Zanesville Gray 

What makes you so damn special?

Twenty-four-hundred isn't a number we modern humans should have any trouble grasping? Park yourself outside a Walmart for a couple of hours, and I wouldn't be surprised if you see 2,400 people, or more, go through the door on their way to the shelves of Chinese electronics and cheap clothing.

Or take the intersection of Eagle Road and Fairview Avenue. At certain times of the day, there must be 2,400 people going through that light every 10 minutes. And if your teenager goes to school in one of the area's bigger high schools, he or she could have 2,400 schoolmates, easy.

So, no, 2,400 isn't a figure too hard to wrap our noggins around. One hundred cases of beer­--that's less than two years' worth of libation for some of us. If you live in, say, Caldwell or Emmett or Mountain Home and commute to Boise, 2,400 miles is a mere 40 days of coming and going. A 2,400-square-foot house? Probably about average anymore. And if the weather cooperates, 2,400 acres of wildlife habitat can burn to the ground by lunchtime every day.

I bring up the number 2,400 at this time because just recently, since last week, I learned that in the world--the whole world, from the Arctic to the Antarctic, from the International Date Line all the way around to the line again--there are approximately 2,400 Bengal tigers left. And by "left," I mean left alive.

I wouldn't have learned this particular bit of (what I'm sure many of you will consider) trivia were it not for the incident two weeks ago in Zanesville, Ohio, where 18 Bengal tigers, along with 31 other distinct entities, were shot to death by policemen when a verminous crapball of a human being released his menagerie of exotic creatures from their cages, knowing it would almost certainly mean the end of them.

So this week, when it comes to Bengal tigers, the new number is 2,382 (or so) after subtracting the 18 that belonged to the aforementioned verminous crapball, who for some unimaginable reason was allowed to buy and own Bengal tigers in the first place.

Coincidentally, within days of the Zanesville massacre, according to population watchers at the United Nations, the head count of human beings on Earth reached 7 billion. Here, let me write that out for you: 7,000,000,000. It looks more impressive that way, I think. The word "billion" has gotten to be a bit overused and cheap, if you ask me. But those nine zeroes all lined up in a row, now that gets your attention, doesn't it?

What I'm going to say next I have no doubt will upset, probably infuriate, many a reader. So I might as well just spit it out.

Those tigers should not have been shot to death. There was more intrinsic value to them living than there is in the life of any human (or humans) that may (or may not) have been killed by them. Like it or not, numbers speak their own kind of truth, and before last week, there were almost 2.92 million human beings on the planet for every Bengal tiger. (With the loss of the Zanesville 18, it is now probably closer to 3 million humans per tiger. Think of the entire population of Idaho, multiplied by two, stacked against one Bengal tiger.)

To make matters worse, their respective numbers are going in opposite directions. The number of humans is going up. Up, up and always up. The Earth is expected to hit 8 billion humans by 2025. The number of tigers--as a matter of fact, all wildlife--is going down. Down and down and ever down. It's not inconceivable that by the year 2025, there won't be a tiger left in the wild, if indeed there is any "wild" left. That makes, on this writer's ledger, a tiger's life more valuable than a human's life.

Do I really believe what I just said? Could I be that heartless? Could I let your child, even my child, be mauled and slashed rather than destroy whatever beast is doing the mauling and slashing--even if the mauling and slashing had not actually occurred but was a worst-case scenario that authorities were trying to avoid?

The question is not only for citizens of Zanesville. We here in Idaho have had a year of dreaded animal attacks, one or two of which were actual attacks rather than the kind that worried officials feared might have happened if the pumas or bears had been allowed to live long enough to actually attack anyone.

And of course, the entire issue is predicated on the notion that the life of a human being is in some way more precious than the life of a puma, grizzly or Bengal tiger. I'm having a harder time every day trying to understand why that is--why a human might be more valuable in the cosmos than a wolf or a bird--or an earwig, for that matter. People will argue that it's because we have a soul while wolves and birds don't, but is there really so much evidence that humans have some inner spirit that animals lack--other than a more acute awareness of our mortality and the self-aggrandizement that awareness brings? Is this what our "soul" might boil down to ... kill it before it kills me.

That can't be. Just because we don't want to die doesn't make us unique. If indeed there is such a thing as a uniquely human quality--a soul--that entitles us to any special consideration, it is to be measured most obviously in how deeply we value those with whom we share the planet and the degree of effort we put into keeping those living treasures alive. Without that value, without that effort, we are no more than animals, and the fewer of us, the better.

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