Monday, 14 July 2014

A Difficult Matter

“The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter,
It isn't just one of your holiday games...”

If T.S.Eliot thought that cats were difficult, he must never have encountered the controversy that has surrounded the “naming” of wild birds whose lives are featured on the Internet.

(Image (c)2014 Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust)

Few other topics polarize opinions on the forums and chatrooms in quite the way that this one does. In only a matter of hours, a simple discussion on which name is best will have degenerated into a wholesale slanging match and eventually end with each faction branding the other as “Nazis” in the traditional Facebook fashion. But is it REALLY such a big issue...?

Part of the problem seems to originate with those people who think that giving names to wild creatures is in some way “unscientific” or even “disrespectful.” I question their motivations about this. Many of the top osprey researchers around the world are quite comfortable with the concept, and yet their scientific credentials and integrity cannot be doubted. I suspect that the objections come from those who think that taking such a position will in some way make them look like “proper naturalists” - presumably this being easier than actually going to University for four years.

At the other end of the spectrum, and diametrically opposed, are those who regard the animals to be seen on TV series or live streaming as vicarious pets. For them, it is important to have names and the cuter and more whimsical the names are, the better. I understand this too – even though the idea of a chick that will later become a large predatory bird being called “Pootsie Fluffykins” (or similar) is a bit too whimsical, even for me.

In sober reality, though, the truth is that both of these artificially exaggerated stances are just wrong. The birds remain wild birds, and the allocation of names to them does not affect their lives in any way. They are not being disrespected, for they would not value our respect nor be troubled by the absence of it.

It does not matter if we choose to identify an individual bird by a name, or a leg ring (band) number, or a project database index code. All of these are just symbolic tags – a matter of human convenience - and the differences between them exist only in the eye of the beholder.

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