The Passing Parade: Cheap Shots from a Drive By Mind

"...difficile est saturam non scribere. Nam quis iniquae tam patiens urbis, tam ferreus, ut teneat se..." " is hard not to write Satire. For who is so tolerant of the unjust City, so steeled, that he can restrain himself... Juvenal, The Satires (1.30-32)

Thursday, March 03, 2005

ENDANGERED SPECIES: The polar icecaps are melting, so I’m told, at a truly prodigious rate, which may not matter to you or me; I live at the top of a large hill and I think I can ride the melt out, and to be honest I wouldn’t mind having some beachfront property of my very own without actually having to buy it. But it matters to the polar bears and to those who spend their lives protecting polar bears, because the loss of the icecaps means that the bears now have some major league problems. Their endangerment is not official at this point; right now the people paid to worry about such stuff say that the condition of the polar bear is one of concern. This, I think, is a polite way of saying that the bears are on oxygen and waiting to get into the intensive care unit. It is only a matter of time before we get the bad news that all the polar bears are gone and that viewers of Animal Planet will have to watch grizzlies spray painted white by the producers hunt elephant seals in the Arctic.

I fear I can’t work up much sympathy for the polar bears. Most carnivores have what zoologists call a prey profile, which is just a fancy zoological way of saying a menu. Cheetahs, for example, love small gazelles, black footed ferrets won’t eat anything except prairie dogs, an honor the prairie dogs can probably live without, great white sharks like marine mammals, and loan sharks absolutely love compulsive gamblers. Human beings aren’t on too many of the animal kingdom’s prey profiles; we are too bony and there isn’t enough meat on most of us, with the exception of sumo wrestlers, and they can take care of themselves, for your average predator to waste the time, energy, and resources on catching us. Animals that go out of their way to eat humans are usually too old or in too bad a shape to hunt anything else, or else they mistake the person for an animal on their grocery list of comestibles, something that often happens to surfers, who remind sharks of seals. This is what happens when you are too proud to go get yourself a pair of glasses.

But with polar bears, humans are definitely on the menu. There isn’t enough to eat on your average ice floe for a polar bear to be picky about its dinner, and so if an old Eskimo wanders by on their way to the Happy Hunting Grounds the polar bear will go for the gusto and have some Inuit tartar; in the Arctic you never know where your next meal is coming from so you best take advantage of these opportunities when they present themselves. While this may make sense to the polar bear, it does mean it loses a certain something in the sympathy column. I am all for giving the natural world a break, but not when I am the main course. I know I wouldn’t eat a polar bear and I expect the same courtesy from them.


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