Hated (But Misunderstood) Animals: Final Thoughts

The images for this article are all going to be taken from the top ten list and will be some of my favourite images. Of all the top ten I still think the rat is the cutest and this little chonker exemplifies that. (Credit: pete beard CC-BY-2.0)

This is a little personal blog because, honestly, after that list I have feelings and stuff.

I thought, going in, I’d get to laugh and joke about widespread fears and prejudice about particular animals and we’d have a jolly good time and all move on.

With the bats that is exactly how it started. Persecution of bats is, as far as I can tell, incidental to their reputation as something to be feared. Especially here in the UK the problem is that we are ousting them from roosting sites, increasingly poisoning their prey with insecticides and pesticides and basically being annoyingly human. Bats aren’t rounded up in their droves and slaughtered because of superstitions that they are vampires.

If I don’t use this for the bats I am a scoundrel! Fruit bats are just flying puppies.

It was the very next instalment where it all changed. As I mentioned in my #1 article, I was going to put wasps here, at #9. I genuinely thought people thought the same as me about wasps. Whether that was me being ignorant of people’s true feelings, whether it was that autistic assumed knowledge thing, whether I just dramatically underestimated how much people could hate something that even in its most annoying form is a centimetre or two long and at most wants some jam, I don’t know what it was! Either way it did not take much research, opinion gathering and polling to find out that wasps are actually despised.

I had a full article about the common wasp (Vespula vulgaris) written! It was about a tenth the length of the final one, more akin to the short, jovial nature of what I had done for the bats. Not publishing that was where the whole tone shifted.

Writing the pigeon article was where I really started to comprehend the disdain and disregard we have for some of these animals. The very designation of ‘pest’, and all the meaning that the word carries, it denotes an organism of negative value. It signifies an organism that takes without giving. For almost everything on this list that is called a ‘pest’ I couldn’t find a single one that deserved the label. The pigeon is considered a pest because it shits on statues of dead white guys, the pigeon is considered a pest because it nests in the decorative eaves of rich people’s buildings and shits on their expensive suits. Otherwise it’s a remarkable bird that only lives the way it does because we selectively bred rock doves to live in close proximity to us and when they actually made a really good go of it, it became inconvenient to us.

Without a doubt my favourite image of the pigeon bunch. How many of us have something similar to this as our first memory of interacting with pigeons. The childlike curiosity and innocence becomes lost someone in the corruption to adulthood and, thus many who once played with pigeons compassionately like this grow to hate them. (Credit: Jennifer Boyer CC-BY-2.0)

The pigeons are where I started to get angry. There is an arrogance and a selfishness. I have always known about it. I have discussed it often. Humans are an exceptional species but they’re not that exceptional. They’re made of the same organic matter, subject to the same processes and yet we work hard to remove ourselves from them. I touch on reasons why in the articles about bats and vultures. We are terrified of being subject to those processes. As the only animal that we know of that is aware of its part in those processes we are also the only known animal that has to process the terror of life. Unfortunately we do this not with humble acknowledgement and respect for the beauty of decay but by walling ourselves off in an artifice and declaring anything else that might live, breath, eat, shit or die in that artifice a ‘pest’.

I think, deep down, consciously but buried, subconsciously, even unconsciously, we’re aware we can never escape life – and thus death. I think this is why we imprison ourselves, obsess on longevity of life rather than quality of life. I think it’s why we weed our yards and gardens, cut our lawns, I think most aspects of human control over nature are related to this deep rooted fear of being part of a greater cycle, intrinsically, part of death.

Some groups of animals didn’t make the cut. As I explained in my introduction this is mostly because there are legitimate (or evolutionarily legitimate) reasons to be cautious of them. Much like I did with sharks, I will redeem them all in our eyes in time! Snakes, for example, are historically considered primate hunters. Many primates have an acute ability to spot snakes believed to be related to this predation. As such, a fear or hatred of them, whilst irrational in a modern human, is somewhat justifiable. This python, though, is beautiful to me! (Credit: Ray in Manila CC-BY-2.0)

I’ve even talked about it before in terms of history. Recent dramas relating to the tearing down of statues are less about recognition of a cultural past, of a unifying identity. After all who wants to share a unifying identity with a man for whom the best you can say is “He built a few hospitals with all of the money he got buying and selling slaves!” It’s a hell of a dilemma, a balance of good and evil, but it is a dilemma nonetheless and nobody likes a complicated situation. So why the defence?

Because when a statue stands for hundreds of years it makes us feel like there is something permanent about us. It’s an illusion of immortality. For me this is the most frustrating thing about this so-called ‘culture war’. It’s all about protecting your own aegis, making sure someone doesn’t rob the shield that you use to pretend that one day this won’t all be over for you.

I have to like this one. A compass jellyfish. The only species of jellyfish native to UK waters that I have seen outside of the moon jelly! Another group I hope to talk about one day but left off this list because they can, quite accidentally, give you incredibly painful stings. (Credit: Me)

I really sympathise, I do. I have been having existential crises since my age was in single digits and let me tell you nothing robs one of a childhood more than a very powerful, visceral and considered fear of death. Nothing! It is the sword of Damocles we are all born with and one we must inevitably acknowledge but…Let people get puberty and their awkward teenage years out of the way. It’s a 20-25 year old’s problem. It should never be a child’s problem.

Either way I don’t know if I fully subscribe to ‘Terror Management Theory’ and the idea of death dominating all human endeavours but, I’ve been considering it a long time and many are the times I see someone’s actions, someone’s behaviours, and someone’s attempt to build a legacy and think “Yup, they’ve thought about it. They’re afraid to die.”

The man who requires pigeons be killed because they got shit on his windowsill is a man who is afraid to die.

Then we moved on to the wolf and this was a journey for me. I’m a felid guy, not a canid guy. I love cats. I would let cats do anything to me. They could kill me for all I care, I’d smile and giggle and love every minute. I’m a cat nut! Canids, dogs and wolves, have never been my thing. I can respect a wild dog, wolves, hunting dogs, foxes – I particularly like foxes. But in looking them up I gained a massive respect for wolves. I did not realise they were so diverse yet so similar! The genetic story they have to tell is truly remarkable.

All of our wolf species, the entire Canis genus, share a surprisingly recent common ancestor and the various sub-species of the grey wolf (Canis lupus) have a history that tells of dispersals and migrations stretching back incredible lengths of time.

The Himalayan wolf – It’s hard not to put this for the huge genetic mystery it brings up. A close relative of the grey wolf, yet genetics identifies it as basal, older, ancestral to the modern grey wolf. To me this would imply multiple migrations, followed by a population bottleneck event. I also love the beautiful, desolate composition of this shot! (Credit: Madhu Chetri CC-BY-SA 4.0)

It really gave me a new-found respect for the adaptability and hardiness of the canid. More than that though I was absolutely shocked by the numbers of fatal attacks that have occurred! Across Europe, Russia and North America there have only been 11 deaths by wolves in the last 50 years!

There is talk of reintroducing them to the UK. Now the benefits this would bring would be remarkable. We have numerous species of deer, some native, some invasive, but without a native predator to take them down they are either left to run rampant, completely destroying ecosystems (they’re very good at stopping new forest growth by eating shoots, for instance) so either they destroy the habitat or we destroy them. There are regular culls of older or infirm individuals but why should we be doing that when evidence indicates we could reintroduce wolves as  a natural predator, reduce the need for culling, potentially improve various habitats, have this remarkable predator on our doorstep, exploit it secondarily for wildlife tourism, and…what? Maybe one death in a generation of a human being is the price to pay?

Ableist language but we all know a ‘Moon Moon’! Still a fine meme. (Credit: Kitchiki via KnowYourMeme)

I don’t want to keep doing my death-stats bit (although it is a bit I enjoy, I am quite morbid) but if we say, on average one death in every 25 years occurs due to wolves, and use the data from 2009 that said 33 people died of drowning in the bath – quick calculation – That makes bathing 825x as deadly as wolves are likely to be over a 25 year period.

So this…Ooh boy as a meat eater this is hard to say…This is where I started to hate the livestock farmers.

Farming is, without a shadow of a doubt, the single biggest destroyer of natural habitats of any other activity in the world. There is an unsustainable human population and it needs feeding and we have taken so much natural land, destroyed entire ecosystems, just to grow food for ourselves. That alone is selfish enough.

But the reintroduction of wild predators is mainly opposed by the farming lobby. Move on to our next animal, the fox, the hunting of which is mainly performed by and supported by the farming lobby. The culling of badgers is mainly supported by the farming lobby.

I mean at this point I’m fucking tempted to bin off the pig and eat the fucking farmer for all the harm they seem to do!

You would think that an individual with a close relationship with life and land would have an understanding of the balance of things. That would be to remove the factor of selfishness. It would remove the factor of a wrongful feeling of persecution. Think of all those gun-toting, wealthy white-dudes who used to go around supporting Donald Trump. Those guys are to politics what farmers are to nature. They think they are doing what’s best, but really they only care about what’s best for them.

It is a close one. Foxes are probably my favourite canids. There are so many gorgeous examples to choose from but I don’t think anything shows the simultaneous beauty and opportunistic adaptability of the fox like this image of a fox in a harbour, sat among the seaweed! (Credit: © Copyright Thomas Nugent CC-BY-SA 2.0)

It’s about protecting bottom lines, maximising yields, it is, again, that ownership of the environment, mastery of the natural world to give some false and fleeting sense of potency so you can, for a brief moment, feel immortal and pretend you’re not going to become the soil yourself one day.

Not to mention the social pressures, things like ‘The Hunt’ (they nearly spelled it right…) are countryside pursuits, a staple hobby of many of the landed gentry in the countryside and, again, killing that tradition reminds these people nothing lasts forever. If they can’t persecute foxes, you’re sort of reminding them they are going to die. And they enjoy it! So you’re also spoiling their fun.

Personally I think it’s despicable and I would gladly remind every single fox hunter of their impotence, their miniscule stature in the face of the universe, the fact that their planet is but a mote of dust and they simply a grotesque smudge upon it.

Happy fox likes you! (credit: Tambako The Jaguar CC-BY-ND 2.0)

I do not believe any character’s beyond redemption. As far as countryside pursuits like hunting go, it needs a firm hand delivering a swift strike. The hunting ‘ban’ left too many loopholes and they need to be turned into a noose to strangle the practice. As far potential livestock losses due to reintroduction of predators, this is a matter of pounds and pence, and, again, someone needs to step up and be willing to pay for us to have a beautiful, diverse natural world.

Our current government spent billions of pounds on systems of tracking and tracing potential covid carriers and failed. They spent £2.8m on a briefing room that they are now not going to use as intended. Approximately £43m was spent on the the current Prime Minister’s swansong project as Mayor of London, a garden on a bridge that was completely unfeasible. Imagine the dramatic scope and scale of effect that could occur if these absurd sums of money were spent on building a greener, more biodiverse, wilder Britain?

But we’ll move away from Britain for a bit.

I’m not a cosmopolitan type, poor people rarely are. I haven’t been on safari, I haven’t been trekking in the mountains of Iberia, I haven’t eaten in cafes in North Africa, I haven’t walked in the Amazon and I’m still not sure Australia is real, and the Irwin family and cricket are the two tentative threads that keep me feeling like it must be.

I wanted to include more international species on the list because persecution is not the same everywhere. Different cultures and different nations have their different ideas and different attitudes.

If I hadn’t already done an article on them the spotted hyena would have been on the list. Although I’d no idea what I would have removed to put them on there! Their reputation is as filthy thieves and scavengers when they are actually intelligent, social hunters. Few animal reputations are further from the truth than that of the spotted hyena. (Credit: Bernard DUPONT CC-BY-SA 2.0)

I did ask on twitter for some help from international members of the community to tell me species that are oppressed there but I’m about as popular as a fire in a gunpowder factory so I got the customary responses. None.

This, by the way, is one of the things that makes me sad about the elitism and the attitude on some areas of academic twitter. Some PhD student with 12 followers will have a tweet like “I’m looking for a one of a kind rattlesnake skin for a project can you all help me!” and it’s got a thousand retweets and spreads around the world. I ask for some help identifying globally persecuted species (because I wanted things I couldn’t just google, like really local stuff!) and it’s like I don’t exist. It’s like my work is not important. I’m not affiliated with a university and I’m not doing this for letters after my name so therefore it’s not important. It makes me feel like a bum.

Anyway, I knew about the aye-aye and it is a fantastic combination of an ugly-cute lemur with a local superstition.

It’s a similar situation to the wasps in that I had my previous ideas and notions completely changed. Not quite as extreme, maybe. I had always thought the aye-aye was taboo across Malagasy cultures. I thought it was universally suspicious. I believed maybe people dealt with it differently. Some didn’t just shoot-on-sight, some try to avoid, some shoo them away etc. I didn’t realise there were positive attitudes towards the aye-aye out there and I was just exceptionally lucky that a paper explaining that had come out only a month or so prior to the article and it was open-access! (I can’t stress enough the importance of open access academic journals and papers on what I do!)

Sometimes the subject of an image is not so much the point. In this case, this dark, mysterious image of an aye-aye, the fact that we can barely see it is what makes me love the shot. It captures the essence of this nocturnal primate. (Credit: Rod Waddington CC-BY-SA 2.0)

So, yeah, that whole narrative changed and I’m glad it did. It was the start of a tone-shift. Coming off the fox article, which…I think the British treatment of foxes, especially amongst countryside types with their hunts, represents the nadir of human persecution of animals. It is deliberately inflicting suffering on an unwilling participant for fun.

Having a tone shift where there was some hope, and that the results demonstrated it was villagers and farmers who had seen or interacted with aye-ayes who were likely to have better opinions of them. It only goes to show that it is through knowledge and understanding that our relationships with these species can improve.

There was a tight-rope walk not to be patronising, colonial and racist and I hope I did a good enough job with that. One of the whole reasons of being sure to tackle Western persecuted animals first, besides my knowledge of them, was to make sure once we got to the international ones I had that in my back pocket for anyone who wanted to be racist!

Do I think the Malagasy fady, the taboo, on the aye-aye is wrong? Yes, absolutely. But much as solving the problem of fox hunting in this country is kind of a British problem, the aye-aye should be a Malagasy problem to solve. I have always believed problems are best solved from the inside, even if they are informed from the outside. The people of Madagascar know best the people of Madagascar and if there is a role to play for Western scientists it is sharing our wealth, our institutional powers, our equipment and our researchers with them so that they can use those tools themselves and have the advantages we take for granted.

I then literally doubled down on this comparison of Eastern versus Western persecution by showing pretty much the same persecution of animals in roughly the same niche by two completely different populations who kill them in remarkably similar ways.

I googled the pika. I did not realise it was persecuted but when I google ‘most persecuted species’ it came up. When I read of how it was persecuted, why it was persecuted, so many of the details just screamed ‘mole!’ at me.

My own composite because funnily enough few people have put the European mole and the plateau pika together before! To be fair I chose these images because they were particular favourites. I love when moles pop their head and feet above the ground, and particularly the pika on the left, looks very cute and alert. (Credits: Pika by Kunsang, Mole by Mick E. Talbot, CC-BY-SA 3.0)

So, partially to demonstrate the universality of animal persecution and partially as a counter to anyone who might have wanted to be racist following the aye-aye article I felt a perfect opportunity for a mashup and combined the mole and pika into one instalment.

It’s particularly harrowing for me because I know pikas are a key prey species of many of Asia’s wild cats. If they’re being poisoned there is every chance this is affecting wild cat populations and if there’s a reason never to put me in charge of a nation it is because I am liable to start World War III over accidental killings of wild cats! We’ve got manuls, Asian lynx, Chinese mountain cats and possibly even snow leopards all capable of making a living on the Tibetan plateau and all of them will eat pikas. Then there are Himalayan wolves, Tibetan foxes, various birds of prey and brown bears. So many species have pikas as, if not a primary food source, then a sort of vending machine snack! When times are tough you can always find a pika. I don’t think the reports of it being a keystone species are too exaggerated.

Any excuse to cat! Not a hated species but one that could see severe impact from poisoning of pika as they are a predator of them. The Pallas cat or manul. A gorgeous hunk of fluff! (credit: Albinfo)

Moles are possibly a little less important as a food source in their ecosystem but no less important in terms of the effect they have on their local environment. Moles and pika are both burrowers, burrowing aerates soil, improves draining, manages water, promotes new seed growth, potentially disperses seeds, creates tunnels and burrows for other animals and basically does all-around good stuff for your soil. We don’t like them because they make our gardens look messy.

I can’t think of a more ridiculous or petty reason why any animal on this list is disliked than that of the mole.

Everything else has a reason, whether it be superstition, fear, historical association, cultural tradition, livestock protection – The pika even has a better reason even though it’s a stupid one. Basically their ecosystem got destroyed by farmers, pikas moved in in droves because it turns out they love a shitty ecosystem, started improving it again and the authorities went “Ecosystem’s rubbish and there’s a ton of pikas…must be the pikas!”

The mole, though? How shallow and superficial do you have to be to kill an animal because it shifted your pansies!? It’s shocking and a great example of why the whole ‘eastern=bad’ narrative in conservation is such a disgusting myth. There’s a significant amount of…literal ‘white’ knight-ism in conservation and in so much of it there are pervasive stereotypes. The noble savage and the evil Asian are two very common ones at the moment.

It is, so they say, a mole. All evidence suggest that it lives, in fact, in a hole. It turns out some ideas about animals are true! (Credit: Inde via Pixabay)

Again, standing on this Island of Great Britain and looking outward through my binoculars, it is easy to see the problems the rest of the world is making. When I turn around and look at my own country? Well what do you know? I can’t see shit, everything’s too close to the binoculars. We all have a tendency to be long-sighted when it comes to issues such as this, judging issues abroad without considering similar or identical issues at home.

As much as I don’t like writing about persecuted animals this was my hope with the pika/mole one. I wanted to get people to understand and look for their own prejudices within their own communities.

Then we had the vultures.

I know the wasp article is a 10,000 word masterpiece! Okay! But this is, I think, the best crafted of the entire list. As a piece of writing this is the one I am most proud of.

I wanted to bring the message back to change and hope, and I think vultures represent that. The persecution or suspicion of vultures is old. It’s still there, it lingers, but I think most people nowadays regard them neither positively nor negatively. They may think they’re ugly, they may think they’re a bit gross but they accept the necessity.

I am willing to risk the dubious copyright provenance and put this image again because THIS. IS. COOL! Funnily enough, gore, horror movies, fictional bloody grimness doesn’t do it for me. But predation, scavenging, blood spilled in the name of life, I kinda dig it. I hope one day this quote is not used against me in a court of law! (Credit: Via Reddit, could not find an original photographer, used without permission)

Historically they were the harbingers of bad news! I would not be surprised if going back 10,000 years they were completely reviled.

But what we had with the vultures is what I am warning about now after the wasp article, one of the things I carried with me from my biological studies and an example of We Lack Discipline’s First Rule of Everything: IT’S ALWAYS MORE COMPLICATED THAN THAT!

The persecution events we dealt with in the vultures were both, in the Indian (or Asian) vulture crisis and the near-extinction of the California condor, more accidental than deliberate. It was humans interfering in things, whether in compassion for other animals (in the Asian crisis) or just in the course of their own development (in the condor). Yet it saw the deaths of millions of animals! By accident!

This is the reason I am attempting to be so forceful in getting my wasp article distributed because I can see a similar cascade about to happen with that – only across multiple ecosystems worldwide – as happened in India with the vulture population crash.

The award for the image that confused me the most is this cat, road, condor photoshopped composite that I still have no idea what it means! (Credit: christels via Pixabay)

It inevitably leads to knock on effects, which each have knock on effects, which have their own knock on effects and you get this domino toppling of various species, systems and processes that you never realised were interdependent.

In the case of the Indian vultures, livestock keepers gave their animals diclofenac to help with pain and inflammation, this caused renal failure in the vultures, the vultures died. The vultures would eat a lot of the carrion that would carry diseases, like rabies, that were now being scavenged by other animals, dogs, foxes, rats, cats, etc. that, unlike vultures, do not have the kind of harsh stomachs that kills rabies so they become carriers, this has an impact on their health of their populations. Meanwhile interactions between humans and these animals leads to an increase in rabies in humans. At the same time, with an abundance of carrion because of a lack of vultures these other species are able to breed and flourish, these are prey species for other predators like the Indian leopard, and suddenly the Indian leopard is coming close to human habitation to prey upon feral dogs. Those leopards cause panic or danger and may be killed to protect humans or their livestock.

It started with a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory! It wasn’t supposed to end up at 30,000 human deaths per year from rabies and shooting leopards! These are the kinds of crazy consequences of a seemingly minor ecosystem disruption!

But there’s hope. That’s what I love about the vulture story. It really does have a great story with a nice turnaround. Not only was the source of the vulture crisis found so that we could start repairing the damage but we have the other feel-good tale of the California condor.

Let me make this abundantly clear. The California condor should not exist.

The California condor continues to exist because of science!

At one point in the 1980s it was doubtful this sight would ever been seen again. Thanks to some amazing efforts by some very dedicated teams the California condor soars on thermals again. It is truly a tale of hope and the achievements we can get with hard work. (Credit: Don Graham CC-BY-SA 2.0)

Without the hard work of everyone involved in the California Condor Recovery Program the California condor would probably be extinct by now! I only say probably because they are a long-lived species there may still have been a few individuals around but when their wild population was only 20 or so in the 80s – I’m thinking 40 years later they’re mostly dead. Maybe we’d have 5 or 6 left by now.

Instead there are hundreds.

The California condor is the perfect example of what can happen when there is a unified, concerted effort to genuinely care about a species and the ecosystem it is in.

This condor will likely never know quite what a symbol of triumph it is. (Credit: USFWS Pacific Southwest Region, CC-BY-2.0 )

I do not believe it is too late! I know the climate crisis, the extinction event, is deep! It’s really deep! But it’s not too late to pull out and stop fucking the world! Some things are beyond repair, some species are gone, but it is not too late to protect those we have. What’s more, speciation marches on, by protecting what we have we promote potential for diversity moving forward.

The California condor is that symbol of hope, that symbol of being able to escape the event horizon, pull ourselves back from the brink and believe in a better world. We’ve done it! We’ve shown it is possible! Now we just need to commit more resources to keeping it up and doing it more.

And after all that hope we move into the top 3.

These broke me, honestly. I mean, that fire, that hope, it rarely dies in me and on the few occasions it nearly did it sparked up again in the nick of time. But I had to guard and tend that flame as I wrote about these.

The gulls hurt. These are genuinely one of my favourite sea birds. I get the joy of watching them every day, seeing how smart, how wily, how so full of personality they are – and they truly are! You can make out individual characters, you can spot the bold from the cautious, and the curious from the fearful and it makes for wonderful viewing.

It’s a tough call picking out an image of herring gulls I like most. They have such personality no matter what they are doing. But ultimately herring gulls belong on coasts, over the sea, on our cliffs and on our beaches. It is the backdrop on which they look best. (credit: Beata May CC-BY-SA 3.0)

Yet some polls show 75% of Brits do not like them. That is a huge proportion. Their numbers have dwindled in recent years. Numbers of breeding pairs of herring gulls in the UK have halved. Their curiosity (and seemingly insatiable hunger) makes them prone to falling victim to human environmental hazards, getting caught in food receptacles, eating plastics, getting tangled in fishing line etc. What’s more, they are often ‘discouraged’ from nesting on rooftops and yet we keep overexploiting their natural, clifftop nesting spaces. Here on the Southeast coast we have seen cliff erosion at an alarming rate with the recent frequency, and intensity, of storm activity linked to climate change. Even where we are not directly exploiting their natural nesting sites, human activity is impacting them.

Something personal also affected me with the gull article. I tried, vainly it seems, to get some attention and support from one of my wildlife heroes – a like or retweet, something to show that my voice, my efforts to absolve the herring gull of its non-existent sins had been effective. Unfortunately my attempt at humour clearly caused offence and I was met with only a terse response. By the time I actually got around to replying with an apology somebody had hijacked the conversation to managed to get the person in question to sign a petition and they had bugger all else to do with me.

Gulls in flight are a sight to behold. I’ve seen them look graceful even in high winds. Yet I’ve also seen them look clumsy and stupid. Again, get past your prejudice for five minutes and you’ll realise they are quite different as individuals and very characterful. (Credit: Mike_68 via Pixabay)

It’s difficult to explain how and why this upset me. Obviously there is a personal element to it. They say “Don’t meet your heroes!” well, let’s update it for the new gen, “Don’t tweet your heroes.” I basically felt like a piece of shit for trying. To be honest, I nearly said “Fuck it!” and dropped We Lack Discipline as a whole, right there. I mean, that’s what an autistic mind does in the face of what feels like rejection. Rarely does it encourage you to push on regardless, it tells you to hide or run.

But honestly, my biggest problem…750,000 fewer gulls in the UK in recent years and I kind of felt like this interaction was less about them and more about the human ego.

This personality gets paid for what they do. They have an incredible house with a lot of private land on which they can freely explore the environment and they have travelled the world exploring their interests.

This is a beautiful bird. (Credit: Scottmliddell CC-BY-3.0)

I’m on disability benefits. I live in a council house in a very busy area, with a backyard no bigger than 3x3m and the furthest I’ve been is a long weekend in Barbados I won in a beer advertising promo competition.

There was a chance, an opportunity for someone influential to say “It doesn’t matter if your voice is big or small, if you support the right cause, I will support you.” And that didn’t happen.

And far fewer people, people who might relate better to me than other wildlife communicators, will now not get to read that piece and see if it affects them.

I think that’s sad.

But then we move on to the rats and it just gets even sadder.

I genuinely had no idea that rat-to-human transmission of disease in most modern, built-up nations was so rare.

I actually had my mind blown. I mean, yeah I liked rats anyway. As far as I was concerned the 100,000 or so people they make sick every year is worth it for the amount of our garbage they eat.

An amazing photo of an amazing creature. Brown rats are intelligent, adaptable, social and opportunistic. Which means we don’t like them because they’re too similar to us! (Credit: sipa via Pixabay)

The thing is it’s not 100,000 or so people.

It’s probably not even 1,000 or so people.

I mean in the UK, proven rat-to-human zoonotic disease cases per year are probably 10 or fewer.

The rat being a dirty disease spreader is an historical myth that also happens to be a very convenient marketing line for a pest control industry that makes BILLIONS per year persecuting animals.

I did not realise this going in and it was a total eye-opener for me. Everything you think you know about rats is wrong. I mean, this gets to be one of the simplest summaries of this article because it’s that simple. Everything you think you know about rats is wrong.

But that recognition of the role of pest control companies on public perceptions was useful for the next group, the wasps.

I am so damn proud of this article. It’s a marvel. Again, I think as a ‘story’ the vulture article has a better structure, more of a narrative drive, better flow. But that was written as a story, whereas I consider my wasp piece to be a non-fiction booklet! I mean, it’s over 10,000 words long for crying out loud!

Definitely my favourite wasp photo. I don’t think anything sums up the alien weirdness of wasps as much as this Gasteruptiid wasp. This is not some obscene rarity, there are around 500 wasp species that look similar to this. (Credit: zosterops CC-BY-NC 2.0)

The sad thing about wasps is almost everyone hates wasps. But they don’t hate ‘wasps’ what they hate is a specific set of species of wasps that make up less than 1% of the entire multitude of wasp species. Yet even that <1% is misunderstood.

Again, the pest control industry has a lot to answer for and the disgusting part of that is at least when they’re slagging off rats there is no ulterior motive. One of the reasons the pest control business hates wasps so much is because they are huge invertebrate predators! As I say in the article, of course they want them dead, they’re not pests – they’re the competition!

I might be exaggerating but experts estimate there are around a qualikabajillion wasp species, there are wasps barely thicker than a human hair and there are wasps so big and awesome they fight and kill tarantulas. There are wasps that sting (again, less than 1%) and wasps that don’t. There are wasps that build paper nests, wasps that build clay nests, wasps that burrow, wasps that lay their eggs in figs, wasps that lay their eggs in wasps that lay their eggs in figs.

The fairy wasp also got my love and attention. This one is on a human finger, that’s how tiny they are. (Credit: gbohne CC-BY-SA 2.0)

It’s all in the article, go and read it.

What I didn’t talk about in there was how much studying wasps led to a deep and very true love for them.

I try to release an article a day so I have a rushed schedule. It helps me when I get to write about something I already have some knowledge of but I knew nothing of wasps. For the 9-10 days or so since I wrote my original article about them I have been ducking in and out of wasp research. I have been learning so much about these amazing insects and they never fail to fascinate.

I think at some point every biologist-at-heart develops a love for insects. Well it got me. The thing that got me most, though, is well…

…I’m lucky where I live. I might be council-house trash but it’s one hell of a council house! I can look out of my window and see vegetation, plants, trees, flowers and fruits. I now look at all of them and wonder what a wasp does with it.

Wasps seem to have found a niche everywhere. Excluding Antarctica wasps have found a role on every continent. They are truly cosmopolitan, not only in distribution but in size, colour, lifestyle, habits, food, prey, reproduction. They do it all and they do it every way conceivable. I admire that.

A fig wasp of the genus Apocrypta – These are the fig wasps that parasitise the larvae of other fig wasps! How amazing is that!? (Credit: Nikhilmore CC-BY-SA 4.0)

And yet the average layperson will have all of this positivity drowned out by stories of ‘murder hornets’, ‘angry wasps’, ‘wasp plagues’ and all other such absolute twatty bollocks.

To make matters worse wasps are valuable pollinators and controllers of other crop pests. Without wasps we have less food, we have worse forests, we have worse meadows and grasslands, and we have a worse world.

People really will completely tear up beauty simply because it is not their idea of beauty and I find that sad.

A reflection of our relationship with far too many wildlife species. Pesticides, insecticides, poisons, pollutants, powders and traps. Finding a way to live with our natural biodiversity is definitely better than trying to control it. (Credit: Alan Stanton CC-BY-SA 2.0)

So this list has been a hell of a ride and, I will admit I am changed because of it.

I think it’s important to talk about that.

Knowledge should change you.

Oh sure not all knowledge can, or will. Me knowing that Julius Caesar’s first foray across the channel to England occurred in 55BCE does not change me particularly.

But, looking into what he did, why he did it, relationships he forged in Britain, allies that would later go on to be client kings when Claudius made the full invasion around a century later – that can change you.

I learned so much about so many different animals in studying and researching for this list. Outside of wasps, though, the one I learned the most about was humans. I had never considered our relationship with the natural world in this context before. How we develop ideas, stories, beliefs and myths about animals. I had to look at a lot of that, some of it quite ugly and I had to learn to accept it for what it is. I had to try and process and understand it.

I hope it gives me greater patience moving forward as a wildlife advocate.

Read the entirety of the Hated (But Misunderstood) Animals top ten!
Top Ten Hated (But Misunderstood) Animals: Introduction
Top Ten Hated (But Misunderstood) Animals: Bats
Top Ten Hated (But Misunderstood) Animals: Pigeons
Top Ten Hated (But Misunderstood) Animals: Wolves
Top Ten Hated (But Misunderstood) Animals: Foxes
Top Ten Hated (But Misunderstood) Animals: Aye-Ayes
Top Ten Hated (But Misunderstood) Animals: Pika and Moles
Top Ten Hated (But Misunderstood) Animals: Vultures
Top Ten Hated (But Misunderstood) Animals: The European herring gull
Top Ten Hated (But Misunderstood) Animals: The Brown Rat

Top Ten Hated (But Misunderstood) Animals: The Wasps

Published by Karl Anthony Mercer

Like a dark-chocolate fountain at a weight loss party, Karl Anthony Mercer is an under-utilised river of bittersweetness. When not busy researching or writing about any and all non-fiction topics for 'We Lack Discipline' Karl can often be found walking, staring at wildlife or writing poetry.

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