by Whit Gibbons

January 15, 2006

I recently read two newspaper stories about people mistreating animals. The first involved the killing of an American crocodile near Key Largo, Florida, by a group of men who lassoed the animal and dragged it behind a truck till it was dead. A bystander took photos of the men abusing the animal, and at least one man has been taken into custody. I don’t know the final outcome for the perps, but if everything plays out as it should they will be fined and sentenced to jail time.

I have no idea what these characters might have been thinking. Did they believe it was a vicious man-eating reptile? In fact, American crocodiles never hurt anyone (I do not think there is a single documented attack of any sort by this species in the United States). Did they think American crocodiles were so common they were a nuisance species? Actually, we have no more than a few hundred left in their native range in southern Florida, and the American crocodile is on the federal endangered species list.

Mistreating animals in such a manner cannot be classified as sport, no matter how loosely one defines “sport.” And were the American crocodile as common as American alligators and as vicious as some of the crocodiles in Australia, the behavior of these men would still be unwarranted. To my mind, there is no justification for such hateful and malicious behavior.

The other recent news report was about a man who found a mouse in his house and pitched it into a burning leaf pile in his front yard. Not surprisingly, the mouse immediately emigrated from the burning leaves. But rather than running into the woods to die, like a flaming rodent might be expected to do, it ran back into the house. I’m not sure how it all happened, but before the man could say “three blind mice,” the little firestorm had set the man’s house ablaze. I feel certain the mouse lost its own life during this spectacle, but I’m sure it died laughing.

Among the most maligned groups of animals are the snakes, so you can imagine that many examples of snake abuse can be found. In a few instances the tables have been turned and people have ended up on the losing end. The following true stories provide evidence for why at least some people would have been better off if they had curbed their distaste for snakes.

One story involved a man in India armed with a rifle who encountered a snake in a forest. Apparently not wanting to waste ammunition on so lowly a creature, but nonetheless wanting to kill it (never mind that there is no rational reason for killing a snake in a forest), the man began crushing the snake's head with the butt of his rifle. A dying snake begins to thrash and curl around. As the snake squirmed, its tail reached the trigger and squeezed. The story ends as you might think. Snake crawls off into woods. Man crawls to hospital.

Another incident occurred in Mississippi. A man with a double barreled shotgun saw a snake crawling around one of his outbuildings. As the snake slid alongside a box in the doorway, the man pulled the first trigger of the shotgun. He did not pull the second trigger. The snake was dead. The man was dead, too, and the building was gone. The first shot had detonated a case of dynamite the snake was crawling beside.

Another widely publicized incident took place in Alabama, where two alcohol laden citizens played hot potato with a canebrake rattlesnake, tossing it back and forth to each other. The rattlesnake crawled away safely after biting one of the participants, who died before proper medical treatment could be administered.

Most people realize that wild creatures can experience pain, just as we do. Snakes probably suffer the most abuse because of insensitive human attitudes, but any animal can fall victim to human cruelty. Unfortunately, the outcomes noted in the stories mentioned above all true occur too infrequently to suit me, but I enjoy hearing about the instances when justice reigns.

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