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Jewish World Review Sept. 7, 2001 / 18 Elul, 5761

Laura Ingraham

Laura Ingraham
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Consumer Reports

Scariest animal wears pants -- IN recent years, we've heard a lot about road rage, air rage, sideline rage, grocery-store rage, parking-lot rage. This summer we can add animal rage to the list.

Two people are now dead and others seriously injured after a flurry of shark attacks. Although marine experts say these are extremely unusual events, one can't help but wonder what is going on. Lately, all sorts of creatures have been making their presence acutely - and sometimes tragically - known.

Thinkers of the Enlightenment period believed nature could be tamed through intellect and reason. The Romantics thought nature should be unleashed in all of its majesty. Today, we assume we're so advanced, so powerful, that most flora and fauna exist for our pleasure. Nature has its place, as long as it stays out of our way.

Hanker for a new outlet mall? Clear-cut the trees! (Why do you think they're called strip malls?) Need a golf course? Bulldoze the pastures! The foxes will find somewhere else. Want to expand the ski slopes of Vail, Colo.? How endangered can those pesky bobcats be?

Of course, most animals don't stand a chance against man. The stag may look noble against a winter landscape, but it can't outrun a hunter on a snowmobile. A glorious marlin can rip through the strongest currents, yet has trouble evading million-dollar fishing boats rigged with deep-sea sonar.

But this summer we have been reminded - often horribly - that we can't always control what is wild. Sometimes animals will try to reclaim what they can of their shrinking habitats. Animals will be animals.

It took grisly shark attacks in Florida, North Carolina, Virginia and the Bahamas to remind us that other things swim in the water besides oiled-up humans. Yet some seek a deep-pockets defendant to blame. Lawyer Johnnie Cochran, already familiar with shark behavior, is representing the New York investment banker who had his leg bitten off by a shark last month in the Bahamas. Cochran has been circling the beach resort where the victim was swimming.

Sharks aren't the only animals making a splash. In Hampton Beach, N.H., vacationers were "menaced" a couple of weeks ago by an eagle that apparently mistook a small child for a large meal, injuring her when it swooped down. Some on the scene reported that beachgoers had been amusing themselves by feeding the eagle as if it were a Central Park pigeon.

In New Mexico, Colorado and Wyoming, people are complaining that hungry bears in search of a pre-hibernation feast are marauding through their neighborhoods (which of course used to be bear neighborhoods). And in Irwin, Pa., a "pet" Burmese python strangled an 8-year-old girl to death. It is not known whether the child's horrific death will cause her family to give up its other exotic snakes.

Are animals trying to tell us to back off? To lose our oblivious, even cocky, attitude toward what is wild?

We have gotten accustomed to reshaping nature to conform to our latest whims and desires. We clear mountainsides for steeper ski slopes, irrigate a desert landscape so fairways will be green and lush. We want to be close to nature, but not inconvenienced. We've gotten used to eliminating its hazards - observing animals in zoos, in aquariums or on luxury safaris where travelers watch lions from the comfort of their Land Rovers by day and sip fine Chablis by night.

Problem is, we're forgetting a basic law of nature: It's unpredictable. When we wade into the ocean or go for a hike in the wilderness, it's our choice. When animals decide to join us there, it's theirs.

08/17/01: Depressed after seeing uncut version of Apocalypse Now --- and for good reason
07/20/01: The other, maybe more important, news
06/22/01: Washington's pro-Bono worship is unnerving
06/01/01: Burying conservatism
05/17/01: Ashcroft's abuse of power

JWR contributor Laura Ingraham is the host of a radio show syndicated nationally by Westwood One Radio Network. Comment by clicking here.

© 2001, Laura Ingraham