May 13, 2008

Stellaluna and Science

This is from like two weeks ago which in blogger time is forever ago. But I just had to share. Check out this great science article from Natalie Angier in the NYT. It called, "Noble Eagles, Nasty Pigeons, Biased Humans" about something she calls "biobigotry" which is "the persistent and often irrational desire to be surrounded only by those species of which one approves." At the end of the article she mentions the Janell Cannon classic, Stellaluna.

"Not that public attitudes can’t be changed. Bats, for example, were long considered vermin, but nowadays, in the wake of the wildly popular children’s book 'Stella Luna,' they’ve taken on a magical air, as the mosquito-eating Tinkerbells that if you’re lucky will soon take up residence near you. Until then, step away from that bat house, sparrow. Don’t make me shoot."

Well I met Janell Cannon a few years ago at a Children's Literature conference and just had to shoot her an email. Her response was so awesome I couldn't help sharing:

Hi Jim--
Many thanks for forwarding that article. Natalie Angier nailed it.

I like her term, biobogotry--another that I've seen is species chauvinism.

IMO, we are the ultimate invasive species, and with our big brains that seem to only be able to process the universe by cutting it into little bits--adding a healthy dose of ignorance and arrogance--we go about as we have over the millennia, appointing ourselves as judge as to who has the "right" to live, and who does not. We are the self-entitled toddlers of the planet, trampling everything in our path, stuffing everything into our mouths, manhandling anything unfortunate enough to find itself in our clutches.

As you know, this is a hot button for me, plus I'm on my second cup of coffee....

My take on the concept of vermin is that any animal that successfully competes agains thuman interests is considered a pest. The most resilient, intelligent species--rats, mice, seagulls, coyotes, squirrels, crows, ants, etc...scare humans on a primal level, because we cannot control them. And fear spawns anything ranging from disgust to hatred.

Actually, I have been focusing a lot lately on the little brown animals in SoCal that tend to get no respect, especially sparrows, ground squirrels, and pocket gophers.
This little guy just found a melted popsicle--
[image provided by J. Cannon posted above]

The ground squirrel tribe flourishes on the beach bluffs here--and is considered a pest by many. The state of CA, who is given the responsibility of maintaining the beach park system, regularly and quietly poisons them by the zillions. They spring back each time, in record numbers, and the busy local human citizens remain oblivious to the cycle.


It was marvelous to read the final statement in the article regarding bats' reputation being helped by the Stellaluna story. It made my day.
Hope all's well--

Made my day too!