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.
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.