The Everglades National Park
FIU IDH 4007

Jennifer Burleson
IDH 4007
Fall Semester 2001


Finding my place in nature;
An essay on human superiority, animal rights and overpopulation


   Caught up in the modern day scheme of things, I haven't felt connected
to nature in some time. I always considered myself a lover of nature and
the outdoors. But driving west on US 41, as I passed the turnpike and
headed into the everglades, I began to think about the last time I had been
so removed from the everyday hustle and bustle. I have been having
internal conflict as of late, and it seems this trip illuminated some facets of
this inner unrest. It has always been easier for me to put my thoughts on
paper. This is the attempt of this essay, to externalize this internal conflict.
As I do this, I am hoping to better understand myself.

   One such debate I have with myself is whether human life is to be held
above other life, and if such a concept is even possible. The second of my
internal conflicts is animal rights. Do or should animals have rights?
Finally, and most important, what is my responsibility or place in the grand
scheme of things? This includes my decision to be a responsible human
being, and whether I should have children or adopt. These ideas, not
mutually exclusive, tie together and overlap in a common theme of my
current internal thought processes.

    It seems to be my understanding that western religion or Christianity
holds the belief that animals were put here on Earth for us humans.
Human beings are held above all else. This is the justification for things
like animal research, and the draining of the everglades for human
habitation. I personally would put most members of my human family
above my pet dog, if it came down to a choice. But my question is, are our
lives more valuable than other life in the grand scheme of things? Or are
all living things, being in a common ecosystem, interdependent? Finally,
what kind of life will there be if we continue our current path of destroying
these habitats, our habitat?

   When I pulled into Coopertown, I noticed I was the first person to
arrive. This gave me a chance to look around a little. Coopertown is a
tourist trap. It includes a quaint restaurant which offers gator tail and
airboat rides, the latter being the reason for our trip. As I walked past the
restaurant and toward the dock where the airboats depart, I came to a hut
with a counter where you inquire about the airboat rides. There were some
small aquariums seated upon the counter. One contained baby alligators,
and the other held some curious baby turtles. As I looked into the different
tanks, I saw several species of turtles I had never seen before which
raised my curiosity. It was at that moment I came upon a disturbing sight.
In one of the bigger tanks, was what appeared to me, an adolescent age
alligator. On first sight it was obvious that the tank was too small for this
beautiful creature. I looked into his magnificent eye, as he swam to no
avail into the glass over and over. A sad and alarming feeling came over
me. I felt like releasing this alligator from his prison immediately. I just felt
and still feel it is wrong to have him in there, and that I should do
something about it. Which leads me to my conflict. Who am I to tell these
people to release this alligator? Is it wrong to have him in there in the first
place? Should I try to do something about it, and what should I do? Many
people feel that animals do not have souls. Even if this is the case, they
still have a nervous system and therefore can feel. Do I think animals
should have rights? Of course I do. I feel animals should have the right,
just like people to pursue happiness, which basically means living their
natural animal lives. I have since contacted the Everglades Field Office of
the National Wildlife Federation concerning this gator and his small prison.

   When I was in elementary school, in science class, my science book
showed two photos. One of an obese child eating, and next to it was a
picture displaying a very thin starving child. This chapter discussed waste
as well as the idea of overpopulation. From what my college biology
professor explained to me, the food chain is supposed to look like a
triangle with the smallest animals the most abundant on the bottom and
the larger animals the fewer, toward the top. He explained that we
humans, being overpopulated, have upset the food chain and the natural
order of things. What I want to know is, of all of these quests to save this
or that animal or place, isn't the bottom line just too many humans? In our
age of political correctness, I guess no one wants to bring up the topic of
overpopulation, especially if it means telling people not to have children.
For many, including a friend of mine when discussing this topic, feel it is
our God-given right to reproduce. This is the basis of my conflict. I am
almost thirty and have been having strong biological urges to have a child
myself. I think about my responsibility to the planet. I think about places
like the everglades and feel there has got to be some kind of a
compromise. Maybe between my partner and I, we could have one child
and adopt some, thereby reducing our population by half. Or we might
have no children and adopt many. My point being that the problem of
human overpopulation is underlying most of our environmental problems.
It needs to be addressed and at least discussed, if there are to be any
considerable advances in the restoration and preservation of our planet.

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