Friday, September 08, 2006

The Carnival of the Animals

Germaine Greer is convinced that Steve Irwin had it coming. In the Guardian the famous Australian expatriate wrote of the more famous Crocodile Hunter:

What Irwin never seemed to understand was that animals need space. The one lesson any conservationist must labour to drive home is that habitat loss is the principal cause of species loss. There was no habitat, no matter how fragile or finely balanced, that Irwin hesitated to barge into, trumpeting his wonder and amazement to the skies. There was not an animal he was not prepared to manhandle. ...

In 2004, Irwin was accused of illegally encroaching on the space of penguins, seals and humpback whales in Antarctica, where he was filming a documentary called Ice Breaker. An investigation by the Australian Environmental Department resulted in no action being taken, which is not surprising seeing that John Howard, the prime minister, made sure that Irwin was one of the guests invited to a "gala barbecue" for George Bush a few months before. Howard is now Irwin's chief mourner, which is only fair, seeing that Irwin announced that Howard is the greatest leader the world has ever seen.

The animal world has finally taken its revenge on Irwin, but probably not before a whole generation of kids in shorts seven sizes too small has learned to shout in the ears of animals with hearing 10 times more acute than theirs, determined to become millionaire animal-loving zoo-owners in their turn.


Fifteen years ago a farmer facing eviction from his swidden farm on the slopes of Mount Apo National Park asked me about the relative value of eagles and children. His banishment from the Park was necessary to preserve the habitat of the Philippine Eagle, largest in the world and threatened with extinction. Yet so was the farmer. "I have five children and a shovel," he said, "if you take my farm how will I feed them? I would rather that all the eagles in the world should die if my children could live."

And the answers to his plea would be several. One would be that Philippine Eagles were rare and dirt farmers were not; that the world needed soaring eagles much more than his wretched family. Another would be that the World Wildlife Fund would continue to provide a handsome grant to the Department of Forestry to uphold the principle, which as Germaine Greer put it, "that animals need space" and that therefore he was out; but I was afraid he would seriously ask how someone like him could apply to be animal.

Greer never quite makes up her mind whether Irwin, already bestial for his admiration of John Howard, could like any other brute on earth exercise his natural right to take what he could and eat what he might. Perhaps he retained just enough despicable humanity to feel greed and whatever corrupted instincts are necessary to associate with George W. Bush. Nor does she make up her mind about the animals themselves, at one moment admiring them for majestically beating the waves and the next ascribing to them feelings of revenge toward Irwin. But wait: animals don't crave revenge: though perhaps intellectuals do.

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