To Procreate, or Not

The_Big_Game_of_Africa_(1910)_-_Black_&_White_RhinosA female white rhino, on average, can produce 11 offspring during her lifetime. Who knows how many more are sired by the male rhino … or Mick Jagger, for that matter. A nine-banded armadillo can produce 54, while lemmings and rabbits can produce hundreds. Spreading your genes around is the first rule of life. From an evolutionary standpoint, I’m a complete failure.

The closest I ever got to procreating was in my early twenties when the young woman I was dating and hoped to marry asked me pointblank if I wanted to have children. Yes, I told her, of course. I even convinced myself that I really did. Men will do anything to get a woman into bed.

Fortunately for both of us, she saw through me (the fact that at the time I was employed in a pet shop, dreaming about all the successful books I would write, may have also made her think twice about my future financial prospects). We went our separate ways, sparing me not only thousands of dollars on an engagement ring worthy of my potential fiancé’s expensive tastes, but the inconceivable tragedy of my becoming a parent.

Growing up, I never thought much about having kids. I just didn’t see it as a life goal, the way some people have always known that they wanted to be parents. I want exactly seven—three boys and three girls and one … well, whatever the Good Lord gives us—dealer’s choice.

Occasionally I caught myself thinking about what it might be like. Taking my little boy or girl hiking. Trying to explain the mysteries of sex or how to fry an egg. Passing on my genes and values to some little person with maybe the same blue eyes and big ears, who would for a time worship the ground I walk on and demand all my waking moments, then completely ignore me in her teens, and later call me a terrible drunken monster when she wrote her memoir at 32.

According to a 2013 Gallup poll, over half of all U.S. citizens 18 to 40 already have kids, and even the 40% who don’t still hope to have them someday. Only six percent of this group do not want to have any children, under any circumstances. Seems I’m in the minority.

But at least among the 75 million or so millennials in this country, I have company. According to a recent Cassandra report, fully a third of them do not want kids. Many see this as a deliberate lifestyle choice or not wanting to take on the significant responsibilities that go with parenting. And they don’t seem at all worried about what people will think. Gotta love those millennials.

Of course, if your spouse or significant other really wants kids, it’s hard to say no. I could very well have ended up reproducing, whether I wanted to or not, had I not had the incredible good fortune of meeting and marrying my one and only wife, Josie. She never wanted kids, either. How lucky was that!

I realize that, if every human on the planet shared my views, we would soon go extinct, which might not be a bad idea, considering how our species has totally messed up the planet. We’re not exactly the pinnacle of evolution. We’ve had long enough to change our ways. Why not put some other species, preferably with more intelligence, say ravens, elephants, or even white rhinos, in control of things? The earth would do just fine without us, as it has for billions of years.

Baby naked mole rat

Could be I’m just lacking a baby gene. While other people gush about how cute the new baby is, I’m heading for the door, especially if pictures are involved. The only thing worse than kiddie pictures are dog pictures. Let me know how the kid (or dog) turns out at 21, then we’ll talk. And face it, some babies are about as cute as a newborn naked mole rat.

I could blame my attitude on my maternal grandmother, whom I adored, having spent many idyllic early days on her farm. I remember her warning me how the world was getting worse every day and never to bring kids into this world. Of course, she could have been just tired of putting up with all her own kids’ crap—she had four—or with me, for that matter. I was always getting into trouble, shooting fish and frogs in her pond with my BB gun or cutting down trees in the woods with my ax and leaving three-foot-tall stumps (well, she did ask me to clear out some of the shrubs and trees encroaching on the field).

Not that it’s likely, but I can think of several good reasons why I shouldn’t procreate. First of all, my wife still doesn’t want to. And I doubt very much if she would approve of me spreading my seed around, even if it might potentially benefit the human gene pool. It also sounds like a lot of work, and would impinge on my afternoon naptime.

Second, if I ever did have a kid—perish the thought—I would undoubtedly be a terrible father, the kind who thinks the only good music is classic rock and embarrasses his kids by continuing to wear in public tight Rolling Stones T-shirts over his advancing pot belly.

Finally, there are plenty of people who still want to have kids, as well as plenty who have them accidentally. There are far too many of us here already, with more on the way. As I see it, I’m doing my bit for the planet. The two, four, six (hey, why not twelve, as long as we’re being hypothetical?) kids Josie and I might have had are a counterbalance to those being born. Plus I’ve kept my genes out of the gene pool, which on further reflection is probably a good thing. One Gene is quite enough.

 

For Their Own Good

The last big extinction event on earth was around 65 million years ago, when a giant asteroid wiped out the dinosaurs along with much of the rest of life on earth. During the last few centuries, however, hundreds of species have vanished as a direct result of human activity, and the rate is accelerating. While not as messy or sudden as an asteroid, our hairy ape species seems hell-bent on creating the next big wave of extinctions.

According to one website, the total number of species known to be threatened with extinction is nearly 17,000. Since we still don’t even know how many species of plants and animals there are on this planet—it could be three million or ten million—this number likely represents only a tiny fraction of the true number.

Some animals are so critically endangered that it’s hard to see how they’re going to make it. Take rhinos, for example. According to the website “savetherhino.org,” black rhinos have plummeted from an estimated population of 65,000 in 1970 to just 5,055 today. Asian species are even worse off, with numbers only in the hundreds.

But try telling this to the millions of people who still believe that powdered rhino horn can cure everything from cancer to foot fungus, despite there being not a shred of scientific evidence that it serves any medical purpose at all. Powdered rhino horn is still an integral part of traditional Chinese pharmacy, and can fetch tens of thousands of dollars per kilogram. Against this irrational belief the rhinoceros stands little chance.

Desperate times require desperate solutions. Merely creating new regulations or preserves won’t cut it anymore. Namibia, for example, was the first country to use “dehorning” as a means to protect their rhinos from poaching. On the face of it, it sounds pretty disgusting. What’s a rhino without its horns? But maybe it’s for their own good. Indeed, ever since Namibia began its program, no rhinos have been poached, though other countries have been less successful with this approach. Since the horns grow back over time, the rhinos have to be regularly monitored and dehorned every 12-24 months. For the Namibians, however, a rhino without horns is better than no rhino at all.

Recently a turtle conservancy in California employed a similar technique with two of its rare ploughshare tortoises, valued by exotic animal collectors for their beautiful golden domed shells. So essentially they disfigured their shells by branding them with identification markers that will make them both easier to track and less appealing to collectors, who will often pay tens of thousands of dollars for an unblemished tortoise. In all, they hope to brand all of the less than 700 specimens still alive in the world. Other rare tortoise species are likewise being uglified.

Perhaps this idea of removing the source of the problem, be it a horn or a beautiful shell, could be applied to other animals. Simply remove the tusks from elephants, for example, to keep them from being poached for ivory. They won’t like it very much, but it’s for their own good. Similarly, animals killed for their horns or antlers, such as the Saiga antelope, Asian red deer, and certain species of wild cattle, might just have to lose those appendages in order to be saved.

Unfortunately, such an approach wouldn’t work with some species, such as endangered tigers. Since each of their body parts right down to the bones are valued for traditional folk medicine, it would be difficult to know where to start. On the other hand, with musk deer, which are killed for their musk glands, surgical removal of the gland in question just might work. And animals killed and threatened for their fur, such as spotted cats, fur seals, and South American otters, could be regularly sheared, which is probably a lot more difficult than it sounds. While the prospect of a bunch of naked jaguars and otters running around is not exactly appealing, again it is for their own good.

Of course, if we wish to remove the real source of the problem, perhaps we should start with us. Our human population of over 7 billion is projected to reach 9.6 billion by the year 2050. This means that an additional two and half billion people will require more land, food, water, and other resources, with less room for other living things. If you think things are bad now, just wait. Ironically, this is not only bad for other species, but for us as well. As species go extinct, we will lose a host of natural products used for real medicines, food, and building materials, along with the vital services that wild plants and animals provide, including air and water purification and pollination of our food crops. So I propose that every fertile human being on the planet undergo a little operation—a much simpler one than removing musk glands or rhino horns—to keep each of us from reproducing again. Maybe someday, when human numbers have returned to less harmful levels, we could allow a few of us to breed under carefully controlled conditions—just enough to maintain the gene pool. Some of us might not like it very much, and achieving this goal will not be easy. But it’s for our own good.
                                                    ©Gene Twaronite 2014

Originally published in 5enses June 2014  http://www.5ensesmag.com/for-their-own-good/