By TERJE LANGELAND
Colorado Daily Staff Writer
If Marc Bekoff was driving a car and had to hit and instantly kill either the last wolf on Earth or his companion dog,
Jethro, which animal would he choose to kill?
You might think that Bekoff, a UC-Boulder biologist specializing in animal behavior, would want to save the wolf from extinction. But the answer, he says, is that he would save
"Jethro really trusts me," Bekoff says.
"Jethro is my friend, and it would be betraying him if I killed him."
His decision might not be based on cold science or reason. Indeed, its a personal, moral choice perhaps even a purely emotional one. But the point, he says, is that ultimately, "were all going to have to make decisions about preferences" when dealing with animals, which have no say in how we treat them. While the
wolf-vs..-Jethro scenario may be far-fetched, it highlights real choices that face us every day:
If trapping animals in one place to reintroduce them in another place means that half of the released animals die, is it worthwhile?
If studying a drug to save human lives requires killing 10,000 laboratory animals, is that justifiable? What if 100,000 animals are killed? Does it make a difference whether the animals are rats or chimpanzees? What if we don't know for certain that the research will tell us anything worth knowing?
Those are just a few of the myriad questions Bekoff asks in his new book, "Strolling With Our Kin Speaking for and Respecting Voiceless Animals." Bekoff says he decided to write the book to try to answer some of the many questions he is frequently asked while lecturing in schools and appearing on radio and television.
"I was getting bombarded with questions from people, such as,
What's the difference between animal rights and animal welfare?" Bekoff says. "People would ask me, what do you think about zoos? ... There are these enormously complex social and moral questions that need to be addressed."
While Bekoff has published about a dozen books, "Strolling" is different from the others. Written in a casual, conversational tone using plain English, the 65-page paperback is meant for anyone from children to interested adults.
"I didnt want to write a 3-inch tome that a kid would look at and barf," Bekoff explains.
Why target children? Jane Goodall, the world-famous chimpanzee expert and a friend of
Bekoffs, speaks to the point in her foreword to his book. "There always was abuse of animals, but we are more aware of it today thanks to the animals," Goodall writes. "The horror of factory farming is new. The extraordinary explosions of human populations worldwide has cause an ever-increasing hostility between man and beast as they compete for dwindling resources and the natural world is losing out. The grim inner-city areas and the poverty that exists even in the most affluent countries increasingly alienates children from nature.
"There is a new need for information that will encourage young people to understand the natural world and their relationship to it. A new need to teach children in school about the way their societies treat animals. And a new need to provide our youth with opportunities that foster respect for all life and an empathy with the animal beings with whom we, human beings, share the planet."
The issues raised in Bekoffs book range from the more heated ethical debates over meat-eating and laboratory research on animals, to questions as to whether humans should "redecorate" nature by reintroducing species, or whether its advisable to intervene when wild animals are threatened by disease or disaster. Bekoff even raises questions about his own research methods observing animal behavior in the wild asking whether such research might sometimes be too intrusive.
Bekoff doesn't pretend to have all the answers, but
that's not the point, he says. While some scientists claim that science can or should be "neutral," Bekoff says that ultimately, most of these types of decisions are based on values, which vary among individuals.
"Its not a matter of right or wrong," he says about the books message. "Its a matter of making sure decisions on those issues are informed." Still, while he encourages readers to make up their own minds, Bekoff clearly makes a case for strengthened animal protections. Citing volumes of research, statistics and anecdotes, he seeks to shatter accepted truths about humans superiority over animals and the usefulness of animal research.
"I would be a fool if I didn't admit I have an agenda," Bekoff said. The book is published by the American Anti-Vivisection Society, which will receive most of the proceeds.
Through all the philosophical and scientific discourse, Bekoff also reveals a sense of wonder and a love for animals which may be the key to appealing to young readers.
"Marc Bekoff is the wisest scientist I know," writes author Jeffrey Moussaieff
Masson, in reviewing the book. "For he is the only expert who truly loves animals in the way that children are able to love animals, with all his heart."
"Strolling With Our Kin," from Lantern Books.