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The Killing Fields and the Seas of Animals

February 15, 1987|Zan Thompson

A killing wind is blowing on animals. It is not a good time to walk on four feet nor to fly with your own wings. Man with his cold and casual cruelty has been particularly obnoxious lately.

Last week there was a small item in The Times about an oil spill from a tanker. It had covered sea birds with its deadly filth. It was just a paragraph or two and nothing was said about their treatment except that most of them would die.

In the late 1960s, I herded a government-appointed group of scientists around Santa Barbara for a week while they tried to determine how the terrible oil spill might be cleaned up. There were petroleum engineers, oceanographers, sea-life specialists. One of them was from England and had worked on the cleanup of the spill that had turned the beaches of Brittany into acres of lethal goo. I remember he carried his camera in a cretonne drawstring bag.

There were dozens of volunteers working on the beach, trying to swab the oil off the foundering sea birds, unable to swim or fly. These men produced a report and I'm sure it is in the building where the government keeps reports that no one wants to think about.

The spill lately reported probably called out some earnest do-gooders to help the birds but the rest of us don't think much about it, so easily do we grow a carapace against horror.

The Chernobyl disaster in the Soviet Union is destroying the fodder the Lapland reindeer eat and their meat is too high in nuclear poisons to feed the people who have herded them for generations. Even Santa Claus has troubles. Imagine a world with no reindeer.

On Friday, Feb. 6, near San Francisco, a huge sea lion washed ashore with two bullet wounds. An autopsy showed he had dined on 43 herring. I know the fishermen are dependent on the herring for a livelihood but so is the sea lion.

And those sea lions who lie in wait by the fish ladders and gobble up the returning salmon are a terrible problem. The authorities have been trying to catch them with nets which they simply go deep and swim out of. One account said that when one old fellow managed to escape the net and swam free, people standing on the shore cheered. There is no answer. Any way you look at it, some creature gets the moldy fig. That salmon was hatched at the head of the river it's trying to return to. It has made it out to sea, lived a hazardous life, and is trying to get home in order to lay its eggs, and a sea lion, or is it a seal, gobbled it up.

It's a hard life for everybody, tough to make it home.

Now, we are having hearings conducted by the California Fish and Game Commission, which is deciding whether to resume mountain lion, or cougar, hunting.

The mountain lion is a shy animal, spooky of humans as well he might be. We're the only creature who kills something else and calls it sport.

They hunt with dogs who run the cougar down, which may take a couple of days, and when he falls, winded, his sides heaving for air, the cowardly hunter shoots him, skins him out, and if he's a nice big male, takes the head to the taxidermist so he can wow his friends with his tale of bravery in the face of terrible odds.

The mauling of the two children in Casper's Wilderness Park in Orange County was terrible.

A few years ago, a small girl was killed by a coyote in the hills above Glendale and there is scarcely a small dog in my hills, say the size of Peaches, who is still alive unless it is confined.

It's a fang and claw world. But it is my sincere wish that they continue the 14-year moratorium on the killing of mountain lion. We really don't know how many there are. They don't come in and offer their paw prints for the records.

I have no solution--but it is not running the terrified animals to exhaustion and then killing them for a story to tell over a beer.

There's a marvelous piece by Henry Beston, the conclusion of which goes like this: "In a world older and more complete than ours, animals move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth."

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