We all know that Janina loves animals. Time and time again, Janina demonstrates her undying commitment to the animals around her in her staunch opposition to any form of hunting. The central principle of Janina’s beliefs is that “animals’ ‘ and “people” should just be considered as equals. She claims that her motivations are primarily driven by this fact. This is where I think the issues begin, because here, Janina is grossly oversimplifying nature and the science that goes with it. Essentially trying to equate animals with humans, while perhaps coming from a morally good standpoint, is often ignorant of the biology of said animals, especially their ecological and evolutionary functions. This is my breakdown of Janina’s absolutist viewpoints, and an expansion on how “animals” and “people” ought to be treated, especially around the discussion of hunting, which ultimately drives much of Janina’s actions in the story.
First off, I feel like it should be defined what an “animal” is. An animal is any member of the kingdom animalia which consists of 1-2 MILLION species. The animal kingdom is broken down into 31-35 phylums (the taxonomical categorization below kingdom), one of which is the chordates, better known as vertebrates. The vertebrates are what comes to many peoples’ minds (like Janina’s) when they think of animals. They include the fish, reptiles (which include birds), amphibians, and mammals, among others, including us, of course. These life forms, while very diverse, only actually make up about 5% of all animal species. The rest is made up of other phylums like arthropods (insects, arachnids, crustaceans), Cnidarians (corals, jellyfish), Mollusks (snails, squid), and many more. The point of these technicalities is to point out that the animal kingdom is very diverse. Vertebrates evolved over 500 million years ago, and so our last common ancestor with 90% of the animal kingdom was alive over half a billion years ago. This is significant because it signifies just how different many animals are from one another. If we want to think about “animals”, we should first recognize just how much of a blanket statement “animals” is. Every species, forget individuals within a species, is uniquely tuned to a different natural environment and evolutionary path which has shaped their individual characteristics. For example, the cnidarians, which include jellyfish and corals, or the poriferans, which are the sponges, are so distantly related to us that they do not have a central nervous system (brain), and as far as modern science can tell us, cannot feel pain. Something we need to understand is that critical thinking, consciousness, pain, sadness, etc. are not universal things. These things are only the results of our evolution, which has favored such traits. They are not necessary to reproduce, and so they do not necessarily exist in all or even most life forms. Trying to imagine or characterize what an “animal” feels or wants is so incredibly beyond our abilities due to evolution. Evolution, not divine power of any form is directly responsible for our senses, feelings, and emotions, better phrased as our perception of reality. Nothing is sacred to evolution, and no one trait is guaranteed to be consistent throughout different species of life.
This is why anthropomorphizing, or characterizing animals through a human lens, can be problematic. Simply put, the physiology and evolution of the vast majority of animals is so different from our own, that it is ignorant to assume that as a human, you can somehow understand them. As an example, many people feed ducks bread at parks. I have no doubt that basically everyone who does this has good intentions; people see wild birds and assume they must be hungry, so they give them some bread, something that humans understand can be used to alleviate hunger. In reality, feeding wild birds bread is almost always harmful and can lead to serious issues for said birds. White bread has little nutrition for birds, and it often just leaves them feeling full, preventing them from consuming important proteins and fats from natural food sources. (this is why actual bird mixes or seeds are better, because they better replicate the actual protein/fat rich diet that birds need to survive in the wild). People feed birds bread out of kindness, but unfortunately, it shows a general lack of awareness of wild animals and their environments; they have applied their human standards of livelihood to another species. Animals don’t just pop into existence to be a part of your life or share your human perceptions, they are complex organisms that are the result of the same incredibly varied evolutionary process that produced people. However, Janina tends to only focus on the animals in her life (she also clearly values her dogs over other animals despite claiming to view them equally), and repeatedly anthropomorphizes them to the point that she feels she can literally speak with them.
The issue with Janina is that she feels she is somehow special and can magically understand the animals or even act as their messenger. Worse, she justifies her views in astrology and flatly says that she doesn’t believe evolution is real. While she seems to be non-religious, Janina’s views on the existence of animals is closer to a traditional, religious perspective than an evolutionary, science-based one. She sees animals as sacred entities that exist to bring her tranquility or inspiration, and is clearly very biased towards the vertebrates, or just the ones who appear fuzzy and cuddly, a.k.a the ones that are the most “human” and deserving of care. This is very clear in how she cares for her dogs’ deaths more than the other animals in Bigfoot’s photo, or how she hasn’t even considered the natural history of insects (representatives of ~70% of earth’s animals) until Boris shows up. It’s also unclear if Janina has really thought or worried about the animals that live outside of her area. Most importantly though, just like in some traditional religious views, Janina doesn’t believe in or consider how animals are part of a broader evolutionary and ecological biology.
I should be clear that I think a lot of Janina’s thinking comes from the right place. While I believe it is difficult to insert human judgment into the most intimate areas of animal life, humans today have an obligation to stewardship and environmental responsibility. Poaching is absolutely reprehensible and immoral, as well as any extensive exploitation of natural resources. I’ll clarify here that by “poaching”, in this case, I mean any hunting that is not used within reasonable purpose (food, resources, or regulation). For the sake of this blog post, I’ll lump illegal hunting and unethical/wasteful (but legal) trophy-type hunting in the same term of poaching. Hunting has been behind the severe decline or outright extinction of many species and can be an incredibly destructive force. I think it is understandable how in a hunter/poacher-dominated society, Janina becomes so outraged. In fact, many of the hunters in Janina’s area are in fact poachers who deserve to be charged as criminals. However, Janina is an absolutist who equates animals as the same as humans, and she doesn’t distinguish between hunting and poaching. In addition, Janina doesn’t clarify how, if all animals are equal, it is justifiable that a wild animal kills another animal for food. In my opinion, humans using our evolutionary “advantages” (grasping hands and a large brain) to construct tools (blinds, guns, etc) to hunt for food is not fundamentally different from a tiger using its evolutionary “advantages” (camouflage, powerful bite, claws) to hunt for food. Humans aren’t even the only animals that use tools to hunt (sea otters, chimpanzees, among others I’m sure). This perspective requires the understanding of our own evolution (something Janina doesn’t believe in), as omnivorous apes who “traded” a lot of our physical adaptations for a larger brain (which, before modern times, was only possible to maintain due to at least some meat in the diet). We did and continue to be active parts of the world’s ecology, and our ancestors created tools to compete with other predators that had more physical “advantages”. Today, if a hunter uses those same “advantages” to hunt, I don’t think that’s objectively flawed, as long as it is done with a real purpose and with real responsibility in mind.
Hunting can be done sustainably, and while the ethics can be debated, I think people like Janina don’t realize the impact it can have for “good” things. For example, a recent Cornell Lab of Ornithology study found that wild bird populations in North America have declined by almost 3 billion birds since 1970. Nearly every single bird family has seen losses, some of them very significant and a major cause of concern for many reasons. One of the only groups that have not seen declines, and has actually increased, (some from endangered statuses) is the waterfowl; the swans, geese, and ducks. Now every species’ conservation ecology is different, but by and large, these birds rely on marsh and wetland habitats across the United States, especially in the Midwest and great plains. One of the biggest reasons that this family has seen population gains is the conservation work of hunters in groups such as Ducks Unlimited, a hunter-conservation group that sponsors and funds many projects associated with the management, conservation, and restoration of waterfowl habitats, as well as the hunters that pay for hunting permits and taxes on hunting gear that go towards conservation. Some of our most important migratory checkpoints for birds, our National Wildlife Refuges, were established at least partially for certain amounts of hunting (within scientifically researched and regulated guidelines). Wildlife refuges don’t just benefit game birds, either. Hunters want to be able to visit pristine, native habitats and be able to harvest pristine, native birds year after year, so they routinely put money towards permits, duck stamps, and habitat restoration that keeps these habitats and their inhabitants in pristine form. For better or for worse, hunters are some of the most active investors in these areas, and without the economic contributions that hunters make, many areas would probably not have the same level of funding and infrastructure for protecting North America’s migrating and breeding waterfowl populations. In addition to having brought back many “game species”, some from local extirpation, these refuges play a critical role in the conservation of our species whether it be plant, animal, or fungus, and resources as well as the health of the greater ecosystem and earth as a whole (not to mention they’re wonderful places to visit and serve as a haven for outdoor recreationists well beyond hunters).
I think it is a common misconception that all hunters are ignorant of nature and just want to shoot things. Of course, there are offenders, and as I said above, poaching/immoral hunting is completely and utterly immoral; hunting should be taken seriously and with serious responsibility, and there are definitely further discussions to be had at where we draw the exact line between “ethical” and “unethical” hunting. If you want to go out and shoot something, it must be done responsibly, i.e. respecting limits, no lead bullets, no hunting out of season, respecting science-based guidelines, etc (additionally, offenses/exploitations of natural resources should be dealt with seriously). In the 21st century, it is a privilege, not an intrinsic right to be able to utilize your natural resources, and you MUST do so in a responsible way.
However, the reality is that many hunters actually are very knowledgeable when it comes to nature, and many of them have a deep respect and connection to the environment. I am sure that many hunters spend a lot more time and put more money towards actual conservation than many of the people who criticize them for being “unsustainable” or “unethical”. Personally, I’ve never hunted, and I would never want to, because I do find it personally disagreeable, destructive, and even distasteful, finding it to be much more enjoyable, sustainable, and ethical to “shoot” birds through a camera. I personally will tend to instinctively lean towards the non-hunting side almost every time. I am also constantly aware of how damaging and dangerous hunting can be. I’ll be clear here that I don’t think it’s easy to characterize hunting as a good or bad thing because it is incredibly circumstantial, and in some contexts, it can be “ethical”, while in others, it is indescribably evil (of course, not all hunting in America is just waterfowl, and some hunting initiatives are more conservation-based or informed than others). That being said, hunters love their craft, and most importantly, they put a lot of money behind it. Unless harsh critics of hunters can supply the billions of dollars that they contribute to US agencies for conservation annually, I think this situation has to be read with nuance. The conservation picture is often complex and requires compromises. While you or I (or Janina) may find hunting disagreeable, there is no debating the incredible conservation work that hunters have done for North America’s waterfowl. While it may be uncomfortable, seeing hunters more eye to eye on conservation is critical for continuing to maintain conservation efforts. We can do a lot more for the greater conservation of nature and humanity if we put aside some of our most idealistic aspirations in favor of a solution that still creates objectively and overwhelmingly positive results. We may not always be able to compromise, but this is a case where it should and can be done, and Janina’s apparent lack to do so can potentially threaten the health of entire ecosystems.
Janina’s perspective also fails to address hunting in terms of population regulation. Under her view, all animals ought to be treated as humans, and so they cannot be killed, or else you should be framed as a murderer. Once again, Janina is ignorant of actual ecological science. In many parts of the world, certain species threaten the entire stability of a particular ecosystem, and so they are culled by hunting. Now, in the vast majority of these cases, the reasons species are out of control is directly because of people. We could spend an eternity lamenting humanity and the anthropocentric, ignorant, or stupid reasons that invasives were introduced or enabled in the first place (it’s pretty bad). The reality though, is that the past is the past, and all we can do today is stop that problem from getting worse. A good example is the invasive Burmese Python in the Florida Everglades. Today, these pythons are a HUGE issue in the Everglades, and they are literally choking out many native species and threatening the health of one of our most important ecological areas. They reproduce rapidly, and prey on anything from songbirds to alligators. While they will probably never be extirpated, there are still efforts to contain them, including many hunting initiatives. Some of these snakes are made into actual products that can be used by people, too. Some people today are doing their best to try to limit the rapid damage that this species has wrought. Janina would argue that there are more ethical ways to stop a species like this, and I would agree. However, those methods are less accessible and/or more expensive than hunting, and for better or for worse, the government can more easily recruit masses of volunteers with shotguns than masses of biological scientists that can more “ethically” remove the snakes via other methods, like rolling out a whole plan to sterilize the entire snake population, for example (which is also probably insanely difficult and also arguably unethical). People shouldn’t be encouraged to stand by as pythons continue to wreak havoc, hoping for a more “ethical” solution. I think more ethical solutions should continue to be used and pursued wherever they can be, but in the meantime, hunting shouldn’t just stop. This problem is happening right now, and it will continue to get worse and degrade the livelihoods of hundreds of wild species and local communities if people settle exclusively for lesser, more “ethical” methods. In a perfect world, yes, humans would never have made a terrible mistake in the first place, and hunting would not be necessary. Hopefully, that day is on the way. However, that is not the case right now, and we cannot put the sanctity of lives of pythons ahead of ecological balance and preventing collapse. The pythons are a good example of how we do live in an imperfect world requiring imperfect solutions; there is no “ethical” solution to a problem like this, as life will be “harmed” either way. Janina would argue that the snakes should absolutely not be killed whatsoever, but if we look at the situation from an ecologically informed perspective, we can see there is clearly a “lesser of evils” solution. In invasive species cases, imperfect solutions are better than nothing at all.
In conclusion, Janina’s beliefs are arguably quite noble. However, they are horribly misplaced and ignorant of science. Janina’s beliefs have the potential to be incredibly destructive because in her ignorance of evolution and ecology or belief in the human sacredness of wild animals, she represents the person to oppose imperfect solutions to greater ecological problems. She also shows why an education in proper biological science is important, because without a nuanced and complex understanding of life on earth, people like Janina will resort to understanding nature through an EXCLUSIVELY spiritual/emotional lens. I personally understand the desire to want to love wild animals like friends, and this is fine as long as it is not practiced to Janina’s absolutism. We have to be able to see past an individual animal life towards the greater health of a sustainable world. On a scientific level, if you really care about animals and nature, you have to be prepared to make difficult compromises. The fact that you may see imperfect solutions as difficult and painful but perhaps necessary shouldn’t torture you to Janina’s violent extent, but re-affirm to you that you do genuinely care about the natural world and striving towards creating a more ethical one.
If we should take away anything from Janina’s views on animals, it ought to be that we should definitely not treat animals as “equals” to people, whether it be because of the umbrella term that “animals” is, or the nuances of hunting. We should only be treating other humans as humans. As humans, we have been rightly trained to strive to treat other HUMANS equally, regardless of race, gender, orientation, etc. However, it is a mistake to try to apply this egalitarianism to wild animals, other entirely different SPECIES, separated by millions of years of evolution and countless aspects of physiology and ecology. This doesn’t mean we should view animals as lesser or greater than humans, either. Hunting an animal within ethical boundaries doesn’t have to mean that you see them as “lesser”. Hunting and consumption of animals is a part of many peoples’ heritages and in some cases, may be the best source of certain nutrients (I think the bigger and more objective issue with meat consumption today is the environmental/climate change impact, as we discussed in class). Hunting, if done for an actual purpose (food or resources), or if informed by science, does not mean that we detract from an animal’s inherent value. On a mature level, it reflects our awareness of a living, ecologically connected world (which we’re a part of) that is bigger than one individual. On Janina’s level, it reflects everything wrong and fundamentally evil about existence and is an excuse for brutal violence. How we treat wild animals is a sort of fluid gray space that doesn’t necessarily have concrete borders. It’s ok to acknowledge that we don’t know everything about animals and that we can’t hope to understand all of them, much less create some universal guideline towards their treatment. It’s ok to be uncertain and constantly be asking questions too. What we can say is that we should not simply treat them how we would treat other humans. We can also say that while every animal is different, they do deserve a certain level of deep respect, and that responsible, informed hunting does not HAVE to objectively violate that respect, (although it certainly can), however twisted it may or may not seem at times. Striving to better actively understand the complex relationships between humans and other animals and the nature of hunting (or the lack of it) through a nuanced lens should hopefully make us better and happier stewards than Janina.