The subjectivity of what is sacred
Something that is becoming more and more apparent from living on a farm for nearly 2 months now is that the value of life (and, more specifically, death) is vastly different to that which I have ever experienced before. This is probably because the people living in the countryside have a closer connection to nature, which, as well as having a deep respect for living creatures, also allows them to witness the harsh and violent aspect of living in the wilderness. Rather than the idealised version of nature that many city dwellers have, where everything in nature is pure and innocent and fragile, those residing in the rural areas see the raw and powerful side to nature on a daily basis; African wild dogs ripping the guts out of kudu calves as they try to run away, droughts killing off thousands of animals, elephants destroying one year's worth of a family's crop in 24 hours, caracals massacring 20 lambs in one night, male lions biting into the necks of their lionesses' bastard cubs, hyenas killing any smaller predator they come across to reduce competition, crocodiles eating children who dare to wash their clothes in the river at the wrong spot. The cruel and unfair rules of the wild are witnessed frequently by those living so close to nature, but these negative aspects are rarely reported to the city folk.
So who am I, a fellow city dweller, to comment on the ethics of what is right or wrong? Who decides whether something is ethical? Why is it OK for other animals to rip each other to shreds but for humans to not? Do we really think we're that far evolved to have surpassed nature's yearnings for blood? As someone who has been interested in animal welfare and conservation all my life, the experiences I've witnessed here have opened my eyes more than I ever thought possible onto the other side of the story. When your life and that of your family depends upon that maize crop field growing in your garden, you are going to defend it as much as possible from the marauding elephants. It is, in all aspects, a dog-eat-dog world out there.
|Lions feast on a live zebra|
|Jackal killed by farm workers to reduce sheep predation|
I was initially baffled at the throwaway society of life in the countryside; a cow hasn't produced a calf? Take her to the slaughter. A goat kid got attacked by a leopard but still survives? Kill it, because it's more expensive to treat it. A warthog digs holes under your fences? Put gin traps out to catch it otherwise it'll let jackals in that might kill your livestock. A porcupine ring-barks the trees in your garden? Set the dogs on it otherwise it'll kill your fruit trees. It shocked me at how the answer to any problem seemed to be death. But what I am learning here is that death is part of life; if there was no morbidity, the world would become even more overcrowded than it is now and there would be no resources left, so we'd all starve. Death HAS to be a part of life, like it or not.
|Caracal killed from a gin trap for suspected sheep killing|
The 10-year-old boy living here on the farm shot his first animal (a dove) when he was 4. Why is this shocking? That the boy knows how to shoot at such a young age or that he's capable of murder? But this is Africa, and people here have been living off the land and all it has to offer - include it's wild animals - for millennia. What is worse - buying a burger from the supermarket that has been raised on a factory farm, pumped full of antibiotics, or hunting your own prey and killing it as humanely as possible? Some may say that we don't have to eat meat at all - I of course do not eat meat - but is this the solution? Namibia is the driest country in sub Saharan Africa; only 5% of the country receives enough rainfall for commercial crop farming. So should the nation rely on imported (and therefore expensive) food, which carries a high CO2 footprint, or turn to it's own natural resources?
|A bull is pulled with a nose ring to hold still whilst its eye is checked by a vet|
I have also been struggling to watch certain aspects of livestock husbandry and management here; branding cattle with hot iron tongs, holding them in metal cages whilst they are prodded and poked, hearing that bulls here are castrated without anaesthetic by cutting the testicle sack open with a razorblade and pulling the testes out. For practises that look, from the perspective of a city girl, to be uncompassionate, I wondered why farmers would treat their income source like this. But these farmers cannot become too attached to their animals, because they know within a year or so, they will have to say goodbye whilst the livestock are loaded onto the truck for slaughter. You cannot become attached to an animal that is being used to earn you money by killing it. Farmers who name their animals are thought of as a joke. Maybe people resort to treating animals as objects to overcome what every human has within them - the capacity to feel empathy towards others. And if this empathy towards their livestock has been lost, it is lost, too, to other animals such as predators. Which leads me to believe that this is why farmers do not think twice about picking up the gun when they see a leopard that's been killing their calves - anything that affects your profits must be dealt with, and the easiest way to do this is to kill it.
|A bull is trapped in a "manga" to be tested for STDs|
So where does this leave my research? Do farmers need to be retaught compassion? Is livestock farming sustainable (socially, economically and environmentally)? Should we urge farmers to become tour operators instead or to just move to the city? And if so, who then should produce food for the nation? These questions have been swirling around my head of late. If you have any input, I'd be happy to hear from you!
In conclusion, as you may appreciate by now, the morality behind what is right or wrong is entirely subjective and depends upon the context. Is killing for any reason wrong? Who can say. I think we as human beings should however strive to be as compassionate as possible - to our fellow species and to that of others. Thinking about a problem holistically, and not just jumping to conclusions without appreciating the bigger picture and how everything is connected, may lead us to a solution that is more acceptable to all those involved.