In the human – animal interface, the word value is batted around quite a bit. Humans judge animals on their characteristics and behaviour using a human model of ethics. Predatory animals are usually seen as ‘guilty’ and their prey is seen as ‘innocent’. These value judgements seem, and are indeed, bizarre and out of place, but we engage in them none the less.
I keep my cat indoors because I have deemed the wildlife he will kill as more valuable than his living conditions. I have judged this so because I am offering him a different way of life where food and shelter are readily available, and he doesn’t have to fight with the neighbours’ cats for territory. He doesn’t have a choice in the matter. I have placed my value system on his existence whether he likes it or not.
Predatory animals are forever placed in this position. The charismatic animals, such as dolphins are valued much higher than sharks. And of course, human lives takes precedence over sharks and everything else in the wild. People move to remote areas of British Columbia to be close to nature and then demand a cougar cull when their dog is eaten. People move to the coast and so the government puts nets, drum lines and fishermen with guns in boats to keep them safe. ‘What value a life’ is the constant question.
The living versus the dead value of animals is increasingly used as a counterpoint to the wildlife trade. While I think this is a valid counter argument, it still enmeshes animals into a human construct of capitalism. Instead of a $100 bowl of shark fin soup, a live shark can be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars as a tourist attraction for a community. This is a worthwhile argument to pursue, especially in poorer nations, where they can keep their resources alive and flourishing and attract much needed revenue to their areas instead of exporting them for pennies. However, none of these arguments take into account value, actual intrinsic value, of an animal’s right to live. Tom Reagan’s subject of a life theory fits well here. A shark’s value lies in its ability and right to live. A human construct should not have to be used to frame this or justify it. It should just be.
As we keep circling this idea of value, it brings into account the various debates of introduced species, feral species, endangered species and of course the predator / prey dichotomy. As long as predators keep being vilified for preying on and eating the creatures which evolution has deemed them to eat, false value judgements will keep being made. We have to stop thinking we are on the outside looking in; we are on the inside too. If we continue to act as judge, jury and executioner, there will be nothing left to value.