The Search for Intelligent Life

Two Aliens out in space were looking down on our planet. The first alien said, “It seems the dominant life-forms on Earth have developed satellite-based weapons.”

The second alien asked, “Are they an emerging intelligence?”

“I don’t think so,” the first responded. “They have the weapons aimed at themselves.”

– joke I read in Playboy


I recently attended a lecture given by David Quammen at Franklin and Marshall College. The lecture was on the importance of Grizzly Bears, wolves, and other predators in the wild. For many years in our National parks the rangers concentrated on trying to eliminate predatory species and keep only the “nice” tame animals. They only wanted the bears that acted more like Yogi Bear and Boo Boo. It turns out that circus bears who can ride bicycles are not what the park needs. Now, they realize that biosystems work best when predators such as grizzly bears and wolves are not driven away or killed. You shouldn’t take the WILD out of wilderness.

We, as a species, are very worried about predatory animals. On land there are lions, and tigers, and bears, and oh my how they scare us. In the ocean, predators such as sharks are widely feared by people, especially people who have seen the movie Jaws.  Alligators scare us both in and out of the water. All these animals are potential man-eaters, and we should take precautions not to come into close contact with them, but we go way beyond being careful, we try to exterminate them.

Okay, if a bear leapt into my backyard while I was grilling a steak, I would shoot it (if I had a gun). If an alligator was chasing my dog, I would shoot it (if I had a dog and a gun). If a shark was chomping on my surfboard, I would shoot it (if I had a spear gun and knew how to use it). We have every right to protect ourselves, especially on our property. The problem is that we are taking over almost the entire planet and making it all “our property.” Except for the penguins in Antarctica, where we don’t want to live, we’re not leaving any room for the wild animals of the planet to have a space where they can do their own thing and mind their own business. They would leave us alone and not eat us, if only we would just leave them alone, but we don’t.

We justify killing predators, with the argument that it’s a matter of kill or be killed, but we go overboard. There are several dozen shark-attacks every year, but mostly it is a case of mistaken identity. When we paddle around in the water, we look like tasty fish treats to them. One bite, and they often spit us out like a child would a vegetable. Unfortunately for us, one shark-bite can do a lot of damage and even be fatal, but, still, worldwide, fewer than a dozen people actually die from shark attacks in any given year. Meanwhile, we retaliate by killing about 7 million sharks a year. That seems like overkill to me. Shark fins are used in soup, so I can see fishing for them as a food source. That’s natural. But the fishermen catch the shark, cut off the fins and dump the rest of the shark back into the ocean to die. Killing sharks just for their fins is just plain cruel.

We’re at the top of the food chain, and, as such, we can feed on whatever we want. Years ago, I went to a restaurant in Manhattan that served blackened alligator. I gleefully ate it, even though no alligator has ever threatened me. Heck, I’ve eaten plenty of cows, pigs, and chickens, and they certainly don’t even pose the slightest threat to me. I figured that eating a predatory alligator was kind of a public service (and it provided a short breather for cows, pigs, and chickens). Actually, the alligator did taste like chicken though.

The point I’m trying to make is that killing for food is natural. Killing purely for the fun or luxury of it, is unnatural. Plus, maybe we should have a tiny bit more consideration for big predator animals, especially since we humans are the biggest predators on the planet. Call it “professional courtesy.”

The irony is that as much as we fear death by some big predatory animals, it’s really the tiny bugs that kill the greatest numbers of us. Millions of people in poverty-stricken areas get sick and die from bugs in the unhealthy water they drink. Tiny mosquitos infect great numbers of people with deadly malaria. Some tiny virus is currently killing a lot of Chinese people. We’ve got our weapons trained on species that look scary, instead of the really scary things. The only big predatory animal we really need to fear is ourselves. People kill more people than lions and tigers and bears and sharks combined. People kill thousands of people every year, and, unlike lions, tigers, bears, and sharks, it’s not because they are hungry. It’s because they are cruel.

Many hunters explain that even non-threatening animals need to be kept in check. Overpopulation of deer in an area can lead to fatal car accidents when they wander on the road. So, instead of giving the deer more land to roam, we thin the herd. Maybe things like the Coronavirus are just nature’s way of thinning the herd of the most dangerous beasts on the planet, us.

Peace & Love, and all of the above,