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Hey! A Little Help?
I had thought that we had a deal. A deal between me and nature shows, that is. The deal, as I understood it, went something like this: predators would pursue their prey. The tense music would swell, there would be long, protracted scenes of cold-eyed menace from the predator and flop-sweat terror from the prey. The suspense would build to a climax…and the lucky herbivore would finally escape. Barely.

The narrator would always make clear that the prey was lucky…this time. If I wanted to dwell on the horror of that hypothetical killing and eating, I could, but they would not permit the slaughter to happen on screen. They agreed (or so I had thought) that no animals would die in agony while I was still digesting my own dinner.

Well, it appears I was mistaken about that deal. Last night, on Planet Earth, a pack of African wild dogs, after a long chase across the Zambian grasslands, pulled down a wildebeest while I was watching and put some serious hurt on the poor bugger. I assume they went on to devour it on the spot, but at least I was spared that unpleasantness.

I suppose there must be a clause in our agreement that allows David Attenborough to do this if the predator in question is the focus of the show. If the stars are a family of kinkajous, say, or marmosets or meerkats or manatees, they will not die during the show. In a show about a predator, however, we know that its main job is to kill and eat other animals. I suppose you have to cover that part of the story no matter how bloody.

For some reason, though, I found this one depiction of the cycle of life to be particularly objectionable. I have seen nature shows, for instance, in which lions are the lead characters. As with the wild dogs, their line of work involves chowing down on adorable plant-eaters, but the king of beasts has the good grace to simply glom onto the victim’s neck until it suffocates. Still gruesome, to be sure, but I appreciate the exercise of noblesse oblige in allowing it to die before starting to eat it.

The wild pooches are not so polite, but I suppose that I can’t really blame them. They’re just doing their job. I am even willing to let Attenborough off the hook…this time. What really sticks in my craw, however, is the wildebeest itself. That’s right, I’m blaming the victim.

And no, not because it’s ugly, although that is hard to deny. It’s certainly no zebra or impala or dikdik, much less a meerkat or big juicy bunny. But let’s not dwell on appearances. Rather, I am down on the wildebeest because of the crowd it hangs out with. Specifically, the wildebeest tends to pal around with other wildebeests.

Whole herds, in fact, and that is where the problem lies. The wildebeest who was being pursued in this instance was desperate to get back to his herd. There, we were told, he would find safety in the numbers of his kinfolk, and the dogs would give up the chase.

There was suspense, of course, or I wouldn’t have been watching. The victim gets closer and closer to safety. Will he make it? Or will the bloodthirsty pack pull him down? He’s almost there! We can see some of the herd raise their heads and take notice. “Oh look,” you can imagine them thinking. “It’s Bob, and he’s about to be devoured by wild dogs. Bummer.” But do any of the herd lift a hoof to help? No sirree, Bob.

Now, a wildebeest herd can claim more than a million — yes, a million — of these brutes. And they’re big, too, with some of the bulls weighing as much as 400 pounds, complete with big hooves and horns. Couldn’t a few of them take a moment from chewing their cuds to go on a rescue mission? Maybe some young males looking to make a reputation? All it would take would be numbers, after all. No dog is going to hold his ground against a gang of gnus looking to rumble.

That doomed wildebeest might even be forgiven for thinking, as I had, that he had a deal. His deal would go something like this: if any one of us is threatened by a pack of dogs — or any predator — a pick-up squad of my fellow ‘beests will be dispatched to save me. In other words, the kind of herd immunity you can count on in a pinch. Maybe Bob should have gotten it in writing.
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Trump supporters are people who know what they believe.
~ JC, Bonny Doon