What to do? What to do?
By Susan and Biff Andrews
It’s never easy. You see a young calf (or fawn) shivering, stumbling, obviously sick.
You stop, wondering whether to intervene. The calf bleats pitifully, so you load it into your van and take it to the experts — and they fine you $250 for disturbing wildlife and then euthanize the animal (in this case, a buffalo calf).
Are you morally and ethically right or wrong in this course of action? The answer is … yes! Perhaps admirable for delicate sensibilities but guilty of bad judgment. An older, wiser self would say to himself, “Let him die. The wolves have to eat, and this is what they eat.”
Last week our column dealt with the beautiful tulip poplar tree. We mentioned that the state butterfly — the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail — loves to eat on them and lay eggs on them.
The very day the article was published, I parked my truck in the driveway and got out, only to come face to face with a swallowtail caterpillar in our tree.
Now, I have a 7-year-old granddaughter coming in a week or two. Moral and ethical problem: break off the branch and put it in a large jar with the holes in the lid and let her see the transformation, or let the caterpillar stay there and perhaps get eaten by a bird. Try to please and educate the child or let nature take its course and hope it’s still there for her to see when she comes?
Again, the answer is … yes! We chose to leave him be and just photograph him daily. But it may cost Virginia one swallowtail that we could have protected and used to educate a little girl.
Of course, when there are state and federal laws to observe, there’s no debate. Or maybe not so much. Obviously you don’t go into the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge and catch butterflies for your collection. You don’t dig up huge cinnamon ferns for your yard. You don’t see a native orchid and pick it for your lapel.
But what about extenuating circumstances? Situational ethics?
The state says a licensed fisherman is allowed to keep four flounder over 16 inches per day. Let’s say that fisherman has been trying all day to catch a fish without success, but at 5 p.m. he catches a fifteen-incher. Obviously he has to throw it back.
But the fish is throat-hooked, and in removing the hook, his throat is ripped out and he dies. Throw it back or not? Keeping it is illegal, but not really morally wrong as it’s a waste of good food. But to show up at the ramp with a 15-inch fish may cost that same old $250 fine.
Decisions, decisions. Situational ethics. I’ve been tempted…
But the crabs and sharks have to eat. And this is what they eat.
So, check your moral and ethical compass. What do you do in the following situations?
You come across a spider while walking a nature trail? You come across a spider in an infant’s nursery?
You encounter a butterfly? You encounter a mosquito?
You encounter a rat anywhere?
You accidentally hook a 3-foot shark?
You find a stinkbug inside a window screen?
And a reminder: “Character” is how you behave when nobody else is watching.
Susan and Bradford “Biff” Andrews are retired teachers and master naturalists who have been outdoor people all their lives, exploring and enjoying the woods, swamps, rivers and beaches throughout the region for many years. Email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.