From ‘Man’s Best Friend’ to our affinity for meerkats, it is interesting to observe the human species interacting with other animals. Some we feed, some we feed off, others we are afraid of being eaten by.
Recently, an aviary was installed at my school, which as an aficionado of birds is simultaneously exciting and repulsive; I love watching the creatures but it pains me that they are not free to fly.
The small budgerigars and ground-dwelling quails do not appear to mind; however, the pair of female Eastern Rosellas constantly look to the sky and, seemingly frustrated, attempt to destroy the wall and their perches to give themselves something to occupy their time with between masticating seed. These birds may have arisen from pet shop stock but their natural instincts are very much intact.
As the coup is partially open to above with chicken netting, the Rosellas poke their beaks through and hang off the wire. Several times per day, a wild male of the same species can be observed perched on the other side of this barrier to the outside world and regurgitating food to the two captive females, a heartwarming yet heartbreaking sight to behold.
Many students have taken an interest in the birds, some even observing and making comment on their behaviours and plumage, the spectacularly ostentatious colours of some and the art of distinguishing between male and female quails.
Outside the enclosure, there is an abundance of birds in their natural states. Native Magpies, Crows, a pair of nesting Masked Lapwings and Rosellas and introduced species such as Blackbirds and Common Mynas abound the campus, yet little interest is taken in them. The only exception is the hatred by some of the swooping ‘Plovers’, or Masked Lapwings as they are officially known, as they rightfully protect their clutch from predators.
As a lover of the avian kind, it has saddened me that other students do not appreciate the external life but are interested in those that are caged for human pleasure.
Why is it that, as humans, we only take an interest in nature if it is caged up specifically for our pleasure, or euthanised, stuffed and exhibited on the wall?
This is far from a new phenomenon. An example that springs to mind is the quests by English explorers centuries ago to kill and transport back home exotic specimens for taxidermy and display. Of course, much of this was for genuine scientific purposes, to catalogue the fauna of the ‘New World’; however, despite this, a large proportion was destined to hang on the walls of wealthy family homes rather than in a museum for study.
Most zoos nowadays base their work around public awareness and the preservation of endangered animals but it is relatively not long ago that as a child my Nan rode Queenie the elephant around Melbourne Zoo. After 40 years of this, the animal fatally trampled her keeper after a lifetime of torment and beating to train her into a particular behaviour.
Furthermore, questionable handling techniques are still being employed even today. Only last year, a handler was near-fatally attacked at Australia Zoo by a tiger, after he deliberately ‘excited’ the animal by changing his appearance to encourage the beast to ‘play rougher than usual’, as was disclosed in the Workplace Health and Safety report. This was designed to produce a more entertaining show for the audience.
It makes me wonder what fuels our interest in other species; is it a love for and appreciation of the animals in their own right, or a disillusioned human quest to exert dominance?
Whatever the answer, the reality is that our relationship with animals has been as fraught with exploitation as much as mutual benefit.