Destroying What We Don’t Understand

April 3, 2009

That lizard story from yesterday really bothered me.  See the letter I penned below.

P.S. Here is the published version of the letter.


Dear Editor:

What is joke to you is death to me.  I suppose this might be what the lizard would think, if we were able to deduce the animal’s state of mind while it was under direct attack: by stones, slingshots, and physical pursuit.

I read Robert Lalah’s article with a feeling of bemusement and sadness, much like my response to the episode with the snake on the wharf several months ago. In this case, we have several adult men who have set aside whatever it was that they were doing to single-mindedly search out and attempt to destroy a creature that they share a habitat with.

And many will greet this account as a joke – the hijinks of groups of men – while upholding the core aspect of story – that they were entirely right to be trying to kill this creature.

The fact of the matter is, this kind of irrational fear of reptiles is cultivated and reproduced in our society in ways that are disastrous for everyone.  Our educational and cultural institutions have done absolutely nothing to dispel these ridiculous ideas of reptiles as “nasty” and fearsome creatures.  And so children – and as we see – adults have come to learn that it is entirely acceptable to engage in killing sprees of snakes, alligators, snails, lizards, frogs, etc.

That a lizard of that size exists in that particular place is a good thing, and tells us something about what it takes to sustain populations of indigenous wildlife.  Persons interested in preservation of wildlife habitats in Jamaica should immediately follow up on this story. The irony of course, is that people do come to Jamaica all the time to study these creatures, and end up creating knowledge that we didn’t even know was in our backyard, because we have been so busy ridiculing and exterminating them.

We have yet to learn and internalize that all of these creatures are essential to managing our environment. They eat the mosquitoes, flies, and other pests that would otherwise feed on us and on the plant life that we treasure.  The absence of these creatures actually makes our lives more unpleasant. I came to this understanding in a really visceral way by experiencing the garden of someone who lives in Kingston, and who takes great pains to collect lizards from all over the country.  Why? Because their active presence around means that he doesn’t have to use pesticides on his plants or to deter mosquitoes away from his guests.  The evidence is in the lushness and comfort of his garden, which is admired – lizards and all – and envied by all who visit.

But these men did not know these things, and come across in this story as ignorant buffoons or cruel, childish pranksters.  I also suspect that Robert Lalah did not share any alternative perspective with them.

When I consider how much effort we put into destroying what we don’t understand – whether its people or lizards – I do wonder how much longer we can sustain these levels of ignorance and mistreatment, before we begin to see empathy, fairness and valuing our natural environment as endangered traits.  We can and should turn this around. And we can start with leaving the lizards alone.


9 Responses to “Destroying What We Don’t Understand”

  1. longbench Says:

    Responses that I got via email:

    I do love to read Lalah’s article, I was in Jamaica last week and I even bought his book roving with Lalah in Montego Bay and brought it home with me. I did not find the lizard story funny those big men are just ignorant, I do not like snakes and alligators they should be controlled in their natural habitat because their nature are very dangerous and unpredictable, alligators will eat people and animals snakes will bite people, but lizards are harmless plus they are food source for some birds.

    I was so pleased to read your letter in today’s Gleaner online. I could not have expressed the views as well as you have. I agree wholeheartedly with you, those were my feelings as I read the piece. Regrettably there was no blog for me to add my comment, but I felt so strongly about it that I had to write to you.

    THANK YOU for writing to the Gleaner about Robert Lalah’s tasteless and misguided article. I received a number of letters from my friends and members of Northern Jamaica Conservation Association (NJCA) and they were appalled at the article, as I was. I don’t even know how to describe the article properly. I was disgusted, and wanted to write (as you have done) but could not get to it on the day. Your letter was excellent, by the way.

    I did, however, call Mutty Perkins and criticise Lalah and the Gleaner for publishing such rubbish, and I talked about the awful cruelty to animals that pervades this society – and the link to violence in the society. I deal with animal abuse so often – birds stoned, snakes chopped, dogs hits by cars and left to suffer. Perkins was somewhat interested in the fact that I operate a wildlife rescue centre (the Seven Oaks Sanctuary for Wildlife, in Runaway Bay) but he was really not interested in discussing the article or the deeper issues. “What you’re doing is just wonderful. Thank you very much – ” and cut off. Where are you, and would you be interested in joining NJCA and being in touch with us about wildlife conservation and environmental education?

  2. Stunner Says:

    I used to kill insects (not butterflies or ladybugs they are too cute)just out of plain fear. No I didn’t go out on a crusade killing them, but I did when they invaded any personal space whether inside or outside. However, photography has given me a new outlook on these creatures and has helped me to appreciate them. I still kill them when they get into my house though… still need to work on that.

    I think a lot of Jamaicans kill these creatures out of fear, while others are just simply cruel and don’t understand how much some of these wildlife enrich our ecology. We need to as a people to learn how to appreciate the jewels we have it the abundance of ‘nature’ that make up this island and to learn how to protect it and enhance it. Not just for ourselves, but for the future inhabitants when we are gone.

    Nice article by the way. Also if you are interested you can check out my photos at

    • longbench Says:

      Stunner – Thanks for stopping by! I agree. Its amazing how when one takes the time to stop, look and think that so many things don’t seem so frightening after all. Mostly creatures don’t care or take interest in human beings unless we are directly in their path. And even so, we are not at all the target of their attention. But you can’t know this if you believe that all creatures are carnivorous and are going to harm you. That’s an issue that only years of public education and actual witnessing of human interactions with them can change. With the exception of roaches – there’s no shortage of those critters so I don’t feel sorry for them… – you can always help them out the door and back to where they should have been in the first place. No need to kill them; besides they’re even more afraid of you – with good reason! – than you are of them. I will check out your photos for sure! Did you take them with the new fancy schmancy camera? 🙂

      • Stunner Says:

        Even the most petrifying creatures (except those nasty roaches) can look fantastic through the lens. I do try to help them out, but I guess I get to the end of my fuse when they are not cooperating.

        Yes I certainly used the new fancy schmancy camera, lol!

    • longbench Says:

      Stunner – sorry for the delayed reply. Haven’t been on the blog in a while. I did check out your pics. You should definitely consider doing a small photobook, even one for kids!

  3. Annie Paul Says:

    Thanks for this LB, i was really upset by Lalah’s article too, normally i enjoy his column but this one was painful to read. That any creature should recieve such treatment (well ok cockroaches and scorpions excepted) is bad enough but a large specimen of the sublimely beautiful green lizard…i felt like crying. What cowards people are! Pathetic–

    • longbench Says:

      Annie – Thanks for stopping by! I spare not an ounce – well a twinge maybe – of guilt at killing roaches, scorpions or centipedes. I used to love watching the chickens have their way with them – that’s the best form of vengeance, watching them being eaten!

      Yes, the meanness, cruelty, was just too much to bear. And they couldn’t even see themselves being so. That’s what’s so hard to deal with. How much damage people willingly unleash and don’t even see it as such. It didn’t escape me that these were men. This may well be one of the best examples of Jacn machismo in action, to date.

  4. […] Long Bench is disturbed by a mainstream media article about the hunting of a lizard: “When I consider […]


    Longbench, I concur totally with your position regarding the lizard.Interestingly, several years back, post a recent hurricane, at this moment I cannot remember which one, a crocodile in Portland Cottage, Clarendon was uprooted/displaced from its natural habitat as a consequence of the storm, and eventually, became disoriented and wandered into an area where local residents were fleeing the hurricane.The story was covered by local media and posted on the blogosphere.The media’s position was that the crocodile was not offensive or life threatening to area residents. Nonetheless, the locals stoned, speared and killed the crocodile, which interestingly, in Jamaica, it is against the law to kill such animals/creatures. On seeing the story on the blog,I responded by questioning the violent behavior of the locals vis-a-vis the crocodile, especially, knowing that no one was imminiently threatened by the disoriented creature. Longbench, I was severely denounced and excoriated by many Jamaican respondents to the blog, regarding my defense of the animal.

    Yes, indeed, there is a proclivity and a predisposition based on fear and cruelty, on the part of a large segment of the society, to act violently towards various forms of wildlife in Jamaica, without knowledge as to their significance and importance in the ecological landscape of the island. Public education is severely lacking in this area, and it is extremely critical that people be informed as to the symbiotic relationship(s) between these creatures, humans and the general ecology. Undoubtedly, we —Jamaicans — need to start behaving and conducting ourselves in a more sophisticated and compassionate manner regarding all living things/beings, as opposed to this pathological obsession and preoccupation with violence and killing as the answer for resolving just about everything, including the presence of wildlfe in our space. An excellent piece Longbench. Incidentally,I was extremely perturbed by Mr. Robert Lalah’s conduct in acquiring this story.Nuff respect!!

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