Monday, March 13, 2017

Should We Peek

Ethics
Biodiversity
Sustainability
by Edward Hessler


Do you ever think about giraffes?

Or about one in particular, April?  You likely know about her. April is 15-years old, expecting, and lives at Animal Adventure Park, Harpursville, N. Y.  This event is being livestreamed.

A one-day-old giraffe [Wikimedia]

The few times I've seen references to the YouTube livestream camera feed I've experienced a twinge.  Doesn't she deserve to be left alone and deliver her calf in privacy?  Surely we can wait a few days for a picture of her calf. Do we have to see everything? And if/when we do what have we missed of great importance?

I was reminded of a controversy on photographing animals in the wild, in this case owls. The place? Minnesota. Should they be baited so that an extraordinary shot of a wild animal, in the wild, can be shot? See below for links on this controversy.

It also made me think about The Miracle of Birth exhibit at the Minnesota State Fair.

And this is where I left these thoughts.

Fortunately for me, Barbara J. King does not. She is a favorite contributor of mine to the NPR blog 13.7: Cosmos and Culture. Her day job is as a professor of anthropology at the College of William and Mary. Professor King and her husband are, it can be said, "animal people."  In particular, they are keepers of cats—homeless and abandoned cats. Some rough numbers: half a dozen in the house, nearly a dozen in a spacious yard/pen, a couple of strays and a half dozen at a nearby colony.

King recently wrote about April, a result of her husband wondering aloud "why it was thought OK to violate April's privacy that way." Her quick and first response was that "privacy doesn't mean much to animals." However, she didn't dismiss his thoughts. I love that she said she has learned not to do that!

In a coincidence that one hopes would happen, glad about the occurrence, the day following this brief exchange she read an essay that honed in on the question of whether animals have a right to privacy. It is from a new book, The Eye of the Sandpiper: Stories from the Living World by Brandon Keim.

She writes "suddenly, my ethical questions have multiplied." And my goodness did they as have mine.

I'm not going to write anything more or let you jump to the end of her splendid, thought provoking essay. Instead, I ask you to consider your answer to the question raised by her husband.

Where do you draw the line? Play a little with the idea: what animals, situations, in the wild, domestic critters, yard critters...? Is it important to know anything about them before you capture them on "film" to share with others? What are some criteria you think should be a guide?

Then, please read King's essay, Does a Pregnant Giraffe Deserve Privacy? Professor King interviewed Brandon Keim and this, plus her wonderful thinking open a door that may have never occurred to you to consider.

Has your answer changed?

Now to the question of baiting owls in order to take photographs that are sometimes said to be "in the wild." There is a report on MPR,  March 13, 2017 on this issue.  In addition, Laura Erickson also wrote about this on her wonderful blog For the Birds in February 2014.

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