As a zoologist, I really enjoyed this book, it’s one of my favorites from the semester, and I’m glad it’s the one I chose to present about.
To start, the very beginning of this book was eye opening when Urbanik made me pause and think about everything that I see and interact with one a day to day basis that has to do with animals. Almost everything does, from the leather boots that I wear to the food that I eat to where the coltan in my phone came from (the mountains of Africa – coltan-mining endangers gorillas).
I wonder just how different my relationships with animals would be if I lived in another part of the world. Instead of loving dogs and considering my lab to be one of my best friends, I could have eaten him without a second thought. Instead of viewing horses as majestic animals that I have the privilege of riding for fun, I could view them as a means of work or transportation and nothing else. I would say I’m glad that I live in a part of the world that views animals the way it does, but like the book says, I refuse to eat dogs yet I eat pigs, even though both are highly intelligent animals capable of forming bonds with humans.
The point brought up that animals used in biomedical research are seen as human enough to be experimented on but different enough from humans to be excluded from experiments deemed unethical to practice on humans was kind of eye-opening. I think that animal experimentation is sad, but my neuroscience professor made a good point in that it is necessary to model human systems as closely as possible without putting humans at risk of their health or lives.
I don’t have much to say about Chapter 2 (the history of animal geography), except that I have always found animal-related history to be fascinating. It’s so cool to hear about ancient religious with animal-like gods and how species came to be domesticated. It makes me think about something I learned in my Roman Empire class, which is that the ancient emperor Caligula once tried to make his horse (whom he adored and treated like royalty) a consul of Rome (basically governor). Same, Caligula, same.
In Chapter 3, I like that Urbanik brought up the culture of pet-keeping in today’s society, mostly in first world countries and particularly in America. She cites Nast who argues that pets are replacing human children. I don’t necessarily think that pets will someday outnumber children, but I definitely think pets are starting to pose some competition. I think a lot of it has to do with the internet and social media, spreading cute cat videos and professional dog photography instagrams, as well as giving people access to information about different types of pets and breeds they hadn’t previously known about. Clearly, pets are becoming more popular and more important to us since we spend billions of dollars on them annually and the amount we spend increases every year. It makes me think of the bozos who spend hundreds or thousands of dollars for their dogs to go to doggy hotels and spas and be pampered.
Chapter 4 posed the discussion question “Why aren’t there animal research toys for children like there are farm toys, circus toys, rodeo toys, and so on?” but I think this is starting to change. I recently came across “entomologist Barbie” on the internet and I have seen toys about shark research and wildlife rescue, etc. A lot of these are made by Animal Planet, Nat Geo, etc. I always played with plastic animals as a kid, so I’m glad the market is expanding for today’s kids.
Chapter 5, Down on the Farm, was very reminiscent of Foer’s Eating Animals. Made me question my eating habits again. Can you be an environmentalist and eat food raised in CAFOs? Oof, tough question. I don’t want to think about it (but these are things we SHOULD think about).
Chapter 6 I could say a lot about, but I’ll try and keep it brief. There are good human-wildlife interactions and there are bad human-wildlife interactions. For example, the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone was a good one. Posing for pictures next to bison in Yellowstone is a bad one. Anyways, I’m not exactly sure what I wanna do when I graduate, but human-wildlife relationships are really interesting to me. It would be really interesting to study some of these relationships and help try to solve negative interactions. An example of this is providing Anatolian shepherd dogs to African farmers to protect their livestock from cheetah attacks, which in turns help protect the cheetahs from being killed by the farmers.
I’ll also talk about zoos really quick. I think that AZA accredited zoos are wonderful. They treat their animals well and try to mimic the animals’ natural diets and habitats as best as possible, while also supporting thousands of wildlife conservation projects and educating the public about the importance of animals and their roles in the environment. I don’t think zoos should have ever been a thing to begin with, but since their invention, they have evolved to become a mostly good thing. I can’t say the same for non-accredited zoos, most of which are “roadside zoos”.
I also want to mention keeping non-domestic animals/wildlife as pets. It isn’t a practice I agree with because it is irresponsible. Danger could easily come to the owners, and living in a house or small enclosure is unfair to animals that require and deserve certain environments to thrive. I recommend watching the documentary “The Elephant in the Living Room” to learn more about just how prevalent the issue of keeping wildlife as pets really is in this country, and how devastating it can be for both the animals and the owners.