Our cohabitation with animals on this planet is imperiled. There is no choice but to keep track of these things as best we can with art, with essays, with whatever it takes. Thanks to Rachel Riederer (again) for adding her words and links to images and videos on this topic:
During a year that saw the stripping away of environmental protections, the most resonant stories served as sombre warnings rather than warm-fuzzy generators.
I can’t count the number of animal stories that appeared in my timelines this year with comments like, “Everything is garbage, so here’s this.” There was the cat who was reunited with her family after the Camp Fire, in California, and the parrot who was adopted after getting kicked out of an animal shelter for swearing too saltily. Among the bears preparing for hibernation at Katmai National Park, a female named Beadnose became famous for being the most gloriously round. There was the baby raccoon who scaled a skyscraper in St. Paul, “Mission Impossible” style, stopping occasionally for naps in window ledges along the way. (It was trapped, released, and promptly made the subject of a children’s book.) Stories from the animal world offer reliable moments of escapism—the ones we see in viral videos are usually cute, or tame, or strange and majestic, and glimpsed from a safe distance. But the animal stories that resonated most with me this year were the ones that hinted at a more ominous trend: that we humans are encroaching on nature in ways both glaring and subtle, putting the human and animal worlds into ever more intimate, and ever more fraught, contact.
The most influential animal of the year might be the unfortunate sea turtle who got a straw stuck—really, deeply, seriously stuck—up his nose. In an uncomfortable ten-minute video posted to YouTube, a marine biologist slowly extracts the straw, which is brown and crumpled and disgusting. The turtle’s nose bleeds, and throughout the ordeal, it opens its mouth as if to bite the biologist’s hand—or howl in pain. The video, filmed in 2015, in Costa Rica, became part of this year’s debate over plastic straws and was used by proponents of straw bans to show how such a small object, used and disposed of without a thought, can cause substantial suffering down the line.
A baby bear became an overnight Internet star when it was captured in a video that looked, at first, like a sweet inspirational tale. In aerial drone footage, the cub was shown repeatedly slipping down the side of a snowy ledge and trying mightily to make its way to the top, where its mother waited. Ultimately, the cub prevailed, and the video was embraced on social media as a tribute to the power of perseverance. But then drone operators and ecologists began weighing in: the drone that took the video had likely alarmed the bears; you can see the mother bear swatting the air as the drone flies closer. The machine’s operator, in chasing the bears for footage, had potentially driven them into a dangerous situation. Suddenly, the viral cub was transformed from a feel-good fable into a cautionary tale about how humans can imperil animals just by trying to get a good look at them.
The most devastating news from the animal kingdom came from Puget Sound, where a wild orca named Tahlequah carried the body of her dead calf for a total of seventeen days. Orcas, famously intelligent, have a long history of being captured, trained, and anthropomorphized. Their social groups are highly sophisticated, with older females living for decades, sometimes to the age of a hundred, training and leading multiple generations within their pods. The calf was born emaciated, without the blubber that orcas need to survive in cold waters—an emblem of the plight of the critically endangered Puget Sound orcas, who are threatened by a drop in the availability of the Chinook salmon that are their main food source. Orcas and their relatives have been known to carry the bodies of their dead, but such a long “grief tour” had never before been observed.
During a year that saw the stripping away of environmental protections, one legal victory for wilderness stands out. This fall, the first grizzly-bear hunt in the more than forty years was scheduled in the area around Yellowstone National Park. The local bears had been listed as endangered in the seventies, when there were around a hundred and twenty-five individuals living in and around the park. There are now around seven hundred. After the bears lost their protected status, in 2017, the states of Idaho and Wyoming scheduled trophy hunts for the fall of the 2018. But, as a result of a lawsuit brought by the Crow Indian tribe and a group of environmental organizations, the hunt was cancelled. The judge ruled that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had used analysis that was “arbitrary and capricious” when it revoked the grizzlies’ status, and that the population needed to be left to continue to recover…
Read the whole essay here.