Conservationists are often lauded for their altruism, not limited to humans but extending to animals, who cannot otherwise look after themselves. We panic over statistics suggesting that 50,000 plant and animal species are being lost every year due to deforestation of the Amazon, and spend huge amounts of money in encouraging giant pandas to do whatever it is that giant pandas do to make slightly less giant pandas. While it is clearly sad that thousands of these bears are not getting it daily and nightly and ever so rightly, I have come to realise that the logic of conservationism is riddled with fallacies, hypocrisy, and tenuous self-justifications.
The problem seems to lie in the disproportionate value these people place on the continuation of a species as a concept, rather than the continuation of the lives of the constituent creatures of this species. Obviously the loss of a species can have knock on effects to those still living, such as a lack of a food supply and fewer small mammals to half kill and present as gifts, but assume for the remainder of this piece that I am focusing on those cases in which this is not an issue. Think, for example, of the practice of culling animals to maintain the population. The individuals being culled do not suffer any less for the knowledge that they are dying for the greater good, and those of whom the greater good consists do not live any happier a life knowing that there will be more of their kin in the future; this is, of course, because the vast majority of animals do not possess anything like the mental capacity to place baseless value on abstract ideas and self-sacrifice. In the case of elephants, who are culled in great numbers, the killing itself causes a great deal of distress (the matriarch is killed first, to create as much confusion as possible, then those left are picked off from helicopters) with no discernible benefit to anyone other than the human population at large, which enjoys watching their oversized ears and prehensile members far too much to let them go.
On a side note, while I appreciate the argument that preservation of vegetation allows those remaining to live for longer, they will still die decades before their otherwise natural lifespan has run of starvation, as their teeth are worn down and there is simply no physical way to swallow their food. The alternative to this is to keep them all in captivity, where they can live out their twilight years on soup through a straw, but very few people have advocated that.
My main issue with this form of conservationism is the hypocrisy it entails; I would mind far less if people were clear that their aim is to keep a decent number of the interesting animals, so that safari prices stay competitive. However, there are in other areas in which no amount of honesty could placate my great vengeance and furious anger; areas in which the definition of ‘conservation’ has been fucked beyond recognition, twisted round, and then fucked the other way just to make sure. I am thinking of situations in which the the life of an individual creature has ceased to have any value to the conservationist other than as a component of the revered population figure; most prominent among these is in the example of fish, but that will be covered more later one, so for the purposes of this paragraph the focus will be bugs. I am not ashamed to say that I do not like bugs; they are small, unattractive, and constantly seem threatening to enter one or several of my orifices and set up a nest. However, I find many things irksome and every so slightly distasteful, such as Nicki Minaj and the Conservative Party, but I imagine that if I were to treat either of these as an object of fascination and stick its corpse on a board I might be considered something of a maverick, possibly even a psychopath. Therefore I find the idea of asphyxiating a large wasp with cyanide over the course of three hours because it is “the largest we’ve ever seen” (that is a direct quote) somewhat abhorrent.
To come back to fish, as we all will at some point in our lives, I would like to consider the attitude which surrounds the global fishing trade with regard to the fate of the actual animals. Nowhere in the mainstream media have I seen this point raised, despite frequent mention of conservationists and their advice and warnings; the emphasis is always on the sustainability of the population, and its future ability to supply our supermarkets. While I appreciate that in this respect people are more forthcoming in their motives than ‘wildlife conservationists’, and their motives are decidedly more noble than some areas of entomology, there still seems to me to be a great hypocrisy in this way of thinking. Society’s assumption of the fish’s separation from the rest of the ‘animal kingdom’ is one of which even I, dear reader, was formerly in the thrall, but there is no reason to suspect that they – particularly the larger varieties which are caught in open water – are any less sentient than, say, a 28 week old foetus. But fish are not treated as animals, they are treated as crops, or a natural resource. I was struck by hearing an advocate of sustainable fishing – one who again, I stress, called himself a conservationist – call for the general public to reclaim “their seas”. This rhetoric, even coming from one supposedly leading the charge for moderation in the ‘harvest’, would seem entitled referring to the Amazon rainforest; and the trees cannot even feel themselves dying.
This is a topic which has occupied my thoughts in varying degrees of presence for coming up to seven months now, since I was fortunate enough to go to South Africa on a conservation trip (which was utterly fantastic, take nothing away from that); I would be genuinely interested to see any opposing views, particularly those which can be formed logically and with a relatively articulate use of punctuation, and am quite aware that I am liable to complete failures of logic on my own part, so be nice.