An interesting read for anyone comtemplating the ethics of humans killing animals, is "The Raptor and the Lamb: Predators and Prey in the Living World" by Christopher McGowan.
McGowan, Curator of Vertebrate Paleontology at the Royal Ontario Museum in Totonto and professor of zoology at U of Toronto, explores the essence of predator-prey relationships, taking you on a guided tour through the very different but often overlapping worlds of mammals, birds, fish, reptiles, plants, insects, and microorganisms, as well as fossilized records of the dinosaurs. We learn, in every instance, not only the intricacies of interdependence in the vast chain of being but also the astonishing adaptabiltiy that is inherent in nature, weather the drama be played out on the African plains, in the depths of the ocean, or in the familiar confines of our own backyard.
Helen in Oz: Its interesting, to have to address the question of whether or not our advanced self-awareness and ability to have rational thought somehow elevates us to the top of the food chain. Does it? Non-meat eaters are quick to say this is it just our hubris as a species supplying a convenient excuse to dine on the less intellegient beings on our planet. I disagree with them. Animals dining on other animals is a constant in nature, it is the driving force of all ecosystems, as much as water is the driving force of all life on earth in the first place. Its easy to forget this, as we are separated from our animal brethren, and live our lives in comfortable isolation from the harsh realities of nature. McGowans book has reminded me that, yes, humans are not all that special or unique physiologically. While our minds have developed, our bodies are still animal bodies, ones that require animal nourishment. It is in my opinion that vegans and vegetarians are the ones that take on a holier-than-thou position, not the meat eaters, as they reject the notion that we are intrinsically tied to nature and the earth, and assume we are somehow excused from the great web of life due to our intellegience. We are all one on this planet, and I believe that consumming animals for nourishment is one of the most natural things we can do. To say otherwise........to suggest that humans are somehow "better" than this....is the real hubris.
Just an example of how shelterd we are to the facts of nature (the bloody, gorey facts!) Here is an excerpt from the section on orcas, or killer whales, from McGowan's book.
What images do we associate with orcas? Sea World? Free Willy? We are in denial, as a species, about the true nature of animals (including ourselves). Enjoy:
page 73, chapter "Death at Sea"
"A pod of killer whales cruises off the rocky california coast on a spring morning, about one mile from shore. They are seven in number and include an adult males and two calves. He is easily distiguished from the females by his tall, straight dorsal fin. They are probably a family unit. Their course lies parallel to the shore, and they seem to be in no hurry.
They maintain the same course and speed for almost an hour. Then, for no apparant reason, they make a right angeled turn and head for shore. Their previous progress had been orderly, maintaining a discreet formation, but they are now spreading out on a broad crescentic fron, leaping and gamboling in the water like children at play. And now the reason for their change in behavior becomes apparant: they have intercepted a large herd of sea lions. The sea lions are no match for the killer whales, and their only salvation lies in reaching the land. In their desperation to reach safety, they abandon their usual mode of swimming and pare porpoising along the surface at great speed. The whales swim beside them, dive beneath them, and cut in front of them, apparently having the time of their lives. The sea lions are obviosly terrified, but the whales seem to be playing with them. One of the whales leaps right out of the water, clean over the top of a fleeing pinniped, leanding with a resounding splash several yards ahead of it. Sometimes a tormentor bumps up against a sea lion, knocking it off course. Another time a killer whale dives and surfaces directly beneath one, sending it flying in the air. These exuberant antics may appear to be random, but the killer whale's sport is not without purpose. Their crescentic formation has been getting narrower-they are herding the sea lions closer together.
The pinnipeds, now in a tight formation, are close to exhaustion, but their tormentors seem to have energy to spare. The game seems destined to continue until the sea lions have hauled up on land - they only have 100 yards to go - but then the killing begins. Like so many cats with so many mice, the whales throw themselves at the sea lions, biting and slashing, mauling and dismembering, so that the sea foams red with their frenzy. Each whale spends the minimum amount of time with its prey before moving on to the next, and within a few minutes, all the sea lions are dead.
Torn bodies heave and tumble in the swell. A ragged torso, trailing a knot of bloated intestines, bobs against a severed head. Flocks of gulls swoop and dive, screeching raucously as they pick over the spoils. The whales, the killing done and their former demeanor restored, swim slowly through the carnage as if witnessing the deeds of others. They begin to feed unhurriedly. Each one will leave with a full stomach."
Orcas are highly intellegient beings, capable of problem solving, and advanced group hunting techniques. Should we expect them, as well, to abadon the killing, just because they are intellectually superior to their prey? This scene is not one of notable horror or maliciousness. This is business as usual for nature, and vegetarians, seem to forget that THIS is the norm, not the other way around. If all killing were to cease on Earth, the planet would die.