George Walford: They Didn’t Otter

Whoops! Sorry about that.

Otters are in danger of extinction in Britain, and the intention is to breed them in a protected area for release. Since the conditions which have brought them near extinction will still be operative the prospect of re-establishing them as wild creatures seems doubtful.

The fox is in no danger of extinction; although hunted, it flourishes. Cattle are in no danger of extinction; although slaughtered by the million they too flourish. Lions, tigers, elephants and rhinos, on the other hand, need protection; big game hunting has been more or less stopped but the game is tending to disappear. The otter hunt also has been largely discontinued, and it is as this has happened that the survival of the species has become doubtful.

The rule, at least for land animals of otter size and upwards, seems to be that so long as a species serves a human purpose it flourishes, even if the purpose be only to provide subjects for slaughter. When that purpose vanishes the species tends to disappear with it. Were it possible to farm otters like mink, the way to ensure their survival would be to make the wearing of their skins fashionable. Since (we understand) they can only live in the wild, the best thing to do, if survival of the otter is the object, is to revive the otter hunt as a fashionable sport for the wealthy, thus attracting sufficient resources to permit protection of the animal’s habitat. This method has been successful with the grey partridge, whose numbers were badly depleted but are recovering now the bird is being protected for shooting (Observer 1 Sept 85).

The people active in trying to re-establish the animal will doubtless find revival of the otter hunt unacceptable, which suggests that the object of concern is not the welfare of the otter species but the further articulation of the protodynamic ideology. We do not say this is a bad thing, only that it is well to be clear about motives.

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ON A MOTORWAY service area we once saw a Baby Changing Room, apparently for mothers tired of the ones they had. The title chosen for the Centres for Feeling People, introduced by the humanistic psychologists, offers the same intriguing ambiguity.

THE FALLACY, that the major political parties each express the interests of, and tend each to be composed of members of, one economic class, is sometimes put in a sensible-sounding way, sometimes not. Reviewing a book on the Christian Democratic Party of Chile, a reviewer in TLS 30 Aug 85 says:

It becomes very clear from this admirable study that the PDC, in its heyday, was a party deeply rooted in the middle class, though it also contained a dissident or maverick section of the business elite as well as a healthy contingent of blue-collar workers, peasants and pobladores (shanty-town dwellers).

Rather like saying this is a herd of elephants although it also contains some unorthodox giraffes and quite a lot of rabbits, polar bears and hyenas.

from Ideological Commentary 21, November 1985.