The following post is the fifth and last part in a series of posts dedicated to the book Zoopolis. If you haven’t read the previous ones, it is recommended that you do so before reading the following text, especially if you haven’t read the book Zoopolis itself.
In this part we’ll focus on the third Zoopolis’ citizenship category – Denizenship for what they refer to as “liminal” animals.
But first, who are they referring to when they talk about “liminal” animals?
“This domestic/wild dichotomy ignores the vast numbers of wild animals who live amongst us, even in the heart of the city: squirrels, raccoons, rats, starlings, sparrows, gulls, peregrine falcons, and mice, just to name a few. If we add in suburban animals, such as deer, coyotes, foxes, skunks, and countless others, it becomes clear that we are not dealing with a few anomalous species here, but rather a large variety of non-domesticated species who have adapted to life amongst humans. Wild animals live, and always have lived, amongst us. We will call this group liminal animals, to indicate their in-between status, neither wilderness animals nor domesticated animals. Sometimes they live amongst us because humans have encroached on or encircled their traditional habitat, leaving them no choice but to adapt as best they can to human settlement. But in other cases, wild animals actively seek out areas of human settlement, which may offer greater food sources, shelter, and protection from predators as compared with traditional wilderness habitat.”
Or In other words: “Liminal animals are those who have adapted to life amongst humans, without being under the direct care of humans.”
And they add that:
“liminal animals come into view only when their numbers or behavior turn them into ‘pests’. In other words, they are visible when they become a problem, but invisible as ubiquitous members of the community. We have paid remarkably little attention to the diversity of these animals, the kinds of spaces they inhabit, and the ways we interact with them-from the mice who inhabit our houses, to the sparrows and feral pigeons who scavenge in city cores, to the deer and coyotes who thrive in the suburbs, to the countless species who have evolved in symbiosis with traditional agricultural practices (e.g., the birds, rodents, and small mammals who feed on agricultural crops, and the larger mammals and raptors who prey on them in turn).”
We find it a little bit surprising that a political model for the relations of humans and nonhumans focused much more on domesticated and “wild” animal than on liminal animals, as at least our intuition was that it would be the other way around, given that many activists think that there shouldn’t be domesticated animals and that “wild” animals should be left alone, and so, if anything, the ones which truly need a special political attention are animals who are neither of which, animals that allegedly aren’t directly exploited by humans, or allegedly live independently and with no direct contact with humans.
Obviously this is not really the case but that is how it is generally viewed by the animal rights theory, so we thought liminal animals would get most of the attention in the book. However, it seems that liminal animals get less attention, not only in the book but also in its reviews and critiques. Having said that, it is to their credit that they have at least addressed this neglected issue. They deeply comprehend that there always have been, and always will be, animals who adapt to live near humans, and/or would be drawn to the opportunities offered by humans’ waste disposal, agricultural, and resource management practices, and that humans can’t keep ignoring that. What they don’t deeply comprehend is that denizenship, or any other political option can never solve that problem.
From Pests to Denizens?
According to Donaldson and Kymlicka, the just political model for this group of animals can’t be sovereignty like in the case of “wild” animals since their habitat is human cities, backyards and houses. And it can’t be citizenship like in the case of domesticated animals since that presupposes a level of sociability and interaction with humans that most liminal animals are unable of, or is undesirable for them.
Therefore what they do suggest is:
“We argue that the best way to conceptualize this relationship is in terms of denizenship. Liminal animals are co-residents of human communities but not co-citizens. They belong here amongst us, but are not one of us. Denizenship captures this distinctive status, which is fundamentally different from either co-citizenship or external sovereignty. Like citizenship, denizenship is a relationship that should be governed by norms of justice, but it is a looser sort of relationship, less intimate or cooperative, and therefore characterized by a reduced set of rights and responsibilities”
They are aware of the problematics regarding this group of animals:
“One problem, already noted, is that these animals are invisible in our everyday worldview. Given the way we draw a dichotomy between nature and human civilization, urban space is defined precisely in opposition to what is wild and natural. We therefore do not see liminal animals, at least when thinking and talking about how to design and govern our societies. For example, urban design rarely, if ever, gives any consideration to the impact of human decisions on liminal animals, and urban planners are rarely trained to consider these issues. As a result, liminal animals are often the victims of inadvertent harms from our buildings, roads, wires, fences, pollution, rogue pets, and so on. Qua species, liminal animals may have adapted to these dangers of life with humans, but many individuals die gruesome and unnecessary deaths.”
They are also aware of the problematics regarding their suggested solution, yet still propose it:
“Denizenship can quickly become a source of exploitation and oppression if the rights and responsibilities are defined in such a way as to consign denizens to the status of a permanently subordinated caste group. But where the rights and responsibilities are reduced in a more reciprocal way, and done in order better to accommodate the distinctive interests of denizens themselves, then denizenship can serve as a vehicle for just relationships.”
The chances for animals who are currently mostly considered by humans as “pests” – a status which has nothing to do with the animals’ qualities but is mostly depended upon their quantities, as the more there are of them the more likely it is they are regarded as pests – to be considered as denizens are extremely small.
And regarding urban design, the chances that humans would start to plan their cities with any consideration to the impact on liminal animals, are also extremely small, that is especially so when more and more urban areas show less and less consideration for the common human. When even humans are barely considered when cities are planned, growing, and being renovated, when more and more cities are becoming spaces for rich people, private cars, corporations and shopping malls instead of for pedestrians, bicycles, public transportation, small enterprises and etc. (there are some improvements in some cities in recent years but that is an improvement after a serious deterioration that shouldn’t have occurred in the first place, and it is very marginal), it is extremely unlikely that nonhumans would be taken under serious consideration.
The implications of these considerations are very far-reaching as animals live everywhere and are hurt by everything humans are doing.
Many animals who live in cities do not see its roadways as off-limits.
Millions upon millions of animals are run over on roadways in cities every year including squirrels, opossums, porcupines, boars, mice, and pigeons.
And the harm that roadways inflict on animals is not limited to direct hits. The loud noise, strong lights at night, pollution and fear are also very harmful.
The transportation system is enough of an inherent feature of human society to condemn it as irrevocably harmful to “liminal” animals. But there are others.
Tree trimming is another urban example of harm to “liminal” animals. Humans trim or cut down trees every once in a while with no consideration to the trees’ inhabitants which are mostly birds but also mice, worms, beetles, ants, squirrels and etc. Trimming often results in exposing bird nests to predators or in the worst case in cutting off the branches that hold the nest.
It is not very likely that humans would be willing to forsake clean pavements, clean cars and of course clear view from their windows, for the sake of nonhumans.
And it is even much less likely in cases of animals living, or even temporarily lodging, inside their houses.
During spring, female raccoons look for a safe place to give birth and nurture their babies. They find the warmth and comfort of humans’ houses to be a perfect substitute for a natural den.
Humans are very unwelcoming. Raccoons are considered as pests by humans because they fear they might destroy their house insulation, damage the roof while gaining access to the house, chew holes into soffits, rip apart ducts, because they leave their feces in large communal piles on roofs, decks, attics, woodpiles, and etc., because some humans falsely believe that raccoons are common carriers of rabies, and that they might attack their dog or cat.
And since Donaldson and Kymlicka are in favor of humans owning chickens, another concern relevant in a zoopolis world is that raccoons would manage to reach them and kill them.
Raccoons are smart, extremely adaptable, fast-growing in population, and are opportunistic eaters meaning their diet is determined by the environment they live in. Raccoons will eat almost anything they can find, their main target in cites is garbage, bird feeders, and unattended pet food. All that makes them very common in urban environments, and not very likely to leave gently.
Suggestions such as installing a motion-activated bright light or a loud alarm, taking advantage of raccoons’ sensitive eyes and hearing, are harmful. And other, less harmful measures are practically irrelevant. There is no reason to believe that humans, who despite that most of them view raccoons as pests, don’t make sure that their trash cans are locked, their attic is keyed, the vents are sealed, that there are no loose shingles and that if there are ones they immediately repair them, that there is no way to get in through the chimney, or dwell in wall voids or under the decks, or whatever, that don’t regularly clean the yard of any piles of debris or leaves since it can serve as perfect hiding spots and dwellings for raccoons, and don’t keep all food indoors all the time, will decide to take responsibility since if raccoons would get into to their house they would have to be forcefully removed.
And of course raccoons are just an example of a “liminal” animal. Other species such as Coyotes, Sparrows, Bobcats, Boars, Ref Foxes, Baboons (very common in Cape Town for example), Rhesus (very common in India for example), Martens (very common in central Europe), Squirrels, and of course Mice and Rats, are also very common in cities. Humans may have different issues with each species but the principle is the same. And humans will not compromise their comfort, let alone in their own houses, for the sake of nonhumans.
And it is not very likely that humans would compromise their comfort outside their houses either, for example in public spaces.
According to the World Health Organization after air pollution, noise is the largest environmental cause of health problems. Besides obvious impacts such hearing impairment and sleep disorder, excessive noise can also cause mood swings, insomnia, depression, and stress related illnesses. In 2018, the American College of Cardiology linked noise pollution to a range of cardiovascular problems, such as high blood pressure, heart attacks, stroke and coronary heart disease. Animals living in cities are harmed by noise just as much.
Studies have long ago linked excessive noise to poor health among human city dwellers. But only very recently a comprehensive study regarding the impact of noise on animals has been published. The meta-study, which was conducted by scientists at Queen’s University Belfast, and published in the scientific journal Biology Letters, covered 108 studies of 109 species, which were divided into seven groups: amphibians, arthropods, birds, mammals, fish, reptiles and molluscs. The researchers looked at studies that measured changes in species’ behavior, or other traits such as hormone levels before and after exposure to noise. Then, they took all the calculations and put them together. It appears that all seven groups were impacted by anthropogenic noise.
Birds, frogs and insects that rely on sound for communication are particularly harmed by noise pollution. If birds can’t hear because of the noise of the traffic, they fail to hear their chicks crying for food, or other birds’ warning of a predator.
The researchers suggest that noise pollution affecting animals is the norm, not the exception.
Noise pollution, along with light pollution, which is another major harm for animals living in cites, disrupt many animals normal sleep–wake cycle, which causes many of them various behavioral and health issues. In addition, both pollutions, decrease animals’ sleeping duration and as a consequence decrease their immune system strength.
A different study (The association between telomere length and cancer risk in population studies from 2016) found that nestlings of House Sparrow who were reared under traffic noise had reduced telomere length when compared with their unexposed neighbors, an effect that could be mediated by oxidative stress. Shorter telomeres have been linked to increased vulnerability of several types of cancer. In addition, noise exposure increased stress hormone levels and suppressed cellular immunity in tree frogs according to a study called Effects of traffic noise on tree frog stress levels, immunity and color signaling from 2017, and both of these effects are generally considered to be cancer risk factors.
Noise pollution is not the only reason Cancer is found in more and more animals who live in cities.
Urban environment, which is one of the leading causes of Cancer among humans, also effects cancer rates among nonhumans. Animals that are in contact with humans live in a disturbed, resource-rich environment, with an increased exposure to chemical pollution, artificial light at night, novel food sources including processed foods and sugar-rich foods, and changes in infection patterns, all are environmental factors that favor carcinogenesis.
“Liminal” animals live near humans because of the high food quantities, however the food quality is low.
Inappropriate nutrition (high levels of processed fat, low levels of protein, vitamins, antioxidants and other essential nutrients) can lead to depletion of fat reserves, poor body condition and decrease in innate and acquired immune responses in animals. According to the studies: Nutritional physiology and ecology of wildlife in a changing world from 2017, and Linking anthropogenic resources to wildlife-pathogen dynamics from 2015, at the global level, animals in regions with the highest human densities and per capita food losses are most affected by those anthropogenic factors.
Pollutants are known to cause cancer in humans, and evidences that similar pathways are also affecting the health of animals have been accumulating. Familiar examples include the effects of water pollution with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), polychlorinated byphenyl and dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethanes on cancer cases among fishes (according to the study Dermal melanoma with schwannoma-like differentiation in a brown bullhead catfish), as well as mammals (according to the studies: The role of organochlorines in cancer-associated mortality in California sea lions from 2005 and Sentinel California sea lions provide insight into legacy organochlorine exposure trends and their association with cancer and infectious disease from 2015). However, most of the numerous pollutants found in urban environments are unexplored in relation to nonhumans, so the prevalence of Cancer is probably much higher. For example, the mixture of pollutants found in the air of cities, which predominantly come from local vehicular traffic in urban areas, and includes emission of gases, particles, volatile organic compounds and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, many of which are considered as carcinogens, were not examined in relation to nonhumans. An increased risk of lung cancer associated with exposure to outdoor air pollutants has been consistently found in several studies on humans, and it would have probably found the same result if examined among nonhumans.
The few studies that have been done on other agents present in air pollution such as benzene, kerosene, toluene and xylenes, have found them to be associated with mammary carcinomas in rodents.
And another study has found an association of traffic-related air pollution with an increase in the incidence of lung adenoma and tumour multiplicity of urethane-induced adenomas among mice.
In humans, the link between artificial light at night (ALAN) and cancer was first established in female employees working rotating night shifts (Missing the dark: health effects of light pollution from 2009) and was recently also confirmed in the context of urbanization (Light and the city: breast cancer risk factors differ between urban and rural women, from 2017). The increased breast cancer risk in female night shift workers has been postulated to result from the suppression of pineal melatonin production. Melatonin, a hormone present in all vertebrates and also in bacteria, protozoa, plants, fungi and invertebrates, is involved in the regulation of circadian rhythms; it peaks at night and is suppressed by light. Direct links between artificial light at night, melatonin and cancer prevalence have not been established for animals so far, however, there are several studies showing changes in the levels of hormones that have been related to cancer in humans.
Another example of a major urban harm is skyscrapers.
Up to one billion birds die in glass collisions every year in the US alone. Many of which are “wild” birds but many others are what they refer to as “liminal” animals.
Some birds collide with buildings since they are attracted to or distracted by the buildings’ bright lights at night. Even if the dazed birds don’t die from the violent collisions, some circle the illuminated buildings and eventually die of exhaustion.
Other birds collide with buildings during daytime as they get confused by the buildings’ clear, reflective glass.
In a way, skyscrapers are to birds, what cars are for numerous land animals – assassin tools.
Humanity must turn off the lights at night, and change all the clear windows into dimmer ones. Both are extremely unlikely to ever happen. The corporate world wants the glass to look shiny and mirrored because that is a symbol of productivity and prosperity. And as usual with humans, nonhumans pay the price for their careless and violent desires and preferences. Nonhumans pay the price for humans’ taste, in food, in cloths, entertainment, and even architecture.
The main reason so many animals are living near humans is food availability.
Donaldson and Kymlicka suggest that humans would try to minimize food availability in order to prevent conflicts , however, food management can’t solve the problem because many animals are not coming to cities just for the food but in many cases for the weather.
Cities are known for their urban heat island effect, a phenomenon that in some cases can turn city centers as much as 22 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than areas surrounding them. Concrete and asphalt surfaces absorb rather than reflect sunlight during the day, storing it as heat, and release that heat at night. In addition, industries, vehicles and air conditioners are pumping out more heat, while buildings block out cooling winds. The heat island effect makes cites attractive for many animals in cold areas.
Humans are not likely to ever take that under consideration and currently even when it comes to food management the trend is the exact opposite. Piles of agricultural waste are left behind right after the harvest since only a small part of the harvested plant is used.
And of the food that actually leaves the farms’ gates about 30% is lost either by spoilage or wasteful processing. Studies regarding high-income countries estimate that the amount of loss can reach 50%.
And on the consumer level, the amounts of household waste consecutively grow every year. Each person in the US is responsible for 2Kg of garbage a day – twice the amount that was made four decades ago. The western European produces about 1.3kg per day.
About two thirds of the household waste is food waste.
This world is humans’ world in every possible aspect. Human footprint is all over this planet. Everyone is hurt by them somehow. The problem with humans is everything.
Donaldson and Kymlicka suggest some measures to avoid some of the conflicts:
“human communities may erect barriers and create disincentives in order to limit the population of incoming liminal animals. For example, we can dramatically increase monitoring of international travel and shipping to prevent stowaways. We can use physical barriers to discourage in-migration from wild areas that brush up against highly populated human centres. We can reduce incentives that attract migrating animals to human communities. (For example, we can stop creating expansive lawns of Kentucky blue grass next to ponds-a microenvironment which is irresistible to the Canada goose.) Or we can use active disincentives (e.g., noise blasters, off-leash dog parks) to discourage liminal migrants from landing or settling.”
Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, none of their options is to drastically decrease the human population so there would be as little clashes as possible. A dramatic decrease in human population can also assist with other crucial measures such as a much better waste management, a much better sewage management, locked trash cans, sealed roofs, covered porches and etc.
There are already many good reasons to do all of the above, and much more, for humans own sake, yet they choose not to, so they are definitely not going to do it for nonhumans sake.
What they are willing to do is use active disincentives such as noise blaster to discourage “liminal” migrants from landing or settling – a terrible option which shouldn’t have been suggested by Donaldson and Kymlicka in the first place. Most of the “liminal” animals didn’t invade territories in which humans have lived, but the other way around, or that they were pushed into them by human habitat destruction and so had no other options. Their “choice” of being “liminal” is largely a result of human occupation of the planet. So suggesting such an option is not only legitimizing human occupation, but also blasting nonhumans with noise when they are coming to claim their share.
There is no such thing as “no man’s land” (in itself an outstandingly speciesist term), animals live and lived everywhere. Humans’ “sovereignties” are simply occupied territories.
Even if humanity would decide to seriously consider the harms to “liminal” animals, something which is extremely unlikely as currently most of them are considered by most of humanity as “pests”, many problems are unavoidable. And that is especially the case if we don’t focus on nonhumans who live inside human communities only, but also on nonhumans who live near and off human communities. Most of the “liminal” animals are harmed by human activists which are not necessarily within their communities but as a result of them. Or put more simply, most “liminal” animals are harmed by agriculture, an activity which humans can’t do without, and so it is an unsolvable harm.
Agriculture – The Greatest Harm to “Liminal” Animals
“We should not recklessly put ourselves in situations where we are likely to face lethal conflicts with animals, and we should make reasonable efforts to identify practices that would allow us to reduce existing conflicts, in order that, to the extent possible, we can respect the inviolable rights of animals.”
That means no industrial development and more importantly no more agriculture as both are undoubtedly situations where humans are not likely to face lethal conflicts, but are utterly lethal conflicts.
As hard as it is for us, as vegans ourselves, to say and for some activists to accept, plant based agriculture is far from being a cruelty free option. In fact veganism is actively encouraging one of the largest systems of human domination worldwide, which systematically hurts billions of sentient beings. Eating a vegan meal is participating in a long and complex web of intensive food production.
Animals who live in or near agriculture lands (exactly because they are there), are considered as “liminal” animals, and numerous of them are harmed by various agriculture practices.
The first stages of agricultural cultivation are tillage and plowing, which means in simple words, intentionally breaking the soil and turning it over. Tillage practices can carve up as deep as a meter and a half (5 feet) into the ground in order to bring deeper soil layers to the surface. This invasive procedure is accomplished with massive machinery as moldboard, disks or chisel plow (also called rippers) which destroy everything and everyone who is “in the way”. In fact one of the formal functions of tillage is to destroy nests, dens and burrows, home to countless sentient beings.
The purpose of the plowing process which is done repeatedly before planting or seeding, is to change the soil formation, to warm it, and to provide a seedbed. After the seeding, the soil will be plowed again a few more times, to prevent “weeds” from growing.
After the heavy machines tilled and plowed, other heavy machines go across the land planting seeds. The same seeds, over and over. Each time these heavy machines go over the land they might run animals over, or destroy their nests, dens and burrows.
The water waste of animal “agriculture” is notorious, but plant based agriculture also places a huge strain on water resources. Humans’ water plundering deprives nonhumans of food and cover as vegetation is also severely affected by the water scarcity.
Irrigation also worsens the pollution damage made by the agriculture chemicals (mostly fertilizers), by increasing the wash off to the surrounding area, where many nonhumans live.
Many chemicals are used during several agriculture stages, and all of them are harmful in one way or another. But the most familiar harmful chemicals are obviously pesticides.
Humans have been poisoning the world while feeding themselves, for about 4,500 years now.
Overall pesticide use has increased 50-fold since 1950 and now more than 2.5 million tons are used each year. Several cycles of pesticide sprays during one crop cycle is not uncommon, and sometimes the seeds are even sprayed before planting.
Today it is estimated that the agricultural chemical industry is producing about 50,000 different commercial products based on approximately 900 active ingredients. All of which do what they are designed for and kill any plant that competes over resources, and any animal that attempts to make use of the land and plants that humans systematically rob from the other species.
And pesticides do much more than that. They have devastative effects on plants and animals all over the world, as some of them are easily carried by wind, rain and animals that consumed them and managed to get out of the poisoned area and unintentionally disperse them.
Rains wash some pesticides into ground and surface waters. A potent insecticide (poison which targets insects) named neonicotinoids was found in 17 out of 23 rivers in the UK, and in 74% of samples of water from the Great Lakes.
Some pesticides decompose slowly and remain in the environment for years, where they tend to bio-accumulate in the tissues of animals.
Another type of pesticides is herbicides, substances which are designed to kill species of plants not animals, however while killing plants that compete with the desired crop for light, water, nutrients, and space (and therefore are considered as pests), they are harming any animal which makes use of these plants. Herbicides dramatically change plants spread, some are critical for the local animals, and destroy the resources they depend upon, mostly habitat, food and cover from predators.
Organic agriculture, which is viewed by many as a magical solution, doesn’t avoid using potent chemicals as pesticides and herbicides which are still harmful to the ones they are intended to target, as well as many others. The difference is that, these compounds are “natural” and are considered unharmful to humans, as if it matters to the poisoned animals.
To avoid the use of chemical pesticides some farmers use “alternative” methods of “pest control” including “biocontrol” which is mostly predation and parasitism, and a huge range of traps from the common leg trap that snaps as someone treads upon it, to creative mechanisms that shoot sharp spears once triggered, scissor-like knifes that shuts firmly or a noose-like loop that tightens and chokes. Those inquisition devices are spread by the dozens on each hectare when “necessary”. In many cases the traps are covered and sometimes they contain baits. Usually they are placed right on top of burrows entrances or inside them, leaving no chance for the rodents who live there.
Burrows, which are the farmers’ main target, are also attacked by varied toxic gases, liquids called fumigants and also with foaming agents which are pumped into the burrow system, quickly filling it entirely. Smoke bombs are also used. All the burrow’s entrances are sealed shut making sure there is no way to escape suffocation and that the highly dangerous substances won’t be inhaled by humans. Even flammable gases such as propane are sometimes injected with a hose into the burrows and then ignited.
Flooding or burning fields have several “benefits”, among them is the fact that they serve as “pest control” methods.
Even if many of these methods are outlawed in a zoopolis world, does it make sense that it would be possible to produce sufficient amounts of food without any conflict of interests?
Obviously the population of nonhumans is a function of the available resources. Without any use of pesticides of any kind, if humans would allow all nonhumans to share all the crops they are raising, there would be none left for them. Agriculture can’t avoid conflict of interests.
Donaldson and Kymlicka write:
“What precisely this will require of us will vary considerably. For those of us who live in wealthy urban environments, the vast bulk of our daily interactions with animals clearly falls within the circumstances of justice. For those living in more remote areas alongside potentially aggressive wildlife, or in poorer societies without adequate infrastructure (e.g., waste disposal, impermeable housing barriers), the necessities of daily life may create more regular risks of lethal conflict, and greater measures would be needed to extend the circumstances of justice. In each case, there is a duty to sustain and extend the circumstances of justice, so as to respect as far as possible the inviolable rights of animals, but obviously more can be expected and demanded of those of us living in more propitious circumstances.”
None of us is really living in more “propitious circumstances” as all of us have to eat, and all food necessitates lethal conflicts. So everyone, including of course humans who live in urban environments, is depended upon less “propitious circumstances”.
In a world in which everyone lives at the expense of others it is impossible to respect the inviolable rights of animals. The idea of inviolable rights is basically oxymoronic. It can’t exist in a world based on violence, where beings constantly compete with each other over resources, not to mention that for many, other beings are the resources. Violence is a derivative of life’s most basic element – consuming energy. It is impossible for any being to live on this planet without hurting someone else and this ambition is particularly absurd when it comes to humans, whose massive and violent footprint is with no comparison to any other being, even those of vegans with a very high environmental awareness.
“Liminal” animals, like “wild” animals and most definitely domesticated animals, don’t need humans to frame them in a political model, they need humans to disappear.