Tuesday, July 17, 2007

On coyotes and sea bass

(photo from Wikipedia)

As you may have already read, two coyotes living in Golden Gate Park were shot and killed this weekend after they reportedly attacked one dog and were seen stalking another one (see the Chronicle story here).

There has been a lot of heated comments posted on the local newspaper's website, both in favor of the shooting and against it. Some are arguing that we live in a city and wild carnivores like coyotes are are danger to pets and children. Others are arguing that coyotes were here before any of us and that we should learn to live with them (or at least move them somewhere else instead of shooting them).
This whole thing makes my heart feel heavy. I love that there are wild things in this city. Something inside me feels a particular thrill at knowing that there are large animals, living their large, wild animal lives in among our cafes and buses and built, managed stuff. Today, it's the negotiation of that boundary between wildness and cityness that I'm interested in. A few people posted comments admitting that they have purposefully fed coyotes living in San Francisco. Mostly I was aghast that anyone would feed coyotes (first, dog food is not coyote food. Second, feeding wild animals makes them less fearful of people, making it more likely that they will meet the end of the two GGP coyotes) but part of me can understand. There is something about wild animals, perhaps especially for us city folk, that is almost spellbinding. I think that urge to get close and have a relationship with animals is deep and unfortunately, sometimes misplaced. Have you seen Grizzly Man? Maybe that's an extreme example of someone "making friends" with wild animals, but I don't think the underlying feeling is uncommon at all. I feel it. I say good morning to the birds outside my house every morning when I fill their feeder and goodnight to my fish before I go to bed.

What is it about animals that makes us want to get close to them and what is our responsibility when we do? The museum where I work has an aquarium that I like to walk around in to give my eyes a break from my computer screen. Today, as I walked around the few late-afternoon visitors I took special care to notice what they were saying to the animals on display. Most people, even the adults, said hello when they walked up to a tank. Some people spent many minutes locked in some serious eye-contact with the fish. Do those fish know or care that we're there? I kind of doubt it. Do I love going downstairs and spending time with the sea bass? You bet I do.

Are we seeking out those relationships because these animals need us, or because we need them? I readily admit that I am sustained daily by the non-human creatures in my life. I also feel deeply responsible for them and realize that responsibility manifests itself in different ways. For my fish, it means that I feed them everyday. For my plants it means water. For the coyotes of San Francisco it means that I leave them alone, content with the knowledge that they are out there living their wild animal lives so close to mine.

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