Posted: 02/10/2006


PBS Nature: Animals Behaving Worse


by Shannon Huebscher

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With the pronounced emphasis on capitalism in Western societies, it’s no surprise to see the rise of the “haves” and the downfall of the “have-nots”. We are constantly barraged by images in the media of the extreme poverty in countries such as Africa, and ‘re also somehow intrigued by the lifestyles of the rich and famous. Even though we tend to think of these situations to only include humans, it can also be seen in our interaction within the animal world—with the rise of the human population every year, and thus the need for more and more places to live, we are slowly watching wild habitat become less prominent to make way for bigger condos and shopping malls. With this reduction in habitat, we are seeing a progression of more and more wild animals adapting to their land being humanized, and the PBS documentary Animals Behaving Worse tries to tackle this increasingly troublesome situation.

This program beautifully examines the situation that humans are now faced with—how to co-exist in a civilized area with wild animals as our neighbors. From examples of wild bears invading people’s homes in Lake Tahoe, to the feral chickens causing a ruckus in Key West, it is clear that animals are not typically welcome in regards the way we want to live our everyday lives. But the problem isn’t just that these animals can become a nuisance, but more so the lack of understanding on our part in regards to why these animals behave in such seemingly annoying ways. It is essential to teach humans to gain an understanding that these animals are not trying to annoy us, but rather they are just trying to stay alive in what has become a whole new world for them—one that includes houses and roads and plenty of free food.

Animals Behaving Worse clearly understands this notion, by using such phrases as “The more we invade, the more times our paths will cross” and acknowledging that there is a “fuzzy border between our world and theirs”. They also explore the full range of these animals—from just a small nuisance, like how foxes were stealing newspapers from people’s driveways in Ottawa, Kansas, to a life and death situation with the attack of killer or Africanized bees in the Southwest.

Although this documentary runs the gamut of situations of human to animal conflicts, they seem to miss the beat of the real issue at hand. There is an underlying theme of stating that these animals are living and moving into places where they don’t belong, and for me, that doesn’t hit the mark. These animals have been living on this Earth long before humans have taken over, and although we are at the top of the food chain and are obviously the most evolved, that doesn’t change the fact that in the end, we are the ones invading their space. By learning to respect these animals, and to understand their behavior we will be able to learn to empathize with their plight, rather than complain about such things like how loud the frogs are outside our home at night.

Animals Behaving Worse is successful in attracting attention to this hotly debated conflict between humans and wild animals. I hope that this documentary will spark conversations about learning to find ways to understand more about and to co-exist peacefully with the many animals that have now become our next-door neighbors, and to hopefully not let them become the “have-nots” of our modern day society.

Shannon Huebscher is a film critic and writer living in the Midwest.

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