Friday, 31 July 2015

Cecil and Venard

It's quite strange being on a non-Dover-Calais cross-Channel ferry (I'm on Portsmouth- Caen) this time of year for me - I'm surrounded by people going on their holidays for a couple of weeks, in their summer clothes and with their happy demeanours (apart from those with young children, who look as stressed and as knackered as usual). I'm sitting here in my 'dressdown Friday' work clothes, reviewing operating models and organisational designs, the joy of which I'll be back to on Monday. It sounds like I'd rather be in their position, but I wouldn't - not only have had plenty of holiday time already this year, but I'm in the very fortunate position of not having a set number of days off work each year that I count down as I take them; I suspect the same isn't true for my fellow sailors.

Anyway, the fact my brain's engaged on work things isn't helping me resolve this week's self-created moral question, viz. animals, and our relationship with them.  The prompt for this of course is the storm of social media outrage - that became mainstream media outrage - over the killing of Cecil the Lion by Walter the Dentist. Now, I hate lynch mob mentality, and the aggressive opprobrium of Facebookdom and Twittersphere, so I almost felt sorry for our Walt. When I learned he'd paid a very large amount of dollars for the privilege of taking part in the hunt - much of which would be ploughed into maintaining the flora, fauna and more practically, the fences that allow Big Game to resist the encroachment of human dwellings and industries - I was even more conflicted; the argument was that Walt's dollars were aiding the conservation of the species he was hunting. Much the same argument as for estates and their shoots in the UK.

So my moral compass started swinging away from the bleeding hearts who cast Walt as an evil unspeakable. However, however...........there are two things countering all that. First, I just can't get my head round the urge, desire, thrill, whatever you want to call it, to hunt and kill animals that aren't threats or pests to human existence - and I include farming in that - and are as downright glamorous as Big Cec. Second, it has no direct bearing at all on the issue, but we lost our lovely French canine friend this week, Venard, after he ate some poison that had been irresponsibly been left somewhere local. Me and the missus have mentioned him elsewhere, so I won't say any more about him here, other than that I genuinely feel like I've lost a bloody good mate. Which, frankly, I have. And that's made me go a bit gooey about animals....

So I've been a bit conflicted. I was brought up in and around agriculture however, and have come back to that upbringing to help me sort this out in my head. I've got a fairly utilitarian attitude to animals generally - they're there to serve a purpose, even if that purpose is decoration and companionship. That said, a cornerstone of British agriculture for the vast majority of British farmers is good animal husbandry. Yes, they're working creatures that will have foreshortened lives, but you treat them properly. Part of that is pragmatic - look after the assets and they'll give you a good return, but having known a fair few farmers over my lifetime, whilst I suspect many wouldn't admit it, I'd say there was a moral side to their good practices too.

All that's quite helpful on reflection, so here are the rules; if you keep it for profit or if it's a companion, treat it well and with respect, but don't forget you're the boss; if it's wild, a nuisance and not endangered, hunting and killing humanely is ok; if it's wild, but doesn't do you or anybody else any harm, the economics are irrelevant - damn well leave it alone at the very least, and nurture it at best. There, no so hard after all was it?

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