Colorado Daily, July 7, 2000
Local scientist challenges our view of animals
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 CU-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. "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, "We're 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's 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 didn't 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, will go on
sale in bookstores and on the Web later this month. It is listed at
$9.95 and can be pre-ordered at Amazon.com.
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