Kipling’s Cat and Saint-Exupéry’s Fox

As part of the BorderLine cycle, co-production Mission Agrobiosciences-INRAE​​and Quai des Savoirs

Animal fables about the wolf or the bear are more familiar to us in understanding our relationships with wildlife than mosquitoes… or bats, pointed out during the emergence of Covid-19 in China.

Everyone, or almost everyone, read Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Little Prince. But if everyone remembers the poetic dialogue between the child and the fox that asks to be tamed in order to know “the price of happiness”, fewer are those who know “the cat that goes away alone”. [1] by Rudyard Kipling. The British writer, best known in France and the rest of the world for the adventures of the young Mowgli in his “Jungle Book”, tells there, in the manner of a beautiful fable for children, the domestication of animals: dog, horse, cow. . except the cat, proud of his independence, who negotiates the right to enter and warm himself by the fireside, claiming his freedom to walk, “through the damp paths of the Bois Sauvage, under the trees or on the roofs, wagging his tail and alone” .

There is a good distance, neither too close nor too far, between the descendants of “denatured” hominids (Vercors) [2] recent descendants of your family tree on the scale of Darwinian evolution, and other animals, have remained “in the state of nature” (or what is left of it)? A vast question that BorderLine, a podcast co-produced by Quai des Savoirs and Mission Agrobiosciences-INRAE, attempted to answer with several guests from various backgrounds during a publicly taped episode, Thursday, July 7, 2022: “Humans and wild animals: avoid commonplaces? » « do not feed animals immediately advises philosopher Joëlle Zask. It’s not about old ladies feeding pigeons or stray cats in cities, it’s about the instructions given to campers in large parks across North America to hang up their supplies so they don’t attract bears. The Aix-Marseille academic is especially concerned about the plantigrades that scavenge even in cities and other “vagrant” animals that increasingly roam the suburbs. People on one side, wildlife on the other: each has its niche. The fox Saint-Ex will be disappointed…

Monkeys in Indian temples and bats in Malaysia

Veterinarian and vice-president of the National Society for the Protection of Nature, François Moutou disputes that the presence in the city of animals considered in other places as “wild” may be common in other countries; or even happen in good intelligence. He cites the example of monkeys in temples in India. ” The problem is the arrival of tourists who do anything “, he replies to Joëlle Zask, surprised to see these monkeys stealing objects to exchange them for food. Asked before the show by the magazine Sesamethe philosopher rejects the idea of cohabitation “with wildlife, preferring to try to establish rules” good neighborhood “. Joëlle Zask assures you again on the Quai des Savoirs: putting bird feeders in your garden would be a bad idea, because it risks attracting other less desirable animals.

However, self-services for non-domestic animals are not always voluntary. They can even cause much more dangerous inconvenience to humanity than the unlikely incursion of a bear into your garden. François Moutou, a specialist in zoonoses, recounts the story of a deadly virus that appeared in 1999 in the village of Nipah, Malaysia. [3]. How can a man die from a disease that affects pigs in a Muslim country? The production was intended for export to China, breeders planted fruit trees to shade the livestock facilities, attracting fruit bats that served as vectors for the transmission of the virus through their droppings, explains the veterinarian, who is also an epidemiologist. The Little Prince understood that he was ” responsible for your rose “but who would” tame “… a virus [4] ?

The bear and the wolf make the hum, not the mosquitoes

François Moutou underlines that, among all mammals present on Earth, 60% are farm animals, while only 10% have remained wild. The other 30% are us humans. A rapidly expanding species: Since I was born, the population has tripled », underlines the 68-year-old veterinarian. Have the remnants of undomesticated wild species become the idolatrous object of an Earth goddess neopantheism for townspeople disconnected from the peasant realities that led humanity to protect itself from jungle incursions? This is the question asked, somewhat sarcastically, by the anthropologist Sergio Dalla Bernardina. The Italian-born academic who conducts a seminar at EHESS points to a ” ecovoyeurism » which, for example, encourages tourists to run to try to see an albino ibex seen in Haute-Savoie [5]. We also thought of Grizzly Man [6], by the German filmmaker Werner Herzog that tells the true story of a documentary filmmaker killed by one of these bears who was filming in Alaska. The Italian academic comes to the aid of the Marseille philosopher, insisting, in turn, on the danger of these large predators that get too close to humans for their liking. ” There are borderline bears in Trentino “Sergio Dalla Bernardina warns, reporting several pastors who would have been attacked in Abruzzo. In short, the fox of Saint-Ex will not be able to count on him to approach the chicken coops.

On the other hand, photographer and naturalist Béatrice Kremer-Cochet is pleased to see the return of animals that have long been expelled from our “neighborhood”. She evokes the otters, back to the rivers where they’ve been for a long time.” accused of eating too much fish », or this chamois seen in the Esterel massif [7]just 200 meters from a village, by the sea » ; and even wolves, who come back on their own “. A reconquest of territories by species presented as ” spontaneous renaturalization ” by this declared militant of the ” renaturalizing », supported in France by ASPAS [8]. A return that is not without problems for breeders, especially in the Alps, where the wolf arrived via the Mercantour park from neighboring Italy, or in the Pyrenees, where bears were reintroduced from Slovenia. ” Breeders are asked a lot to adapt, but less of predators says Ruppert Vimal. For this CNRS researcher based in Ariège, who since 2019 began field research by following three summer pastures frequented by herds in summer and bears, the conflict that has been worsening for more than twenty years in the Pyrenees around the bear is not opposed. human and non-human », but men among themselves. In the absence of ” cohabitation “, he believes that a ” coexistence in fact he has already settled in Ariège. The plantigrade, like Kipling’s cat, is that “Mossu” (gentleman in Gascon) who walks barefoot in the mountains.

and the mosquitoes », asks the presenter anxious not to summarize the debate only with the big predators that feed the buzz? We are still waiting for the answer. For an upcoming show?

Stephane Thepot

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