Kipling’s cat and Saint-Exupéry’s fox

As part of the BorderLine cycle, co-production Mission Agrobiosciences-INRAE ​​and Quai des Savoirs

Animal fables about the wolf or the bear are more familiar to us to understand our relationship to wildlife than mosquitoes … or bats, pointed out during the advent of Covid-19 in China.

Everyone, or almost, has read The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. But if everyone can remember the poetic dialogue between the child and the fox, who asks to be tamed to know the “price of happiness”, there are fewer who know “the cat that goes away by itself” [1] by Rudyard Kipling. The British author, best known in France and the rest of the planet for the young Mowgli’s adventure in his “Jungle Book”, tells there like a beautiful fable for children about taming animals: dog, horse, cow. except the cat, who is proud of his independence, who negotiates the right to come in and warm himself by the fireplace, while asserting his freedom to roam, “through the wet paths of the Bois Sauvage, under the trees or on the roofs and wagging with his tail and all alone ”.

Is there a good distance, neither too close nor too far, between the descendants of “denatured” hominids (Vercors) [2] just descended from their pedigree on the scale of Darwinian evolution, and the other animals remained “in the state of nature” (or what’s left of it)? A big question that BorderLine, a podcast co-produced by Quai des Savoirs and Agrobiosciences-INRAE ​​Mission, tried to answer with several guests from different backgrounds during an episode recorded in public, Thursday, July 7, 2022: “People and wild animals: avoid common places? »« Do not feed animals immediately advises the philosopher Joëlle Zask. It’s not about old ladies feeding pigeons or stray cats in cities, but rather about the instructions given to campers in large parks in North America to hang up their supplies so as not to attract bears. The academic from Aix-Marseille is particularly concerned about the plantigrades that hunt even in the cities and other “trampled” animals that roam more and more in the suburbs. Humans on the one hand, wildlife on the other: each has its niche. Saint-Ex fox will be disappointed …

Macaws in Indian temples and bats in Malaysia

Veterinarian and vice-president of the National Society for the Protection of Nature, François Moutou, objects that the presence in the city of animals elsewhere considered “wild” may be common in other countries; or even happen in good intelligence. He cites the example of monkeys in temples in India. ” The problem is the arrival of tourists who do anything He replies to Joëlle Zask, surprised to see these macaques stealing items to exchange for food. Asked before the show by the magazine Sesamethe philosopher rejects the idea of cohabitation “with wildlife, preferring to try to establish rules” good neighborhood “. Joëlle Zask reassures her at the Quai des Savoirs: It would be a bad idea to place bird food in her garden because it risks attracting other less coveted animals.

However, self-service for non-pets is not always voluntary. They can even cause nuisances that are far more dangerous to humanity than the unlikely intrusion of a bear into your garden. Francois Moutou, a zoonosis specialist, tells the story of a deadly virus that appeared in 1999 in the village of Nipah in Malaysia [3]. How can a man die of a disease that affects pigs in a Muslim country? The production was intended for export to China, the breeders planted fruit trees to provide shade for the livestock buildings and attract fruit bats that served as vectors for transmitting viruses through their excrement, explains the veterinarian, also an epidemiologist. The Little Prince understood that he was ” responsible for his rose “but who wants” tame “… a virus [4] ?

The bear and the wolf get the sum, not the mosquitoes

François Moutou emphasizes that among all the mammals found on Earth, 60% are domestic animals, while only 10% have remained wild. The other 30% are us humans. A fast growing species: Since I was born, the population has tripled », Emphasizes the veterinarian, 68 years. Have the remnants of untamed wild species become the idolatrous object of a neopanteism of the earth goddess of urban dwellers, disconnected from the realities of the peasants, who have made mankind protect themselves from the intrusion of nature? That’s the question, a little sarcastically posed by anthropologist Sergio Dalla Bernardina. The academic of Italian origin leading a seminar at EHESS points to a ” ecovyeurism ” such as. urges tourists to hurry to try to see an albino ibex seen in Haute-Savoie [5]. We also think of Grizzly Man [6], by German filmmaker Werner Herzog, who tells the true story of a documentary filmmaker killed by one of these bears he filmed in Alaska. The Italian academic comes to the Marseille philosopher’s rescue by insisting on the danger of these large predators coming too close to humans for his liking. ” There are “borderline” bears in Trentino “Warns Sergio Dalla Bernardina and reports on several shepherds who have allegedly been attacked in Abruzzo. In short, the fox from Saint-Ex will not be able to count on him getting closer to the hen houses.

Conversely, photographer and naturalist Béatrice Kremer-Cochet is delighted to see the return of animals that have long been driven out of our “neighborhood.” She evokes otters, back in the rivers where they have been for a long time ” accused of eating too much fish », Or this gem stained in the Esterel massif [7]only 200 meters from a village, by the sea »; and even wolves, which comes back by itself “. A recapture of territories by species presented as” spontaneous rewild “of this declared militant of” rewilding », Supported in France by ASPAS [8]. A return that is not without problems for breeders, especially in the Alps, where the wolf arrived via the Mercantour Park from neighboring Italy, or in the Pyrenees, where bears have been reintroduced from Slovenia. ” Breeders have been asked a lot to adapt, but less to predators says Ruppert Vimal. For this Ariège-based CNRS researcher, who has been embarking on field research since 2019, following three summer pastures frequented by summer herds and bears, the conflict that has escalated for more than twenty years in the Pyrenees around the bear, not against human and non-human », But men among themselves. In the absence of ” cohabitation “, he believes that a” coexistence has in fact already established itself in Ariège. Like Kipling’s cat, Plantigraden is this “Mossu” (lord of Gascon) who walks barefoot in the mountains.

And the mosquitoes », The host eagerly asks to not only sum up the debate with the large predators feeding hummingbirds? We are still awaiting a response. For an upcoming show?

Stephane Thepot

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