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Like the dugongs around the islands of Hat Choi Mai National Park, wild animals were free to roam much farther afield thanks to our temporary absence. Courtesy Camille Ménard, Wikipedia Commons

One thing I think most bipedal, opposable-thumbed, prefrontal-cortexed mammals of the human variety can agree on: COVID sucks. And, after COVID, someone left the microwave going outside, and people are starting to wear masks again. Contractor, detractor, overreactor, denier, or decrier of the COVID-19 virus, surely none of us want to see it come back, especially writ large and in charge.

But what if you aren’t a bipedal, opposable-thumbed mammal with a prefrontal lobe?

Coronavirus lockdowns were almost insufferable for us, but it was an invigorating refresher for Mother Nature, a year and a half at a health spa — and the first “spring break” that the rest of the species we share this wheezing blue orb with enjoyed in a half century.

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The natural Bosphorus Strait, an internationally significant waterway in northwestern Turkey, hadn’t seen many dolphins in decades. Part of the continental boundary between Asia and Europe, it was always too jammed with tankers, cargo ships and passenger boats, and — though we like to ignore it — dolphins are no dummies. An amphibious mammal, Mr. Dolphin also has a prefrontal cortex, and he doesn’t play Roadrunner or Wile E. Coyote around major human traffic routes. But then Coronavirus appeared like the brave 5th-Century B.C. Roman general Coriolanus and drove Madame and Monsieur Dolphins’ nihilistic, suicidal human cousins back, and the amphibious mammals’ kindred were seen swimming and frolicking up and down the Bosphorus.

In Albania, pink flamingos made a comeback on the country’s western coastline. In Israel, wild boars roamed the streets freely. In Thailand, a wondrous, declining population of dugongs (a pudgy English bulldog-looking cousin of the manatee) held forth along the coastline and around the islands of Hat Choi Mai National Park after Coriolanus — uhhh, Coronavirus, I meant to say — cleared a tourist-swollen aneurysm and created a decline in water pollution. Wild cougars began appearing in the streets of Santiago, Chile; peacocks strutted around the square in Ronda, Spain; and the near-mythical Kashmiri goats of Wales descended from the Great Orme headlands and took over the deserted village of Llandudno.

In my own west Tarrant County neighborhood, I saw more deer, wild turkeys, turtles, and coyotes than ever before. Coriolanus — sorry, Coronavirus — kept bipedal, opposable-thumbed, prefrontal-cortexed mammals of the human variety indoors and granted the rest of the animal kingdom a breather. And the planet’s atmosphere as well.

But now, in Star Wars terms, the “Empire” is striking back. And in Stranger Things vernacular, the “Demogorgon” has returned. The most dangerous creature in our world has slipped free of its containment, and we’re now a threat to innocent, metaphorically natural high school geeks and Metallica guitar solos everywhere. Humanity is “Darth Vader,” and lovable dolphins, dugongs, Welsh fairy goats, Spanish peacocks, and pink flamingos are taking cover or running for their abbreviated lives, maybe for the rest of those lives.

If it wasn’t so existentially irresponsible, sickening, and sad, it would seem silly. A few generations back, no one would have believed it possible. And yet here we are, with our fingers on the buttons, triggers, and lethal injection syringes that determine the fate of almost every other species on the planet, who, it should be mentioned, do not enjoy pension or retirement plans.

It makes me think about some things that Jacques Cousteau, the controversial but perhaps greatest and certainly one of the most outspoken conservationists in human history, said 30 years ago.

 

Getting rid of viruses is an admirable idea, but it raises enormous problems. In the first 1,400 years of the Christian era, population numbers were virtually stationary. Through epidemics, nature compensated for excess births by excess deaths. … What should we do to eliminate suffering and disease? It’s a wonderful idea but perhaps not altogether a beneficial one in the long run. If we try to implement it, we may jeopardize the future of our species. … Mankind has probably done more damage to the Earth in the 20th century than in all of previous human history. … It’s terrible to have to say this. World population must be stabilized, and to do that, we must eliminate 350,000 people per day. This is so horrible to contemplate that we shouldn’t even say it. But the general situation in which we are involved is lamentable.

 

The World Population Clock is just ticks away from 8 billion, and, here in Texas, we’re arguing about birth control.

Tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of every living thing that isn’t human are becoming endangered or going extinct every year and whole ecosystems that support these besieged innocents are about to collapse or simply vanish.

To paraphrase a line from another pop-culture mainstay, do we have any control over how creepy we’ll allow ourselves to get? Because if this is As Good as It Gets, and we’re as good as we’re going to get, the coronavirus pandemic was a promising moment, and now the majority of our fish, fowl, mammal, insect, and otherwise animate planetary cohabitants are completely fucked.

Dare I issue a call for Coriolanuses?

Do we have to perish to make the world livable again? — E.R. Bills

 

E.R. Bills is the author of Texas Obscurities: Stories of the Peculiar, Exceptional and Nefarious and Texas Oblivion: Mysterious Disappearances, Escapes and Cover-Ups.

 

This column reflects the opinions of the author and not the Fort Worth Weekly. To submit a column, please email Editor Anthony Mariani at Anthony@FWWeekly.com. Columns will be gently edited for factuality, clarity, and concision.

 

Read more animal-related stories from this week’s Creature Comforts edition in Ate Days A WeekBig TicketLiving Local, and Night & Day, plus our Feature Story. To see Creature Comforts cover to cover in a flipbook format, click here.

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