Human consequences of trying to control plant and wildlife
Mary Roach, 2021
I just finished reading Fuzz, by Mary Roach, a book about humans' attempts to control wildlife and plant life that endanger human lives, crops, livestock or civil order. Roach is an entertaining, insightful, funny author who writes lively, informative prose on every page. She is the author of 6 other books on scientific subjects, including Packing for Mars, an eye opening discussion of the challenges of life in space and of the technologies developed to make space travel possible. Packing for Mars contains a not to be missed discussion of the considerable skills and technological ingenuity required for defecation in space, a challenge so formidable some astronauts have taken medication to reduce their appetite, or stopped eating altogether to minimize the need for a 45 minute ordeal which, if one makes a mistake, can leave a space capsule smelling like a latrine with bits of poop floating around, perhaps too much information for some but which I found fascinating despite my lack of German heritage.
In Fuzz, Roach discusses strategies, interventions, ethical considerations and unanticipated trade- offs for controlling bears, cougars, moose, elephants, monkeys, rabbits, rats, ferrets, stoats, many species of birds (gulls, geese, turkey vultures, albatross), Douglas firs, some types of beans. Roach has interesting, new (to me) information regarding the depredations committed by various species, e.g., monkeys and elephants in India, gulls at the Vatican, bears in Aspen, Colorado, stoats in New Zealand. I was surprised to learn that elephants are temperamental and unpredictable, and that they have figured out how to tear a human apart from limb to limb; and that monkeys can be brazen thieves and panhandlers. "Are you talking to me?" per Taxi Driver. Roach complies a truly appalling list of "solutions," that include a wide range of poisons, bombing of birds, genetic engineering, and transporting species across the oceans to eliminate other species, a strategy that seems to always backfire. However, some of the most effective simple strategies require communities to stop making food easily available to animals, which have been tough to implement consistently given the human dislike of rules or discipline.
As the book progresses, Roach becomes increasingly uncomfortable with the human tendency to play God, i.e., to decide which species live and which die based on human needs. She espouses an ethic of live and let live which she applies to many species, including rats, which will be a stretch for some readers. I was left wondering: what would happen if the tables were turned and an animal species had the ability to control humans. What would be the best strategy? A virus?
-- Dee Wilson