BOOKS: Strolling With Our Kin

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, November 2001:

Strolling With Our Kin:
Speaking for and Respecting Voiceless Animals
by Marc Bekoff
American Anti-Vivisection Society, distributed
by Lantern Books (1 Union Square W., #201, New
York, NY 10003), 2000.) 113 pages,
paperback. $9.95.
As a primer on ethical issues involving
animals, evidently aimed at university students,
Strolling With Our Kin has the virtues of being
brief yet broad-ranging enough to address most of
the major issues, inexpensive, easily read,
and attentive to multiple perspectives.
Entering a rather crowded competition
among similar primers about a year ago, Strolling
With Our Kin may or may not be emerging as a
favorite in classroom use, but it is the only
such text that is also commonly sold in
nonacademic bookstores. In short, it appears to
represent a triumph for the American
Anti-Vivisection Society, which underwrote the
publication, and for ethologist and teacher Marc
Bekoff.


Bekoff has done much excellent field
research involving animals, has thought a lot
about research methods, and the sections growing
out of his direct experience are provocative and
factually sound. Unfortunately, informed
readers will recognize other topics that Bekoff
knows less well, and arguments that he has not
considered in anything like the careful depth
that he applies to his discussion of the ethics

of reintroducing wolves to Yellowstone National
Park–including his attempt to expand that
discussion to consider other wildlife-related
controversies.
For example, Bekoff writes, “Jane
Goodall has repeatedly told audiences that in
order to protect great apes, more habitat is
needed. The same can be said for other animals
such as wolves. The main reason there is so
little suitable habitat is because there are too
many people.”
Most readers who care about animals and
the environment may agree with Goodall and
Bekoff, and certainly human overpopulation is a
pressing issue with ramifications for wildlife.
However, the population-driven deforestation of
orangutan habitat in Indonesia and Malaysia has
only the outcome of logging in common with the
war-driven habitat destruction underway in the
gorilla, chimpanzee, and bonobo habitat of the
Congo and Rwanda. The human populations of the
Congo and Rwanda today are less than they were a
decade ago, due to warfare, massacres, AIDS,
and localized famine, and the major
encroachments on nominally “protected” wildlife
habitat have been by refugees.
Meanwhile, there is no shortage of
suitable wolf habitat in the U.S. west and
Alaska. Rather, there is adamant opposition to
wolf reintroduction from the dwindling population
of open-range cattle and sheep ranchers, which
has been politically overcome–to the extent
necessary to permit reintroductions of the timber
wolf and the Mexican grey wolf–by the influx
into their potential range of millions of
nature-loving yuppies and eco-tourists.
In short, there is no consistent
relationship between human population growth and
abundance of wildlife; if there were, India

would not have both the second-largest human
population of any nation and the overwhelming
majority of all the wild tigers, leopards,
jackals, and many other species left in the
world.
The human population vs. wildlife habitat
issue is just one of four serious distortions of
fact or logic within nine pages during an
extended discussion of keeping wildlife in
captivity.
Two pages earlier, Bekoff asserted that,
“Zoos actually do little to increase
biodiversity…In a period of 10 years, the San
Diego Zoo reported that it spent $55 million on
public relations, but only $17.6 million on
wildlife conservation studies.”
The comparison could not be farther out
of context. Public relations, for a zoo, means
advertising and promotion. Regardless of the
type of business and whether it is for profit or
nonprofit, advertising and promotion are
essential investments to generate revenue,
usually amounting to between 25% and 33% of the
total annual operating budget.
Wildlife population studies are not part
of the revenue-generating activity of a zoo.
They come out of the profits–and few businesses
of any kind could turn sufficient profit from an
advertising and promotion budget of any size to
be able to invest almost a third as much in an
activity producing no income at all.
A few pages later, Bekoff writes, “If
captivity is so wonderful, and if confined
animals are so lucky to get free meals, health
insurance, and protection from nature’s perils,
why not incarcerate people? See how many people
would volunteer.”
In fact, that experiment occurs every
day, as millions of humans opt for
semi-confinement in urban apartments, working at
jobs which never take them beyond particular
offices or factories, precisely because that
lifestyle is secure and comfortable. Bekoff
would not want it, and neither would I, but we
are mavericks among our species.
Fair consideration of the many
problematic aspects of captivity includes
considering that many animals might make exactly
the same choices as most humans: they might not
want to spend their lives in a prison cell like
those of the old-fashioned
concrete-and-steel-barred zoos, but they might
be perfectly happy at a facility like the Tacoma
Port Defiance Zoo or Northwest Trek.
In total, I counted nine serious errors
of fact or logic in Bekoff’s 14 chapters, four
of which involved misattribution of data and/or
use of obsolete data taken from second-hand
sources. Elementary fact-checking should have
caught those.
Most egregiously, Bekoff should have
known that cows are not “milked during seven of
the nine months of their pregnancy.” Rather,
cows must give birth and “freshen” before they
give milk. This howler alone will preclude
effective use of Strolling With Our Kin in
agricultural ethics classes filled with skeptical
young men and women who have grown up on farms.
They will not take Bekoff seriously, and his
message, meant for them especially, will
unfortunately be lost.

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