Yesterday, while doing my daily lunchtime writing, I was watching a gull and I began to wonder if the most successful species were omnivores. Gulls will eat most anything, and there’s lots of them. Kakapo are vegans, and there’s not many of them. Kiwi are carnivores and there’s not many of them. Is the reason why humans have been so successful because we, like gulls, will scarf down anything? Like gulls, we flock. Perhaps the edge we have over gulls is that we will cooperate more.
Other omnivores I could think of were sparrows, starlings, and pigeons. Heaps of them. Chimps, bonos – hmm not too many of them, but rats and mice, again, omnivores; and lots. I began to wonder about pests. What makes an animal, bird, or plant a pest? I decided the standard answers – along the lines of – a plant pest is one that grows fast, is hard to kill, reproduces easily, and is simply growing in the wrong place – was insufficent. What makes an animal pest is one that grows fast, is hard to kill, reproduces easily, and is simply living in the wrong place. And this is insufficient too.
Why? Cabbages grow fast, are hard(ish) to kill, they reproduce easily, and well, could be growing in the wrong place. Sheep grow fast, they’re sturdy, they breed like sheep do, and the only reason they aren’t in the wrong place is we farm them. A cabbage growing in the wrong place isn’t a huge worry. In fact, there’s never a wrong place for a cabbage because it’s on the way to the table, no matter what. No wonder the sheep are worried. A little minced lamb, a cabbage leaf to roll it in… dinner at 21:00…
And that was my clue. Here’s my new thoughts about what is a pest. While chimps are omnivores, as are rats, chimps have not mastered the ‘eat from the human table thing’. Rats have. Mice have. Sparrows, starlings and pigeons have. They’ve managed to get a food range from near what humans eat. They’ve hung out near the master omnivore, and they dine from our tables.
The reason why there are many ducks, chickens, sheep, cows, goats, pigs, and a few other species that are commonly on or near our tables is because – well, because they are on our tables. Anything that interferes with getting them on our tables is a pest. Simple as that. We go beyond out of our way to protect our food. The same applies to the vegetables we eat. We’ll do all kinds of madness to remove plants and insects using all kinds of chemicals not because they’re inherently evil, but because they compete with us for food. The nerve of them!
We tolerate dogs and cats, and other pets, sometimes because they help defend our food from the ‘pests’, or there’s some other pay off – the aesthetics of the singing canary for example. But for the most part, our ‘good books’ life forms are those who help defend OUR food e.g. the ladybird (yay) preys on aphids (boo). In our ‘bad books’, animals that eat our food e.g. cabbage caterpillars (boo) are preyed on by predatory wasps (hmmm wasps? – wait, they’re goodies – oh good – yay). We like labrador dogs (serve and protect), we don’t like hyenas (omnivores, yes, but altogether too sneaky, and they steal our food, or prey on OUR zebras).
Rain forest is a pest. Takes up the space of a cattle farm, a soya bean farm, a farm farm. Wetlands are a pest. Wild things are pests. It’s our planet, it’s all about us. If we can’t eat you, you better be entirely about dealing to whatever pest is standing between me and my food. Or you’re a pest, and be gone.
I wonder if this is a genuinely ‘human’ thing, or whether this is because of the Judeo-Christian perspective that God said humans will have dominion over everything. When we created God, it’d make sense to create a God that worked on our side in terms of what we eat. Otherwise God would be standing between us and our food. God would be a pest. Be gone. But luckily for God he was created in the image of humans, and therefore knew which side his bread was buttered on.
I think the ‘primative’ races created Gods that were often animal forms – and they worked with the people to ensure there weren’t pestilence in the land. Abundance, paucity according to the ebb and flow of the seasons; but rarely did another species stand between the human and their food. Other species were kind of neutral – and perhaps this is reflected in the broader based eating habits – most anything edible was in the food chain.
It doesn’t seem overly primative to me. Seems unusually sophisticated. But then I am the guy who watches gulls at lunchtime.