I met Akela the white wolf at the San Diego Zoo in July. Lonely and pensive in her cage, she became playful when her trainer, a young woman, arrived and hugged her.
If this were happening on a street everyone would say, “Look at the big white dog.” How thin the line between wild and domesticated. I spent more time with the wolf than with any other animal at the zoo. She was not exotic or extravagant looking. What made the white wolf so exceptional is that she wasn’t exceptional. It was a dog that was not a dog. A mystery of the wild.
When her trainer left, the white wolf seemed sad again and stared at the gate through which the trainer had left.
Back from my San Diego Zoo experience I read in The New York Times on July 24: “Agencies Plan to Reduce Canada Geese Population in New York State by Two-Thirds.” That means the mass killing of 165,000 Canada geese. In 17 Atlantic states a total of 550,000 Canada geese would be killed. In New York City 1,235 geese were gassed to death.
John James Audubon wrote, “I knew a male who returned three years in succession to a large pond a few miles from the Green River in Kentucky, and whenever I visited the nest it seemed to look upon me with utter contempt. It would open its wings and launch into the air, flying directly at me … I observed that immediately after such an effort to defend his nest and mate, he would run swiftly toward them, pass his head and neck several times over and around the female … Should danger be imminent, the brave gander urges his mate to fly off, and resolutely remains near the nest till he is assured of her safety.”
But I hear the voices of “Let’s kill them.” The chorus gets louder. It becomes popular to blame the Canada goose for all sorts of ill effects as if we were ourselves without blame. Remember Rachel Carson and her “Silent Spring”?
There was then and still is a lot for which we are directly responsible. The chemicals, the pesticides that warn us to “avoid contamination of food, avoid contact with skin, avoid inhalation of spray mist … ”
What chemicals have we fed to some of our lawns to make them “perfect”? Before we go out and destroy yet more wildlife, let’s reflect on what we can do to change our own wasteful ways.
Killing wildlife is never the creative solution. Ganging up on one group resonates with the memory of past mistakes. The buffalo and the wolf barely survived our attacks. I know some Canada geese will probably have to be eliminated to reduce the risks around airports. Let’s make that a well-targeted exception, not a large-scale massacre of these magnificent birds. The flight of Canada geese is a visitation of the wild into our domesticated world. It is a show of great beauty and discipline.
Last week I didn’t see any flock of geese in Orient and I feared this was the result of some extermination. A chill went down my back. Was it happening already?
It’s been said, “Let’s get rid of the deer. They eat my vegetables and my flowers.” The fact is we’ve taken the land, overdeveloped it and left little room for the wildlife. There is magic in the appearance of a doe and its offspring, quietly observing us at a distance.
There may be a price to pay for the presence of wildlife near to us. But that presence, in the fields or in the skies, must be preserved. It’s the “reverence for life” that Albert Schweitzer, medical missionary, theologian and musician, advocated with passion. We should find ways to protect our gardens. But if it’s a matter of killing a deer for the sake of a carrot, I say no, no. At night let’s drive more slowly to prevent the encounter of wildlife and car.
The rallying cry should be for a creative cohabitation with this ever-diminishing wilderness around us. A country of perfect lawns, manicured golf courses and a vanished wildlife is not for me. I trust the human spirit can sing a better song than “Let’s kill them.”
Pierre Gazarian is a Suffolk Times columnist who lives in New York and Orient.