Animal behavior-A A +A
Friday, February 15, 2013
LOLONG is dead and he has become a hero and adopted son. The largest saltwater crocodile in captivity in the world expired a year and five months after being captured in September 2011, and speculations are that it was due to infections caused by a swallowed nylon cord.
Yet another magnificent creature done in by the mundane; and if we are to enlist literature, Lolong’s story could probably qualify as a tragedy “describing a conflict between the protagonist and a superior force and having a sorrowful or disastrous conclusion that elicits pity or terror” (Merriam-Webster).
Human lives are very intertwined with animals. We rely on them to feed us, work for us, keep us company and even intercede for us. It isn’t a surprise that we sometimes tend to view or depict animals in human-like terms. One need only check the Internet to find evidence of anthropomorphism: dogs dressed in apparel and resembling their owners, cats engaged in cute poses, horses that can do tricks -- the list grows. We even use animal behavior to characterize and explain ours – think about the idioms that pepper our daily conversation (parang unggoy kung umakyat; mala-isdang nasa tubig kung uminom ng alak; parang paro-paro na dumadapo sa maraming bulaklak kung manligaw, etc.)
Environmentalists and animal lovers protest the negative image attached to crocodiles. Humans have generally feared crocodiles, viewing them as rapacious and preying on other animals and humans in vulnerable conditions. An apex species, crocodiles have also inspired awe and there are many cultures that celebrate them.
Crocodiles have not been spared and become a device to depict unsavory human behavior (buwaya ang taong iyan). One joke goes that in the Philippines instead of two there are four crocodile species – the saltwater (Crocodylus porosus), the freshwater (Crocodylus mindorensis), the chocolate boys (Crocodylus chocolatus), and those in Congress (Crocodylus congresus). The latter two categories refer to members of the public sector engaged in graft and corruption – traffic enforcers who extorted money from motorists (at one time they wore brown uniforms and were called the chocolate boys); and legislators who, because they did more scamming than legislating, were also called congressmen.
These views blithely ignore the fact that crocodiles like many animals are victims of the degradation of the environment due to human activity. Habitat loss due to logging and other encroachments, and pollution have threatened and continue to threaten animals like crocodiles. In some cases they are captured in bids to protect and/or entertain humans.
Was this not the case with Lolong? A huge crocodile was believed to have been responsible for the series of unexplained deaths of animals and people in the Agusan Marsh. This led to the hunt and eventual capture of the 6.17-meter reptile. But apparently because an animal’s capture can be a human being’s commerce, Lolong was soon set up at the Bunawan Eco-Park and Research Center, was declared a record-holder and became a source of tourism revenue.
And now perhaps in a belated act of contrition the Bunawan local government has agreed to issue an ordinance declaring Lolong a hero for “bringing prestige to the town”. Perhaps overcome by emotion, the Mayor has even been reported to regard the reptile “as a son”. In death, Lolong was further appropriated to symbolize the country’s efforts at conservation.
When dramatic irony is used in literature, a character “speaks or acts erroneously, out of ignorance of some portion of the truth of which the audience is aware” (Wikipedia). An animal which habitat is threatened is captured out of fear and put on display. It becomes a source of pride and revenue for the locality and dies due to circumstances that smack of human incompetence or neglect. In death the crocodile is declared a hero and an adopted son and becomes an icon for non-effective efforts at conservation. Dramatic irony.
The point being that sometimes what we do and say about others isn’t really about them, but rather, they speak volumes about us.
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Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on February 16, 2013.