Our Fairytale View Of The Natural World Can Often Backfire

One of the more unusual headlines last week was this from the BBC (and many other news outlets):

“Ohio boa constrictor: Firefighters kill snake ‘stuck to woman’s face'”

Firefighters in the US state of Ohio have rescued a woman who telephoned 911 in terror, pleading, “Oh, please! I have a boa constrictor stuck to my face!”
“Ma’am, you have a what?” the operator replied. “You’re outside with a boa constrictor stuck to your face?”
The terrified woman explained that the 5ft 5in (1.6m) snake had wrapped itself around her and bitten her nose.
She said she had “rescued” the snake and another boa on Wednesday.
An ambulance was swiftly dispatched to the woman, who was found lying in her driveway in the town of Sheffield Lake with the snake around her neck.
“It was wrapped around her neck and biting her nose and wouldn’t let go,” fire chief Tim Card said, according to the local Chronicle-Telegram.
“They had to cut its head off with a knife to get it to let go of her face.” [1]

It was an early summer morning in the American Midwest and I was returning to my home after my usual exercise walk before going to work. The street where we lived was a quiet cul-de-sac of wooden houses and open plan lawns. Suddenly, I heard the most dreadful screams behind me. They cut through the misty, dawn air with such intensity I turned sharply, desperate to witness what was the cause.

Even before I could complete the act, I was aware of the beat of heavy wings as a red-tailed hawk passed over my right shoulder, not twelve feet off the ground. It was working hard to gain altitude due to the weight of a creature hanging from its talons. This was the animal, an adult chipmunk, that was emitting those piercing, agonized, screams that had so startled me.

I could only stand helplessly and watch, listen, as the bird gained height, but those cries of terror were still clearly audible as the hawk and its victim rapidly disappeared over the distant trees. I carried that sound in my head for the rest of the day.

A few weeks ago I was driving up a narrow, rural, lane in France. A tight bend to the left, then up a sharp rise before another bend, this time to the right, revealed a field with trees bordering it. A momentary tableau caught my eye through the car windscreen. A black kite, talons outstretched, was taking hold of a house marten, one of a small flock out feeding on flies in the evening sunshine.

Just for one split second the sudden appearance of my car caused the raptor to falter. In that moment, the smaller bird desperately trying to seek the safety of the trees, broke away and darted into the waiting branches. This time the hawk was baulked of its prey.

Most of us would admire a raptor as a magnificent creature, yet the truth is it’s a cold-blooded killer that rips its prey apart while still alive. But then, so is a house marten when it comes to flies. We tend to speak of the ‘wonders of nature’ and are fascinated by the natural world, but in reality it’s an arena of violent death and destruction, devoid of compassion, emotion, or pity. To survive, everything has to feed off something else. Even the poor old chipmunk, while happy with a few nuts and plants, won’t turn its nose up at the occasional beetle, frog, or worm. The majority of life on this planet is intent on killing anything and everything around it in order to survive.

There’s a food chain that stretches from the lowliest bacteria to, at its peak, the mightiest killers – sharks, alligators, lions, tigers and bears from which even we, who consider ourselves kings of the earth, are not immune from falling victim. Every living thing on the planet, and possibly throughout the universe, is engaged in an emotionless, competitive, struggle to be the survivor.

Nature is often touted as a beauteous vista of mountain scenery, azure skies, green forests, and blue seas, all filled with wondrous creatures for our delectation. Our eyes deceive us; our senses hypnotise us to the truth. Nature, and in particular, evolution, is no more than one huge killing machine. The world is a vast amphitheatre of gladiatorial combat…

…and the only spoil for the victor is a longer period of survival than its victim .

We like to bestow our own emotions onto the animals we see, or keep. As babies we’re programmed to cuddle and love certain furry creatures. We even take effigies of them to our beds with us. The Disney Corporation made its fortunes from portraying wild animals as little humans in disguise.

There have been numerous cases of animals failing to return our misplaced affections: dogs trusted to play lovingly with very small children, only to attack and sometimes kill them when the parent’s back is turned, cats that smother babies (albeit unwittingly), humans convinced they’ve befriended animals from the wild, only to find one day the friendship’s not returned.

Then, of course, there is the Ohio woman who ‘rescued’ a boa constrictor and took it out onto her driveway to pet it and show it some kindness after its ordeal. It responded by trying to kill her. Its intention was to eat her.

She ‘rescued’ it. Did she really think, perhaps, it would be grateful?

[1] “Ohio boa constrictor: Firefighters kill snake ‘stuck to woman’s face'” BBC, July 29th 2017

4 Replies to “Our Fairytale View Of The Natural World Can Often Backfire”

  1. Ah the natural order of life. Eat or be eaten. I think on Soylent Green. A movie that still haunts.

    I believe a lynx on my property has eaten the barn cats. They are invisible.

    And those foxes kill my neighbour’s chickens for fun.


  2. WWW – I never saw the movie, but read the synopsis. What I find amazing is that a company used the name ‘Soylent’ for their all-inclusive dietary product, and people are still buying it.
    Don’t they know it’s made from humans? 😉

  3. That was a good read, RJ – thanks! Wild life, like old age, isn’t for sissies! 😉

    Your post reminded me of one I read a couple of weekends ago, at a website I’ve taken to visiting now and then (surprisingly enough):
    Sic Semper Tyrannis – the blogger is a retired military colonel, Pat Lang. It’s a conservative -leaning site, but in a reasonable way, to my eye. The colonel and many of his commenters know that of which they speak, I believe – re foreign doings.

    Anyway, one weekend Col Lang wrote about his garden and the visiting birds. Nice post, and among comments beneath it I remember there was one about an eagle (I think) flying off with a squirrel – the wee squirrel fought back, twisted around and bit the predator’s leg so badly that it dropped its prey. I liked that!


  4. Twilight – thanks for the link. Apparently it was a red-tailed hawk that got its comeuppance from the squirrel. Perhaps it was the same bird that carried off my chipmunk – the squirrel an avenger! 😉

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