“If you took the city…and turned it upside down and shook it you would be amazed at the animals that fall out” – Yann Martel
I remember that first morning clearly. I awoke with a start to two beady eyes staring at me through the window Heart racing; I could do nothing but stare back in terror. A mask covered the upper portion of his face, giving him the look of a bargain-rate Pulcinella. As I stared, he scratched at the window, more curious than menacing, causing me to scramble out of bed and to the other side of the room with a yelp. I had just moved into a new apartment and I already had the worst type of intruder. I had a raccoon.
Historically, raccoons have been considered an annoyance to the human way of life. Stories of raccoons as thieves, bandits and troublemakers can be found in various mythological tales and legends. More often than not, animals are portrayed in ancient tales as either infringing on human territory or being compliant to human whims. Even when anthropomorphized, either animals remain submissive to humans or are villainized as a menace to human beings.
With this litany of infamy, it is no surprise that raccoons and other “pests” are killed in large numbers. In both urban and suburban areas, non-domesticated animals such as raccoons, monkeys, dogs, cats, foxes, skunks and others, are often killed, whether it be intentional or unintentional. This phenomenon is not exclusive to small farming towns and cities; displaced animals often find themselves the victims of human development. It is vital to understand that these animals are indeed displaced; a concrete jungle forces them to modify their natural instincts has replaced their natural habitats.
Alongside urbanization came deforestation and intentional desertification. Former habitats were converted into office buildings, roads and other human infrastructure. The goal was to reach the end of history, to progress so much that it would be impossible to progress any more. However, progress has its victims, both targeted and collateral. The collateral damages of progress are these so-called pests, who have the audacity to roam about their former habitats.
Non-domesticated animals within an urban setting are often regarded as pests. They represent the antithesis of development, remainders of nature slipping through the concrete city wall. Not only are animals a threat to industrial progress, they are a threat to humans. Formerly, only large carnivorous predators were considered threats to human safety. However, other species were soon classified as a threat to human safety and progress. Domesticated animals carry with them a sense on security; they are easy to exert control over, to train, to put down when no longer utile. On the other hand, non-domesticated animals carry with them traces of our nature and history that we are eager to shake off.
This begs the question; who is the real pest? Is it the species that have lived in the same habitat for as long as they can remember? Or is it the species that destroyed everything around them in order to build a world only conducive to them? By objective definition, a pest is an organism that causes a nuisance and in some cases, high mortality to the species that surround it. It seems that the only reason animals have been regarded as pests is due to our linguistic prowess and our ability to names other species. Humanity has not usurped the crown of the protagonist; rather, it has carved the crown for itself and for its own use.
The antagonism of nature as a pestilence and inconvenience only brings humanity one-step closer to a tragic ending. Tragic heroes are often the cause of their own undoing; their hubris and over-confidence destroy not only them, but also everything around them. In their bid to overcome the antagonists, tragic heroes find themselves the victims of their own wrath. We have yet to realize that nature in itself is neither friend nor foe; it is humanity that has insisted on classification. In itself, this classification is not harmful. However, when the classification becomes a discord, it is nearly impossible to stop one from attempting to control and subjugate the other.
After a couple of weeks, the raccoon never came back. The garbage in the alley lay untouched, the windows lacking paw prints. It seemed as though the raccoon had been swallowed up by the city, along with all the other animals and people that were considered bothersome. No one would miss the raccoon; no one would wonder what happened to it. It faded from memory, along with all the other traces of wilderness in the city.