Catching lizards to reduce human cruelty
So you caught a lizard! Fun. Trouble is someone has just told you that you are being cruel for scaring this poor little reptile.
As someone who likes to think deeply about the environment and who's parents are environmental scientists and wildlife experts, I've definietly thought about humane animal capture much longer than the average human and I'd like to share an alternate perspective.
People who grow up capturing lizards as children, tend to have a deeper appreciation of nature. The late Steve Irwin caught animals to show to the camera because he knew that looking at animals up close - and making it intimate - helped millions of viewers gain a deeper appreciation of the natural world. Exposure equals care. This is especially true of children. The children who learn about animals and experience them up close have a greater empathy for the planet.
But what about the poor little lizard? Well when you capture an animal you make it afraid of humans. You train it to stay off hiking trails and roads. Should animals be afraid of humans? One hundred percent they should be afraid... and here is why.
Humans Being Cruel to Animal
Do You Eat Meat?
The average human eats ~7000 animals during a lifetime, many of them intelligent creations, including 11 cows, 27 pigs, 30 sheep, 80 turkeys, 2400 chickens and 4500 fish (source: USA Today) . Animals eiher caught, or especially bred for slaughter. 60% of all mammals on the planet are livestock (source: PNAS) . Seems a little cruel no? None of these animals consented to die for us.
But if you are a vegetarian you don't kill animals right? Wrong. You may not eat animals, but you will are a still a consumer of natural products that cost animals their lives.
NOTE: Ironically I am also a meat eater. I've tried to quit meat before for environmental reasons, but I've failed - my body needs heme iron!
Are You a Consumer?
The average American uses over a ton of wood each year in paper, wood and other products (source: NY times) . Now consider the extra clearing required for the home you live in, for your car and agriculture. Only 71% of the world's land is habitable, and over half of this has already been cleared for agriculture (source: greenplanet) . With this clearing of forest comes great loss of animal life too. Just by being a human consumer - top of the food chain and a wasteful consumer - there's not a day that passes that you don't indirectly kill animals.
Are You a Pet Owner?
Pets are wonderful, but not all pets are equal. Keep animals confined in a small space is inherently cruel, and most pet owners do exactly that. Riding and whiping certain animals is also cruel, but we watch people do it for sport. We like to imagine our dogs consent to being picked up, but breeding them to look cute in spite of health implications is also cruel. Small animals like guinea pigs are terrified when you catch and pick them up, since a drop from your shoulders could be fatal to them. That's cruel. Meanwhile, cat owns should know that in the United States alone, cats kill an average of over 2 billion birds and 12 billion mammals each year, and free-range cats kills countless lizards as well (source: Smithsonian) . The general concept of pet ownership, through this new lens, feels pretty selfish. We've taken wild animals and made them tame, just to amuse us. If aliens arrived on earth and made us pets, we might not be too happy.
Are You Alive?
For our mere existence on this presence, countless small reptiles, insects and plants have to die for us to live. Our size and protein requires make us very high maintenance, and then let's consider the numbers of lizards we accidentally kill in sliding doors or run over with our cars.
When you catch a lizard, yes, you may be scaring it, but maybe that's a good thing to help its long term survival. Fear is inherant through the lives of all small animals. It's the key to their suvival. A lizard captured by a human doesn't suffer post-tramatic-stress nor needs expensive counselling - it learns.
I would never call it cruel to catch a lizard or snake. There are thousands of cruel things we do to this planet as humans, catching lizards for fun is not on that scale. You teach it to avoid people and roads. You're also bringing an appreciation of nature to everyone who you show that reptile, so that the next time they are in a forest or see a lizard they will stop and pause to appreciate nature and ponder life.
And if you share this article with them it will remind them to appreciate that each of us is obligated to try our best to reduce our carbon footprint, and to acknowledge that all humans are mass serial killers of animals. Perhaps there is something humbling about catching an animal humanely and setting it free.
Do The Little Things
We can all do little things to reduce our footprints. My dad, mum and step dad (a reptile expert) all caught lizards and non-venomous snakes for fun during my childhood in Australia. The appreciation of nature instilled in me from that childhood made me decide to pick up at least 3 pieces of litter each day. When you add that to the cleanup drives I've organized, it adds up to several tons of plastic I've helped prevent get into the ocean. In the process I'm sure I've spared a few marine animals, and I'd like to think that the people who've seen me pick up litter... well some of them might be motivated to do the same. Little things help.