Biology Reference
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Natural-born killers: western diamond-backed rattlesnake swallowing an adult male acorn wood-
pecker at a backyard bird feeder in Portal, Cochise County, Arizona, August 2, 1999. The snake
was thirty-one inches long, weighed about ten ounces, and required two hours and forty minutes
to swallow its three-ounce prey. (Photo: H. W. Greene)
But then again, why should humans admire and conserve things that might hurt us?
Are anthropocentrism (human-centered perspectives and values) and anthropomorph-
ism (human characteristics attributed to other organisms) really so bad if the fate of
the planet is in our hands and biological heritage underlies all life, including our own?
And so what if—a real possibility—however much we yearn for wilderness, humanity
no longer accommodates natural-born killers? After all, animal rights advocates admon-
ished George Schaller to provision the carnivores he studied with pre-killed game, so
that the “cruel” behavior of wild dogs killing zebras couldn't play out and lion cubs
wouldn't starve during a drought. 7 One conservation biologist told me that having ex-
perienced Africa's megafauna first hand, she wouldn't want to live anywhere near dan-
gerous animals. Clearly the burden of proof is on those of us who find such creatures
worthy of tolerance, let alone love.
In truth, we twenty-first-century humans are saddled with terrible dilemmas, willy-
nilly shaping the future yet bereft of consensus over what to save, let alone how to do
so. Amid shrinking resources, should we care more about pandas than crocodiles, espe-
cially if the latter eat us? How can we yearn for places untrammeled by humans yet also
bemoan disconnectedness from nature—can we really connect without trammeling? In
the face of shrinking habitats and climate change, with the inevitable extinction of many
species—including perhaps most large, nondomestic animals—what are feasible conser-
vation goals? Not only are concepts like wilderness debated, but it's as if over the last
few million years, having gained awareness of our mortal fate, we've pulled away from
the very things for which many of us profess such longing. These loose ends occupy my
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