An Eye For An Eye?

Sitting on the bank of Three Mile creek, near Wyndham in western Australia, a woman was attacked by a saltwater crocodile, which tore off part of her arm. In response to this dreadful attack, wildlife officers were mobilised and sent to track down and kill the offending croc. On dissection of the animal, they found the remains of the woman’s hand and arm in its stomach.

However, as we are all aware, such an incident is far from unique. Animal attacks, whether they have been carried out by a shark, crocodile, lion, cougar, bear or any other, are often seen in the news. When such attacks are reported, more often than not, the response is to track down and kill the offending animal. So, why does this happen? What is the justification? Well, it is argued that such an animal is a threat to the public and must therefore be ‘destroyed.’ Accepting such a way of thinking, there are many published papers available that claim such a course of action is nothing but necessary, with some even claiming that these animals ‘deserve to die.’ Now, I have never been attacked by an animal (other than a dog bite and that was not an attack) and I cannot imagine how such an event would impact a life, especially if you lose a limb. These events are undeniably awful for those involved and should not be dismissed, however, to argue that animals deserve to lose their lives as a consequence, is a different issue.

In most cases when animal attacks occur, the offending creature is a carnivore and all too often, as a result of the attack, these animals are awarded human personality traits. Words such as ‘evil’ ‘vicious’ and ‘merciless’ seem to worm their way into the conversation. However, this is a wild animal, which has to hunt to survive and when we see them hunting elk, birds or antelope or whatever, this is considered entirely normal. However, should they attack a human, they become something more sinister and we hunt down the individual and kill it. Threat removed. Or is it? You cannot predict the behaviour of a wild animal and if we’re honest, why wouldn’t such a predator hunt a human? Logically, there is no reason why they should not. Of course I am not suggesting that therefore we are all fair game and that large animals such as lions and tigers and bears (0h my!) should be allowed to wander through our cities, that would not help us humans or the animals. However, if we find ourselves in their habitat and we are well aware that such creatures are present, we should exercise extreme caution.

Recently, I was listening to a popular radio talk show and they brought up the incident of a British hiker who was attacked by a grizzly bear. The presenter, presumably hoping to shock, described the attack, saying that the hiker had had his shin ‘ripped right off’. You can imagine the mental picture that conjures. This however, was not the case. Of course it was not pleasant, but his shin remained intact and although heavily bandaged up, the man seemed surprisingly buoyant about his experience, having suffered no real damage. Though, once again, the animal was described as being something of a savage, exacting a vengeful attack on the unsuspecting man.

The closest I have come to such a ‘dangerous’ animal was on holiday in Florida, where we went to spot alligators in the Everglades. Walking across a grassy island surrounded by water, my thirteen year old self walked right to the edge and stared out across the water, looking for an alligator. On seeing there was nothing about, I glanced down at my feet where two huge eyes met my gaze, before the reptilian face disappeared back into the water. Naturally, I jumped about twenty feet backwards and watched as the alligator reappeared, swimming away in the opposite direction. Although nothing happened, it easily could have done. After all, I was standing (rather foolishly) right by the waters edge in an area where I knew full well that there were alligators. There I am, an early teenager, with no means of defending myself and nobody standing right next to me to help if anything happened. I am of course relieved that this was the case, but I was fair game.

When an animal attacks a human, we carry out what we feel is justice. The animal is hunted down and loses its life. But this is an animal, an animal that eats meat and does not award humans with the superiority that we all too often award ourselves. Yes, these animals are dangerous, but all predators are dangerous, whether the individual has a history of attacking humans or not. Some even argue that by removing these individuals from their wild population, the population has an evolutionary advantage. However, there is no evidence for this. I would never have anything but sympathy for someone who has suffered such an attack and nobody deserves it, but we cannot control everything around us. Wild animals have this name for a reason, they are untamed and will therefore behave in an undomesticated manner. By killing such an animal are we protecting other humans from an attack? Maybe, but maybe not. The reasons behind animal attacks vary greatly, they can be related to territory, fear, hunger or simply protecting their young. This was the case with a mother grizzly bear who mauled a hiker when he watched them from behind a tree. She lost her life as she was perceived as a threat to humans for acting on her maternal instincts.

These animals are classed as a danger, when they are usually acting in a way that stays true to their instincts. Surely, all wild animals are a potential danger to the public, but should we go and hunt them to extinction? Animal attacks are unfortunate, but they will continue to happen when animals and humans meet in certain situations. As humans, our race demands an unreasonable amount of respect from these animals and yet we show them none in return.

An eye for an eye? Or does an eye for an eye make the whole world blind?



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Eleanor Daisy Upstill-Goddard
I have been a bird enthusiast since I was a child and have just completed my MSc at Newcastle University on 'Biodiversity Conservation and Ecosystem Management.'
Eleanor Daisy Upstill-Goddard

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1 Response

  1. Avatar Kevin Murphy says:

    A good and thoughtful article. This message needs to be spread to all people to truly respect our wild nature and the environment. Attacks occur where people do not understand wildlife.

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