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Serving the Ecosystem : The Only Known Species Threatening Humanity Is The Human Race Itself

IN WRITING HERE recently about the bat, an unfairly maligned creature, I deplored the lack of nylon bats, for cuddling, like koala bears.

I have been informed by readers that nylon bats indeed exist; also I have been told that koalas aren’t bears.

I didn’t know about nylon bats, but I did know that koalas were not true bears. The koala is called a bear because it resembles a bear. Prairie dogs are not dogs, sea horses are not horses and sea lions are not lions.

Koala bear is recognized by Webster’s, which says “koala, also koala bear,” and adds that, in Australia, it is known as a kangaroo bear and a native bear.

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Marvin Petal of Santa Monica makes the point that if you drop the bear from koala bear, you still have the koala, but if you drop the dog from prairie dog and the lion from sea lion, you have nothing (but environment). I’m sure that both the prairie dog and the sea lion have scientific names that identify them specifically, but they are known as dogs and lions because the language loves metaphors.

A complaint more difficult to set aside comes from Abigail Kurtz Mahoney of San Marcos, who describes my thoughts on the bat as “mindless drivel” and urges the editors to terminate me. Mahoney objects specifically to my remark that “it is clear that the bat is our friend, and that, despite its appearance, it is here to serve humanity.”

“This guy is supposed to be an intellectual?” she asks. “Bats make up but one thread in our immense, ever-changing ecosystemic web. Just because they pollinate, spread seeds and eat insects does not mean they are here on earth to ‘serve’ us! Comments such as this, made in jest or out of stupidity, are not helpful to anyone or anything . . . .”

First, I doubt that anyone has ever thought of me as an intellectual; least of all me. As a college dropout, an ex-Marine and a former sports reporter, whose idea of a cultural event is drinking beer and watching a football game on TV, I am hardly qualified for membership in that rarefied club.

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As for my remark that bats are here to serve humanity, Mahoney is correct; it is biologically absurd. The anthropocentric belief that the earth was created for the benefit of humankind died with Darwin.

“This dangerous notion,” she says, “represents the mentality that allows for the systematic tampering and de struction by humans of our delicate ecological balances and natural resources. Nothing is here to serve humanity--not even humanity.”

If I understand Mahoney (and I may not), by saying that bats are here to serve humanity I imply that many other species are not and thus mark them for extermination.

Obviously, the only known species that is likely to destroy Homo sapiens is Homo sapiens itself. It is possible, of course, that some little bug will wipe us out, as Pasteurella pestis almost did in the 14th Century.

But every species plays some part in the ecosystem, if only infinitesimally. Cockroaches, leeches, boll weevils, fleas, lice, mosquitoes and rats may serve some purpose (though I’m not sure about mosquitoes).

Even Pasteurella itself may have contributed to the planet’s health by decimating humankind at a critical time in its history. If it had succeeded in exterminating us, we might still have passenger pigeons and buffalo.

Nothing could be truer than Mahoney’s remark that “not even humanity is here to serve humanity.” If ever a species was bent on self-destruction, we are it. Also, humankind may be the only species on earth that does not serve the system, except that in creating our filthy cities we serve rats and cockroaches, and in planting cotton we serve the boll weevil. All we do for the mosquito is let it bite us. When we vanish, as we will, it will take millions of years for the lichen to cover our wreckage.

In saying that the bat serves us, I was only hoping to curb our hostility for this creature, which myth has taught us to despise, and perhaps help save it from extinction.

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I doubt that we can ever get man to love fleas and rats; but if we can get him to love bats, it’s a start, isn’t it?


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