Joëlle Zask, philosopher: “Humans tend to underestimate wild animals”

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Faced with the wildlife, which is increasingly attracted to the city, the man is particularly clumsy. For the philosopher, this ignorance sends us back to our lack of adaptation to nature and to our unfortunate tendency to underestimate the intelligence, adaptability, and danger of wild animals, whether they are mosquitoes, rats, crows, or cougars.

The idea for this book * came to you after being the victim of a stray dog ​​attack. What happened and why would you make it an object of reflection?

I was with my children in Italy, in a small street near the Vatican, and we were confronted with this dog, who had a threatening attitude. I expected him to attack, but what struck me was how ignorant I was of how to move on, when it was a rather banal experience at all. I then realized how vulnerable we humans were, helpless to wildlife. Which for me is drawn to the stall we have run in relation to our environment: We live in a society that is essentially consumer and totally ignorant of the world around us.

“By attacking us, wild animals reveal our morals and highlight their faults,” you write. What exactly are they telling us?

I want to take an example: By feeding a wild animal, even with the best intentions in the world, you create a perverse effect that can make the animal less cautious, more dependent. This situation illustrates the fact that we have the greatest difficulty in considering the wild, that is, the absence of dependence on us, and that all too often we try to control the animal, to create a relationship with it based on dominance.

Animals, you write, adapt far more easily to urban living conditions than we are able to adapt to wildlife. Does that mean we are only good at bending the world according to our requirements?

We are unsuitable for a world where we do not dominate its parameters when we do not master its software. Animals are able to adapt very quickly, to change their behavior through observation and experience. Birds, for example, adapt their flight to urban conditions very quickly. In general, the behavioral mutations that can be observed in wild boars, cougars or otters approaching urbanized areas are quite astonishing. In otters, parents teach the little ones to cross the road! In fact, there is a wealth of behavior within the species themselves depending on their environment, an adaptive flexibility that humans find difficult to accept and prefer to impose generic behavior on wild animals.

For example, you tell incredible things about the crow, a rather amazing animal …

It is an animal whose behavior is very impressive. Researchers have shown that the crow not only has the ability to identify an individual – including a human – that it considers to be its adversary, but also to pass this description on to its offspring, so that it again harasses it! But the natural tendency of today’s humans is to underestimate animals and in addition nature. We have a very hierarchical vision of species, with “good” and “bad” animals, waste animals, noble animals … Whereas the study of species such as. bats can be quite fascinating: keep in mind that within a colony of 3,000 individuals, a bat can address a particular genus!

The reduction of wildlife’s natural habitat is the main reason for encounters with humans. So we organized the terms of this face to face?

If we take the example of stray dogs, it is obvious that it is our responsibility, as it is us who have left them. Today, in certain cities like Istanbul or New Delhi, these dogs are extremely numerous and create very strong nuisances, including countless bites that spread rabies. For other animals, our responsibility actually comes from the destruction of natural habitats, which forces them to move closer to cities. An elephant or a puma, for example, needs a territory of several hundred kilometers. Some species, on the other hand, adapt to this situation, as the city supplies them with water, food – through our waste – or shelter. They therefore establish themselves in urban areas, which increases the opportunities for contact with people. For mosquitoes, for example, the city and its suburbs are a gift from God … For many animals, the unworthiness of human habitats is also a very strong attraction factor.

What do you mean ?

Rats, mosquitoes, wild boars, raccoons or crows find shelter in unhygienic places in life to lay eggs or food reserves, mainly through waste or poorly preserved supplies. We also know that homeless people or people living in unsafe habitats can be affected by certain wildlife, such as rats, which will not hesitate to climb on them to pick up food or attack their supplies. It is a serious but completely taboo subject, whereas it is a reality that reveals the limits of a deteriorating human condition found in the Syrian refugee camps, the streets of the big cities or the Indian slums.

“Faced with a beast, we realize the extent of our ignorance. We experience the brutal experience of our own belonging to the animal world and the weakness of our species, which at the moment inspires neither terror nor fear,” you write…

The striking thing when we document ourselves is that our instincts are very bad, that our first actions are always least adapted to the situation. For example, fleeing a wild animal sends a very bad signal: it is the prey that is fleeing! There are animals in front that you have to lie down, like the bear, others in front that you should not do it, like in the presence of an elephant or a wild boar that would quickly make you run over or try to cut you. In the face of still others, you need to expand the surface of your body as much as possible to look scary. But no one naturally possesses these codes, no one really knows – with rare exceptions – how to behave when meeting a wild animal! As for the fear that we are struggling to inspire, it still exists in a category of animals: those that are hunted and that very quickly identify the danger represented by an armed man.

: To read: “Facing a wild beast”, Premier Parallel editions, 174 pages, 9 €.




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