University Versus Prairie Dog

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Is it wrong for a university to kill prairie dogs in order to increase the number of buildings on its campus?  Philosophy graduate student Cheryl Abbate (Colorado) comments below.                                                                                       (image: prairie dogs)

As the Buddha once said, “All beings tremble before danger, all fear death.” The very first precept of Buddhism, ‘do not kill,’ prohibits the destruction of life, whether it be human or animal life. Paul Waldau, a contemporary Buddhist scholar, points out that this prohibition against killing is, indeed, a fundamental tenet to Buddhism, as it is one of the few ideas that are universally accepted in all of the various branches of Buddhism.

Despite describing themselves as a “Buddhist-inspired” university, Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado has recently applied for a lethal extermination permit, which would allow them to slaughter the prairie dogs who currently reside in the Nalanda campus area. If the application is approved, which Naropa claims is “likely to happen within the next few months,” they will have 15 months to act on the permit.

The story came to light in an article in a local Boulder newspaper in July of 2015. It was reported that, after a public notice for a lethal control application for prairie dogs was released, Boulder residents “mistakenly believed the application came from the potential developers of the Colorado National Guard Armory site.” Yet, the public was soon informed that it was Naropa University, a Buddhist-inspired University, who, in June 2015, applied for a lethal control permit for the prairie dogs who live on the Nalanda Campus.

Understandably, Naropa’s decision to apply for a lethal extermination permit has infuriated many within the Boulder community, inciting protests out front of the Nalanda campus, not only because many believe that it is unjust to kill these innocent, defenseless, and harmless beings, but also because Naropa’s decision to request a lethal extermination permit is in stark contradiction with Buddhist teachings, which supposedly “inspire” their university.

In defense of their actions, Naropa recently released a statement on their university webpage, titled “Naropa’s Efforts to Relocate Prairie Dogs.” In this document, Naropa attempts to justify their decision to apply for a lethal application permit, by citing: (1) the fact that the university is unable to use more than half of their land for university needs (for instance, for the development of more classroom space), and (2) their previous attempts at relocating the prairie dogs have been unsuccessful. What we have here, then, is a human-wildlife conflict: the lives of the prairie dogs are threatened by human interest in expansion. Yet, Naropa University has already decided who should inevitably “win” this conflict. Filing for a lethal extermination permit presupposes that the university’s interest in expanding their campus is more important than the prairie dogs’ interest in continuing to live.

The most troubling aspect of this document is Naropa’s implication that they are, in part, entitled to slaughter the prairie dogs on their campus because “Naropa purchased the Nalanda campus well in advance of the prairie dog population burrowing on the land there.” Yet, we cannot forget that we, as humans, are continuing to grow, expand, and develop the land around us, leaving little to no natural habitat for wildlife. For prairie dogs, their habitats have been destroyed due to the continual increase in cattle pastures, the production of row crops, and housing and commercial developments, which all have destroyed native grasslands. Certain species of wildlife, such as prairie dogs, have no choice but to live wherever they are able to find space, even if this means living in close proximity to humans.

While Naropa claims that their filing a lethal extermination permit will draw attention to the “City and County’s unwillingness to help identify viable relocation Sites,” I believe that Naropa’s decision to file a lethal extermination permit reveals a deeper problem within our species. Specifically, it draws attention to our sense of entitlement to transform and develop the land about us, without any regard for the wildlife who are there because they have been forced to leave their own natural habitats. If even a “Buddhist-inspired” university is willing to disregard the very basic interests of animals in the name of human expansion and development, then we can only assume that we, as a species, have a long way to go before we start to take seriously the catastrophic effects of our decisions to transform and dominate the earth and its nonhuman inhabitants.

We must remember that we have a shared responsibility, as humans, to care for the animals around us, given that our collective actions have displaced so many of them, leaving them with no other choice but to build homes in so-called “human areas.” As our species grows, expands, and develops the world about us, we will continue to cause widespread harm to animals in a myriad of ways, whether by killing them, causing them pain and suffering, or displacing them from their homes and destroying their habitats. We cannot just turn a blind eye to these human-produced harms, pretending that we are not responsible or that it is the animals who are “encroaching upon our homes,” acting as pests and nuisances who are to be killed when they “get in the way” of our interest in developing the shrinking amount of undeveloped land. We must remember that we, as humans, are primarily responsible for human “conflicts” with wildlife and thus it is our responsibility to resolve these conflicts peacefully.

In conclusion, the conflict at Naropa University cannot be resolved by asking, “Who was there first?” Rather, the questions we should be asking are these: Why are these animals here in the first place? How have we, as humans who are constantly developing and transforming the landscape, played a role in the displacement of animals? And how can we make restitution to these animals? Certainly, the answer cannot be to kill them. And, certainly, killing should never have been considered as an option, especially by a University that is “inspired” by Buddhist principles of peace, compassion, and respect for all life.

If Naropa’s core value is compassion, then they must ask themselves what the compassionate action would be with regard to the prairie dogs.

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To read more about human-wildlife conflicts that are occurring throughout the world, visit the “Animal Minds, Emotions, Conservation, and Ethics Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/#!/animalethicsandemotions?fref=ts

4 responses to “University Versus Prairie Dog

  1. Just leave them alone. Are you sure you are an university? You, of all people should know better.

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  2. I find this type of behavior atrocious. There is no need for such cruelty to these beautiful animals. Please reconsider any and all alternatives. We were meant to share this planet with all creatures.

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  3. Respect the background of the Buddhist Culture as an inspiration. It means in harmony for no harm. Don’t kill harm or neglect an animal in need… Éver!!!!! Shame on you for not caring enough in this particular case. Sad…

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  4. Related yet slightly different concerns with cats in Australia. Here’s a recent interesting piece:

    https://theconversation.com/australias-war-on-feral-cats-shaky-science-missing-ethics-47444

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