DON'T KILL SNAKES HERE ANYMORE
May 10, 2009
don't kill snakes here anymore."
part of the evidence I presented to make a point during a recent discussion
with an environmentalist colleague. We were talking about the most effective
ways to encourage the general public to be more respectful toward wildlife
and the environment. A difficult part of the process involves steering
individuals away from mind-sets that are self-rewarding but detrimental
to others. What is the best way to dissuade people from harboring attitudes
and engaging in activities that are locally, regionally, or globally harmful
to native wildlife and natural habitats?
position was that environmentalists must be aggressive. He felt we should
be ever vigilant to point out when, where, and how anyone, especially
a public official or corporation, is abusing our natural resources in
a manner that endangers wildlife or their habitat. In essence, he felt
that the way to get others to alter their environmentally harmful behavior
is to confront and challenge them--to point out the error of their ways.
was that teaching people about wildlife and natural habitats is the way
to decrease prejudice, curb aversion to particular species, and change
negative environmental attitudes to positive ones. When people come to
know and understand an animal species, they are more likely to accept
it as a valid stakeholder in the world's ecosystems. Anyone who learns
to appreciate another species is more likely to take an interest in protecting
the species' particular habitat and in understanding the environmental
factors that affect that species' well-being.
asserted that getting people to accept environmental responsibility and
to have forbearance toward wildlife by getting them familiar with animals,
plants, and natural habitats is a futile approach. "Familiarity breeds
contempt," he said. But the well-known saying, which has its origins
in the moral of Aesop's fable about a fox and a lion, has another interpretation.
In the story the fox is dreadfully frightened by the lion the first time
he sees it in the forest. On his second encounter with the king of the
beasts the fox is less impressed. And by the third meeting he actually
strikes up a conversation (as animals did back in Aesop's time) and dismisses
the lion as no more noteworthy than any other animal.
I told my
colleague that I prefer the translation of Aesop's fables from the Greek
by George Fyler Townsend, who ends the tale of the fox and the lion with
the moral "acquaintance softens prejudices," instead of the
more familiar ending. Thus, familiarity breeds not contempt but tolerance
and acceptance. In support of this, I described local outreach programs
in my community that use native snakes and other reptiles to educate the
public about the role these oft-maligned creatures play in the ecosystems
they inhabit. People have a variety of attitudes toward the environment
and the wildlife, especially snakes, in it. And those attitudes are often
influenced by how familiar they are with a particular species or group
of animals. Becoming more knowledgeable about wild creatures and unfamiliar
habitats makes people more aware of and better connected to the natural
world. By dispelling myths and correcting misunderstandings, the local
outreach programs help people overcome their prejudices toward various
elements of the natural world.
people that most snakes are harmless, that those that can be dangerous
only bite as a last resort, and that we should be glad when snakes are
around because as top carnivores they are sentinels of a healthy environment
helps keep the environment healthy. Although it is true that a big rattlesnake
or small coral snake has the potential to cause harm, such instances are
further that I think anyone interested in protecting snakes, birds, wetlands,
or any other environmental commodity will have the greatest success by
educating the public and familiarizing them with what such creatures and
habitats have to offer. The strongest advocates for a cause, such as protecting
wildlife and natural habitats, will be those who are most familiar with
them. Such people accept ownership of their environment and its components,
even snakes. I know, because we've been conducting such outreach programs
in this area for years. And people don't kill snakes here anymore.
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