There is a particular bitter irony to the West's preoccupation with extinction among animals even as the West itself is slowly becoming extinct.
The animal lowers and the conservationists of America and Europe build habitats for endangered creatures, monitor their numbers, worry over their low birth rates and never give a thought to the fact that some higher being might well look down on the men and women of the West and see no more than endangered animals, eagles, bears, badgers and wolves in business suits with headphones on their ears and low birth rates shrinking away into the darkness of final extinction.
On that note is an entertaining little article in the New York Times called The Squirrel Wars about the struggle England and the rest of the UK is having with the extinction of the red squirrel because of the invasion of the gray squirrel.
The British are of course upset. Generally though not upset enough to do anything useful about the problem. The article follows a Liberal Democrat Lord who finally decided the right approach was to kill the Grey Squirrel. Of course by this point the grey squirrel had overrun much of the UK making it all but pointless to fight on.
Since the 19th century, gray squirrels, an American import, have been overtaking Britain’s native red squirrels and claiming their territory. The grays have moved up from the south of England, thinning out the reds along the way. The reds now survive mostly in Scotland and the English counties, like Northumberland, that border it. The grays are larger and tougher and meaner than the reds. They can eat newly fallen acorns, and the reds cannot. They cross open lands that the reds are scared of. They are more sociable than reds, allowing for higher population densities. Although gray males cannot mate with red females, they often intimidate red males out of doing so
The situation has now reached a crisis point: there are only an estimated 160,000 red squirrels left in Britain, whereas there are more than 2 million grays. Without human intervention, reds could be gone from England in 10 years... Last year the government set up more than a dozen refuges for red squirrels in the north of England. The country’s National Lottery granted £626,000 to a group called Save Our Squirrels to run the reserves.
According to the initial government plan, S.O.S. would monitor the red and gray squirrel populations in the refuges. The Forestry Commission would replenish conifer trees that make the habitat desirable for reds. And the government would establish buffer zones along the perimeters — places where it would encourage landowners to kill any grays they found. The reserves seemed a fitting solution for postcolonial Britain. The gray would keep what it had won. The red, like the British themselves, would content itself with a small homeland in return for peace.
Of course refugees and buffer zones are something Israelis are quite familiar with. As are small homelands and land for peace. And the West is quite familiar with governments that are content to retreat or engage in futile measures rather than grasping the nettle. And so refuges are created but will there be refugees for Native Britons who are increasingly to become as endangered as the red squirrel?
The grey squirrels can outbreed the reds, much as England's new minorities easily outbreed the old and Mohammed becomes the most popular boy's name and the mosques swell while the old Anglican churches shrink. The grey squirrels are more aggressive where the reds are timid. The greys are willing to eat where the reds will not and live where the reds will not. They are a hardier breed. And the reds, which are England's nation symbol, approach extinction much as England itself does. As the Britons skitter away retreating and dying out, a new kind of Briton takes their place. The New Britain. Properly grey.
The refuges might have held the grays back, at least for a while, but as they were being created, it became clear to Lurz that any contact between grays and reds — even the minimal amount occurring in the refuges — was going to be catastrophic. This is because grays have yet another weapon in their arsenal: they carry a virus, to which they appear to be immune, that kills the reds. “It was too much of a coincidence,” Lurz told me. In fact, he noted, “dirty” grays took land away from reds at roughly 20 times the rate healthy grays did.
It was clear that buffer zones alone would not save the red squirrels. The only solution was to start killing grays and to kill them quickly. Scotland, which has refuges that are administered separately from those of England and Wales, took up arms.
In England, however, nothing similar happened. The blue-chip organizations associated with S.O.S. spoke passionately of saving the reds, but, sensitive to the opposition of animal-rights groups, they have not made trapping a priority. “They just keep faffing around,” Redesdale says. He calls them “talking shops.”
The work of Redesdale’s organization is different from that of S.O.S. It shoots, or traps and then smashes on the head, every gray it can find. It currently has 20 core members, with another 150 or so irregulars... his organization practices retail species elimination — he says he wants a trap in every backyard from Carlisle to Newcastle — and every pair of hands counts.
Like many people Redesdale talks to, she was at first surprised at what he told her. She said she thought she was part of the effort already: she supported Save Our Squirrels.
Redesdale clarified: “There are two organizations. They promote red squirrels; we kill grays. We just kill grays.”
The woman, who looked to be in her 60s, gave the “Candid Camera” look. “But surely the two go together, don’t they?” she asked.
Redesdale explained why they did not. He said that to preserve reds you had to wage war on the grays without pity.
“We used to often see red squirrels, but I don’t think we’ve seen any recently,” the woman said.
Yes, much as London once looked rather different. But change happens drastically but slowly, the lobster is cooked in the pot stage by stage without ever realizing it's dinner. After a while things simply seem to be different and you vaguely remember they used to be different in an ineffectual sort of way.
In the Jewish world there are a large number of organizations dedicated to saving 'reds'. In America and Europe, there are few organizations that even save 'Reds'. As far as they're concerned, we'll all be better off living in a grey America and Europe. And then one day we won't have seen any reds recently at all.
Lady Saltoun of Abernethy, the 21st to hold that title in Scotland, then spoke to point out the inherent superiority of the red over the gray squirrel: “Red squirrels,” she said, “are rather like quiet, well-behaved people who do not make a nuisance or an exhibition of themselves or commit crimes and so do not get themselves into the papers in the vulgar way gray squirrels do.”
Yes but it's the sort of vulgar people who make a nuisance of themselves, commit crimes and take what they want that built up England and it's the sort of well behaved people who don't make an exhibition of themselves that are dooming it. Because the first sort tend to eat the second sort for lunch. The manners of the nobility were merely a polish over pirates and warlords that eventually ceased to be a patina and became the impotent character of a nation.
Lord Inglewood concluded with a call to action. “We have been far too intellectual about this and tried to be far too clever,” he said. The matter was simple: “There has to be at least some killing of gray squirrels.” To Inglewood’s mind, British governments over the years, regardless of political persuasion, were guilty of “squeamishness.” And “as far as the red squirrel is concerned,” he went on, “squeamishness spells nemesis for this lovely and iconic creature. Those involved with trying to preserve the red squirrel in this country have adopted a policy of appeasement towards the grays. The red squirrels have had Chamberlains and not Churchills, but it is Churchills that they need.”
Yes indeed but if England can't even manage to rally Churchills on behalf of itself, what hope do the red squirrels have? The red squirrels are merely a symptom, a demonstration of what happens when the inflexible dictates of environment confront the weak and mushy beliefs of a society unwilling to even confront the task of killing squirrels.
The sad irony of a nation incapable of seeing the darkness surrounding it, diverting itself by playing aimlessly with the fate of a rodent that it is as impotent to save as itself and unseeing the similarity between its own fate and the roedents'.
Now Redesdale seemed to be summoning his nerve. I mean killing things to me is bad,” he said. “I’m all for it but at some point you have to nail your colors to the mast.”
I had by that point learned more about Redesdale: he and his wife met at a human rights conference; he has mixed feelings about being a lord. he joined the Liberal Democrats, a party that, he points out proudly, is to the left of Labor; and he does not like guns (“I don’t see the sport in hunting”).
All the same, Redesdale was the officer; Parker, the enlisted man. If Redesdale did not kill the squirrel, he would never be able to lead. And had his family not led for 1,000 years?
Parker handed the air rifle to Redesdale, and he pointed it.
“That’s the, uh, trigger?” Redesdale said.
“That’s right,” Parker said.
“I know it’s bad when they run,” Redesdale apologized. I thought I saw the warm-vomit look in his eyes.
“They’re dead when they do that, aren’t they?” Redesdale said, sounding more Macbeth than Prince Hal. Parker assured him it was dead: these were just the death throes.
One wonders if fifty years from now there will not be Redesdales and Parkers running around the woods of England, tamely trying to play guerrilla before they're rounded up in their own cages. One wonders if they will give a thought for the habitat of the long vanished red squirrels or the habitat of the endangered and vanishing Englishman.