Tue | May 23, 2017

All lives matter

Published:Monday | August 3, 2015 | 8:21 AMMichael Abrahams

When I was in prep school, I was a member of the Cub Scouts. As one of the nature activities, I had assembled a butterfly collection. It was really delightful, or so I thought, and included butterflies of various sizes and colours carefully mounted on a board.
One day, while showing it off to my troop leader, she asked me how I collected and handled the colourful insects. I informed her that I would catch them with a net, place them in containers, and then freeze them before mounting them. She replied, half-jokingly, that it was cruel.
I never forgot that conversation. It prompted me to immediately cease collecting butterflies, and to reason and conclude that to capture and kill creatures, just for the purpose of displaying them for my viewing pleasure, was not noble, but smacked of selfishness and scant regard for life.
So the killing of creatures for recreation ended after that exchange. My ‘small game’ lizard-hunting expeditions came to a grinding halt, as well as sprinkling salt on slugs and watching them expire, for entertainment. Also, there was a song that we used to sing in devotion at school, ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful’, and its words began to resonate with me, being the obedient Christian child that I was back then:
All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful,
The Lord God made them all.

Each little flower that opens,
Each little bird that sings,
He made their glowing colours,
He made their tiny wings.
Now, as a parent, I try to impart that respect for the lives of even the tiniest of creatures to my children. The only organisms that I will kill are those that are vectors of disease, or may cause other types of harm. Flies, mosquitoes, cockroaches or mice that wander into my house or try to take up residence there will be harshly dealt with. Spiders, beetles, caterpillars and snails pose no threat, and are gently taken up and escorted to the veranda or the garden. Lizards are actually welcome, and there is one that regularly visits the grille by my kitchen sink, that I have named Jerry.
I absolutely understand the concept of hunting and its relevance to the existence of man. In the very olden days, before the advent of supermarkets, man had to hunt or he would starve. Nowadays, unless one is hunting to feed oneself or others, I cannot relate to the killing of animals.
This is why I find the killing of Cecil the lion to be very disturbing. Members of the animal kingdom will kill for food, to protect their young, to protect their territories and dwellings and to defend themselves. Man, on the other hand, will kill for fun, not just members of the animal kingdom, but other humans as well. Consider video and computer games where shooting people is an integral part of the game’s entertainment value.
Big game hunting (if the kill is not eaten), bullfighting, cockfighting and dogfighting offend me deeply. In my opinion, for someone to leave his neighbourhood and country, travel thousands of miles and spend tens of thousands of US dollars to kill a creature that was simply minding his own business, speaks to the barbaric nature of man.
The dentist who killed Cecil really should not be singled out, as more than 1,000 big game hunting organisations exist, and the killing of African and other wildlife for sport continues. It is just that, in this case, the lion was well-known, comfortable around humans and had a name.
What I also find annoying about the situation with Cecil is that any mention of him draws remarks by some that we are getting into a tizzy over a lion when there are atrocities affecting humans worthy of more attention. They make a valid point, but I must also mention that outrage over Cecil's death does not automatically mean that offended persons are unconcerned about other serious issues.
Outrage about animal cruelty and human rights abuses are not mutually exclusive. There are some of us who are empowered with much compassion, empathy and distaste for injustice and are also outraged about many other incidents and situations.
Speaking for myself, I am disturbed about many atrocities, injustices and human-rights abuses and violations. I am disturbed about the Tivoli Gardens security operation, crime and violence, the abuse of our children, political corruption, absence of a sexual-harassment law, and the strange laws concerning sexual behaviour in my country.
I am also disturbed about African Americans dying under questionable circumstances, especially after encounters with the police, the Charleston shooting, the Iraq war, the abuse of Haitians in the Dominican Republic, the ongoing genocide in West Papua, and the treatment of indigenous people globally, the atrocities committed by ISIS and Boko Haram and human trafficking, among other things.
I still love butterflies, so in my adult life, I decided to assemble another collection but, in this case, an origami one. Origami is the Japanese art of paper folding, so no harm was done to any animals during the creation of the collection. I do not think that the paper was recycled, however, so my approach could have been greener. I also still consume meat, and while writing this article, I have been forced to reflect, and for the first time in my life, I am actually considering becoming a vegetarian. I guess all lives matter.
Michael Abrahams is a gynaecologist and obstetrician, comedian and poet. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and michabe_1999@hotmail.com, or tweet @mikeyabrahams.