BOOKS: Animal Passions & Beastly Virtues

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, June 2006:

Animal Passions & Beastly Virtues:
Reflections in Redecorating Nature
by Marc Bekoff
Temple University Press (1601 North Broad Street,
Philadelphia, PA 19122), 2005. 290 pages, paperback. $26.95.

Marc Bekoff, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology
at the University of Colorado, is among the best known scientists
and scholars in animal welfare.
Animal Passions & Beastly Virtues, his latest of many books,
covers topics ranging from the behavioral ecology of carnivores to
the moral issues surrounding the use of animals in science.
We especially enjoyed Bekoff’s essays on coyotes, since our
own wildlife rehabilitation work during the years we ran the
Kalahari Raptor Centre involved black-backed jackals, the comparably
persecuted African and Asian coyote counterpart.

We found everything Bekoff observed in coyote behaviour to be
relevant to our own jackals. Like Bekoff, whose pioneering field
studies helped to turn American attitudes toward coyotes from fear
and hatred to appreciation, we found jackals to be among the most
lovable of wildlife species, remarkable for their intelligence,
affectionate nature, and propensity for having fun.
As for “problem animal control,” a euphemism for inflicting
ghastly cruelty on animals to protect bad livestock farmers from
paying for their own ignorance and callousness, Bekoff is in our
view quite wrong to state on page 95 that “Failure of predation
control is due to a lack of basic knowledge about predatory species,
a problem that can be remedied by further studies…”
In our own experience, as livestock farmers and wildlife
rehabbers, predators are simply a test of management skills. We
solved our predation problems not with traps, guns and poisons, like
other farmers, but by changing the breed of our flock toward
indi-genous, agile animals, corralling the flock every night, and
keeping lambs in safe camps until old enough to survive out in the
In our view there is really no such thing as a problem
animal, only problem farmers. The remedy for that is to uplift the
ethical and intellectual capacity of farmers. In short, change the
farmer, not the wildlife.
Other Bekoff essays deal with ethology, animal emotions,
social play and communication, and human-animal interactions,
particularly the adverse impact of human study upon animal subjects.
If we have a criticism, it is that the author tends to
repeat himself. Certain themes, such as the need to wage peace with
nature, can legitimately be stressed, but excessive repetition
leads to tedium.
–Chris Mercer & Bev Pervan
South Africa

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