The Everglades National Park
FIU IDH 4007

Looking through another's Eyes

Christina Pope
IDH 4007
Fall Semester 2004

   As we adjusted our binoculars before walking on the Anhinga Trail, I wondered if we would actually get to see anything exciting with our binoculars. Unfortunately, as the professor tried to help me adjust mine, we discovered that the new binoculars I had just purchased had double vision. Disappointed, I raised my hopes even higher that we would see something up close that we would not necessarily need the binoculars for. Headed down the path, we saw an Anhinga and a few other birds that stayed long enough for me to quickly borrow a friend's binoculars.

   Not far down the path from seeing the Anhinga, all of us quickly glanced over to the right in the bushes where we saw something move. One of our professors walked over to the bushes, bent over, and picked up a snake with his bare hands. It was a harmless snake, a Black Racer, but the capture of the snake still shocked us all. The professor calmly picked up the snake and began talking about it. At that moment, we were all excited that we had our very own Steve Erwin. I was excited that I was able to see something without needing a pair of binoculars. As our professor continued displaying the snake and trying to keep it from moving, the snake reached up and latched onto his finger for about five seconds until it let go. Our professor, of course, had no reaction as he again calmly waited for the snake to let go of his finger. Just barely breaking the skin, and a little blood, the professor eventually put the snake down as we all watched it slither away into the bushes.

   At the moment that the snake took hold of our professor's hand, I couldn't help but wonder what was going through the snake's tiny brain. Was it "Geez this guy looks big, maybe if I bite him he will let me go," or was it "hmmm, this finger looks awfully tasty; I think I'll try a bite." What was the real reason for the snake biting our professor? Was it out of fear, curiousness, or hunger? Considering how small the snake was, most of us would assume that it was afraid and was protecting itself. But how can we be sure? We are not snakes. What makes humans think that they can even begin to presume they know why another species does something or what it is thinking? I know the answer that most will give: humans are of superior intelligence, therefore, they must be able to predict the thought process of something with a much inferior intelligence. I , however, ask the question: how can we be so sure if we have no way to communicate with another species on the same level?

   As we continued our trip that Friday, I continued to ask myself the same question: I wonder what the animals that we were seeing were thinking about us? Take the alligator for example that we saw ever so closely as it stared us down during lunch, waiting for us to give him a bite of our food. Was he simply thinking "I know they will give me food because they have given me food before," or could he be thinking "maybe if they give me some of their lunch I can get close enough to have them for lunch." Once again, most of us came to the conclusion that because humans have fed the alligators in this area several times before, the alligator had become conditioned to expect little snacks from humans. This seems like a fair conclusion to me, but how do we really know that that was all the alligator wanted. How do we know he wasn't just curious about us? Yes we can easily say that through research and past experiences that that was probably not the case, but can we really make that an absolute fact if we are not alligators? Experiencing this incident during lunch reminded me of the airboat tour that we took through the Everglades at Coopertown. The alligators were accustomed to the boats coming through there, and because of the previous ability to feed the alligators marshmallows, the alligators had come to expect that. My question then becomes: what were the people thinking who fed them? Yes it may be cute to feed an alligator marshmallows, but are we really thinking of the consequences?

   Because humans have become so eager to claim that they can predict what another species is going to do or how it will react, we have put the animals as well as ourselves in more danger. I think that it is this exact behavior that leads to the decreasing numbers of some animals over time. For example, we separate different species of animals from each other so they won't kill each other. We can find an example of this happening here in South Florida. Several times we have heard on the news about a giant alligator that has been removed and transported to another place because of the possible threat it has on people and other animals such as possibly deer and other animals found in the wild. Isn't it possible that even the limited removal of these animals could have an affect on the reproduction of these animals? Is it not also possible that this could have an affect on the population growth of another animal due to the fact that those few alligators are not killing them for food anymore? Take the deer for example. The population growth of the species no longer being controlled by the alligator, such as deer, could then lead to a decrease in the population of sawgrass from there being more deer eating the sawgrass. The decrease in sawgrass could have an affect on another life form, and the chain of effects can just keep going on and on. How do we know that won't have a negative outcome in the long run?

   Referring back to Audubon's journeys in the Everglades, I come across the conflict of not really being able to know what another species is thinking. In order to capture the beauty and innocence of some of the birds in the Everglades, Audubon kills some of them in order to paint them and have them represent life size figures of the birds. Audubon might have loved the birds so much that he wanted to make them immortal in his mind's eye, but did he think about the bird when he was doing that? I wonder what is going on in the minds of those who kill animals when they are actually killing them, whether the killing is for a noble or selfish reason. I think that many people, such as hunters, look upon animals as not having a thought process such as feelings or emotions. We automatically assume or want to believe that animals experience neither. I feel that this very belief has led to the endangerment and even extinction of many different species of animals. We cannot truly know what ananimal is thinking or feeling unless we look through their eyes, and unfortunately that is not a possibility. How can humans begin to assume we can predict what an animal feels or if they have emotions if we have so much trouble understanding each other?

   In examining the issue of "inhabiting others' lives," as we did in our second year honors course, I wish to conclude that the acknowledgment and acceptance of the limitations of the human race will lead to even greater discoveries. We must accept that we cannot possibly look through the eyes of another species. One cannot truly begin to examine and understand life until they admit that they will never be able to know everything there is to know or see what every living thing sees. I believe that this outlook could hopefully lead to the salvation and protection of the beautiful natural areas across the world such as the Everglades.

   
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