It’s notable that wild apex predators are rarely seen in places densely populated by our own species. Biologists have discovered that around the world these animals are actually evolving to travel more frequently at night in order to avoid us. When a large grey wolf loped through downtown Victoria, BC, recently in broad daylight, one unsuspecting observer actually whistled from across the street. But within a matter of hours it had become widespread knowledge that this was no ordinary canid on the lam. After eight years as the lone wolf of Discovery Island, ‘Takaya’ had once again braved a long distance swim in the cold, choppy waters of the Salish Sea. Was he in search of food, or perhaps a potential mate? We can only be certain that navigating an urban environment was the next challenging leg of a dangerous journey.
Survival to date for the approximately 70 pound male has depended not only on incredible strength and adaptability but on the mercy of humans. Named after the Coast Salish word for ‘wolf’, Takaya is venerated by the Songhees First Nation who share Discovery Island and considered his arrival there culturally significant. And thanks to conservation photographer Cheryl Alexander’s dedicated documentation of the normally elusive animal, Takaya’s story has inspired awe and appreciation over fear in the imagination of the general public. Perhaps it is for these reasons that the BC Conservation Officer Service, which doesn’t usually relocate apex predators, made an exception with Takaya. After being successfully tracked, tranquilized in a James Bay back yard and assessed to be in good health, he was released in a far more suitable Vancouver Island wilderness location. There are no guarantees, however, that this highly intelligent individual will remain lucky enough to avoid territorial ranchers, trappers, or other hunters who disrupt the key role wolves play in ecosystem health under the BC government’s dubious ‘wolf management’ program.
The dominant narrative insists that most wild animals only ‘belong’ on the other side of our often arbitrary, self-serving boundaries. And yet, it is human encroachment into the dwindling natural environment that forces problematic encounters. For example, the introduction of farmed animals into ecosystems where they really don’t belong displaces indigenous fauna, playing a leading role in biodiversity loss around the world right alongside logging and mining operations. “Roads in forest habitats (and others) are the equivalent of open wounds in a human body,” an activist friend in Slovenia recently mused metaphorically about habitat fragmentation. “A single one is enough to start a deadly infection,” he added. There are many similarities between the pressures on large carnivores in bio-diverse Slovenia, I have learned, and here on the west coast of Canada.
Looking into the possible origins of the current coronavirus epidemic, I was reminded of the fact that many deadly human diseases actually originate with the stress that our species has inflicted upon other animals by holding them captive, denying them the freedom to keep their distance from us, and from one another. We know that forced confinement induces suffering, which in turn leads to weakened immune systems. This is as clear on factory farms (ie, concentrated poultry operations such as those in the Vancouver lower mainland that have experienced highly contagious avian flu) as it is in the ‘wet’ markets of places like Wuhan, China where live ‘exotic’ animals share crowded space with domesticated ones. The word ‘wet’ in this context indicates that vendors slaughter animals in front of customers, effectively aerosolizing the environment. Such sites are breeding grounds for pathogens that may jump the species barrier and create potentially lethal infections in humans also.
The ultimate irony is that ongoing obsession with eating animals in the 21st century is based far less on need than on capital gains and mythical social constructs. Is it not the epitome of hypocrisy to condemn the culinary choices of wealthy Asian men who boast prestigious access through the exotic meat trade to everything from horse penis to wolf flesh, while it remains acceptable for their western counterparts to frame masculine strength and sexual prowess as dependent on the flesh of cows occupying land where wild horses and apex predators like Takaya now face extermination?
According to the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, livestock accounts for a whopping 60% of all mammals on earth today, with wild species having dwindled to a mere 4%. For a growing number of environmentalists with the privilege of choice, eschewing all animal products is an integral part of political resistance to ecocide.
Chinese cuisine includes lots of 100% plant-based dishes, and this signature delicacy of northeast China combines potatoes, eggplants and peppers in a mouth-watering stir fry. Delicious served over rice or with noodles!
Di San Xian
(roughly translates to ‘three earthly bounties’ or ‘three treasures from the ground’)
3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
2 scallions, chopped
1.5 T. cornstarch
3 T. water
2 cups long chinese or globe eggplant cut into bite-sized pieces
1 very large potato, peeled, cut into bite-sized
1/2 a red pepper and 1/2 a green pepper (or yellow for addiional color), cut into bite-sized pieces
4 T. oil
1 T. Shaoxing Wine (you can substitue pale dry sherry, or even white wine, if you like)
2 T. light soy sauce
1/2 tsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. white pepper
1/2 tsp. sesame oil
salt to taste
Mix cornstarch with water and set aside. Prepare garlic and scallions. Pat dry all washed veggies before cutting. Heat oil in wok or skillet over medium heat. Lightly brown potatoes first (for about 8 mins., or until cooked through, stirring to avoid sticking). Add bell peppers and stir-fry for another minute. Transfer everything to a dish and set aside. With oil left in wok add eggplant and brown slightly until cooked through. Transfer to a dish. Add garlic to medium hot pan with a bit more oil as necessary and cook for a few seconds before adding all the veggies again followed by the wine, soy sauce, sugar, white pepper, sesame oil and scallions. Stir cornstarch and water slurry again (it can separate while sitting), add to pan and toss all ingredients, coating well with the sauce. Enjoy!