This question ultimately led me to enter graduate school (even though I am one year through and my thesis is on sustainable off-roading…that’s another story). But it was spurred by volunteering at a local wildlife sanctuary in Scottsdale, Arizona.
This sanctuary focused mainly on avian species. There were crows, various species of hawks, giant golden eagles, pigeons, cranes, barn owls, and the occasional pelican stranded from being blown across California during the summer monsoons. These birds mostly ate small rodents. I was responsible for preparing the food for baby chicks and others. This involved skinning thawed baby mice, then cutting their tails, limbs, and heads off with scissors. After that, I placed the creamy colored blobs of organs into a blender resulting in a chunky mess of blood.
While volunteering at this bird shelter, I became fully aware of my surroundings and those of the birds. It was during May, in the Phoenix metropolis, and it was hot. Most of these birds needed to be by a water source to stay cool and hydrated, especially the pelicans and cranes. Most birds like the golden eagles stay up north in the cooler pine trees of Arizona. There were no large water sources at the sanctuary, save the small black tubs of boiling water in their cages.
What I also noticed was the state of the sanctuary. It was small, but filled to the brim with supplies, volunteers, staff, a medical clinic, and large cages for the birds. As I was sweeping the floors one day, I noticed that most areas behind the scenes don’t get attention, neither do the important areas like the clinic. Some cages were collected in one corner, also collecting dead rodents, insects like scorpions, spider webs, and leaves. In the room that housed the live mice, droppings, litter, and dead rodents covered the floor. I was surprised, but also broken hearted. These animals were not only stuck in cages every day, but they had no control over their surroundings or the state of those surroundings.
The cages. Oh how I hated the cages. I knew that the shelter had good intentions, but the sight of seeing a large golden eagle with the wing span of six feet crammed into a fenced up cage with nothing but a tree limb for a perch made me want to release it. Or at least its spirit. Most of the birds in the sanctuary were called in by good samiritans. Most had either been hit by a car, caught in fences or phone lines, or attacked by domestic dogs.
I watched the birds in these cages from time to time. I watched them walk back and forth, side to side. Some just sat there. Some just stared at me blankly. And the black crows just cawed. Even these “trash birds” wanted out. I began to wonder…when does being humane become inhumane? Were these birds really being helped, or would they be better off fending for themselves in the wild with their injuries? Would they still feel free in the wild with their wounds? Are the good acts by the sanctuary just trying to ease mankind’s guilt? Are we selfish in this way?
I eventually stopped volunteering at the sanctuary. It was hard to see the birds in their cages. Sometimes I regret the decision, thinking that I was providing a well-deserved service to animals that had been wounded by man. But, I believe there are people out there who do care and will take my place. One day I may return. But I would rather see an eagle flying free in the sky than one sunken down in a metal cage.
We can never know what a non-human is thinking or feeling. We can only make educated guesses. But that’s the point of being a human and living on a planet with non-humans. If we could communicate with them, I would fear even more encroachment, torture, misunderstanding, and control over the non-humans. If we can communicate with them, they would then be associated with us, and may lead us to trap them in a world they don’t want to be in. Non-humans like animals are different. And that’s the only thing that’s saving them right now.
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