Friday, 27 April 2012

Good badger, bad badger?

A friend recently confessed to me that when she discovered she had mice living in her kitchen she put cheese out for them.  She thought I would disapprove and she was right.  I wouldn't want to share a kitchen with animals that I regard as potential carriers of disease.  I also noted that when my friend thought a rat had moved in she immediately rang the local council's pest controller rather than leaving out larger portions of cheese.  But it did bring home to me how very selective we humans are in our attitude towards animals.   A vet was telling me that "house rabbits" are now commonly kept as pets, while personally I regard rabbit as rather a tasty ingredient for a casserole.  On the other hand, I do feel a slight shock at the idea of eating dogs, but in other parts of the world this would be commonplace.   So some research by one of Relu interdisciplinary fellows about the historical basis for public attitudes to badgers, it did ring a few bells for me.  I must confess that even now Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows is one of my favourite books and perhaps it has coloured my attitudes.  Certainly when I worked in a rural area where there were several badger setts I always felt rather privileged to see those mysterious black and white shapes in crossing the road in the the early morning, or disappearing into the woods at dusk.  At the same time I am all too aware of the problems faced by many farmers as a result of bovine TB.  So I was interested to read the article by Angela Cassidy about the "good badger" and the "bad badger" and how these conflicting images have polarised the debate, with negative consequences for policymaking .  Of course, on mature reflection, I realise that Mr Badger in The Wind in the Willows is in no sense a wild animal, but rather the wise adult we would all like to have on hand to advise us, whatever our age.  To endow the real badger with any of his human characteristics is ridiculous.  But perhaps that is why we need social science as well as natural science: to tell us about ourselves and our often illogical humanity.

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