humans, from the start of humankind are the nasty people as we are the ones that have the morals, but yet look at our weapons now. And the fact that it is possible that Spaiens wiped out the Neanderthals possibly because they looked different, it wouldn’t have been for food I don’t think. And as well as wiping them out there is evidence we made love with them (that’s not a problem, but is incongruent with genocide, so I assume it was more rape than love), as we know now white people and middle eastern people have about 4% dna in us that is Neanderthal.
So a lot of our problems in the world, amongst humans, is to do with not being tolerant of difference, and it’s happened ever since we arrived on the scene and I don’t think we are wise enough (as a human race) to ever get rid of it on a global scale.
If we did, it would be heaven (and we could have created heaven on this earth thousands of years ago, but because of our intolerances, for a lot of us we have created hell). And we have done that.
Animals in the wild, seem to be quite happy, and their fear is short-lived – neuroscience say fear in an animal might only last as long as 90 seconds. Take a rabbit for example, very peaceful animals, can experience joy (leaping in the air), in the next hour fear (loud noise), then back to relaxation 15 minutes later (flopped on it’s side resting). Dogs are similar with their emotions too, It appears to me, they experience their emotions intensely but can be shorter lived than us, as we can hold on to one fearful experience that can hurt us for a lifetime.
so I think, we have to see that animals are different from humans, and whereas animals chose to kill for survival, which is innately driven, we can make choices. And our choices, in reality, has made us the most dangerous species this planet will probably ever had to deal with, that along with the severe environmental damage that we course.
So maybe, in my view, I’ve felt this for a long time working in conservation, it will be better when we are all out of the picture. Dogs, might be worst off without us, but once we die out (and I hope we do at some point), just let nature do what nature does, as in general, when they aren’t on the hunt, they are a lot more peaceful than us.
Tobias, I enjoyed this immensely. There is a good balance between seeing what is natural, seeing what is natural but than can be improved, and seeing what it is that humans do for better or worse.
What particularly heartened me was the bit about frogs! Here, fighter roosters are the main breed – there is no way you can keep them in one pen or they kill, or at the very least, maim each other. In the days when my husband not so much bred them but let the hens breed, we would have determined hens and scavenging teenagers ravaging the land we are on. Many a time I could be seen running round and round in circles hurling shoes and sticks at a chicken that had a frog dangling from its mouth – and boy those frogs have siren cries!
Yes, I know that birds eat frogs etc, but for me, a chicken is a domesticated creature. If I hear the screams of a frog being eaten legs-first – as always seems to be the way – by a snake or lizard, I try and stop it. If I fail, well that is more in line with “as nature intended” than having a team of 20 chickens rugby tackling each other with a singular frog.
Now I know I am not alone!! 🙂