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Kangaroos – The 100 Days Project: Day 96 [5]

The Fourth Reich

An intriguing passage in an as-yet unpublished essay (‘Not by Milk Alone: Attachment Relations and Wildlife Rehabilitation’, co-authored by T. Brooks-Pribac, H. Bergen and R. Mjadwesch):

Photo: Ray Drew

As the mercury was hitting thirty-seven degrees that hot afternoon, the smell of her infected and decomposing body could be sensed over forty metres away. The rescuers reached the site to find the kangaroo still breathing but unable to move. Skin and bones, badly-worn down teeth, pouch lacerated and severely infected by maggots (as was her mouth), death for this twenty-year-old lady was imminent. Most people would likely have killed her, and by doing so they’d have acted in compliance with the Code of Practice for Injured, Sick and Orphaned Protected Fauna, issued by the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage. The Code provides standards (mandatory action) and guidelines (advisable action) to ‘achieve acceptable animal welfare levels’. In many cases the highest level of welfare is presumably achieved by terminating the animal’s life. With an emphasis on population health rather than individual health, the Code, for instance, prescribes mandatory euthanasia for animals that have lost their reproductive capacity. Animals who exhibit signs of old age and/or whose ability for long-term independent food acquisition and processing is impaired, as in the case of the kangaroo above, subsequently named Thelma, should also be euthanized

An ‘emphasis on population health rather than individual health’, ‘mandatory euthanasia for animals that have lost their reproductive capacity’, animals ‘who exhibit signs of old age’, ‘whose ability for long-term independent food acquisition and processing is impaired’. The elderly. The disabled. The sick. Am I wrong, or does this methodology sound a wee bit like that of National Socialism? We abhorred it then, when applied to humans, but it seems we’re prepared to adopt it for animals. A disjunct? An ethical taboo on the human side, freed up again, when it crosses the species barrier.


Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mean to imply that the Code of Practice here is fixed, mandatory, inflexible, or that the guidelines cannot be set aside in certain circumstances. But hasn’t this ethical hypocrisy always been the way? Eugenics, which we abhorred in the Third Reich, has been a central part of what we call animal husbandry as long as we’ve had the term. The selection – breeding up – of certain traits, the elimination of others. What we see as utterly unacceptable when practiced upon humans, is quite okay, a norm, when it comes to animals.


Is it too far-fetched to call this realm, this place-of-the-animals, the Fourth Reich? I must admit I’m not entirely comfortable with it myself. On the one hand it suggests sequence, a historicity, and so a time limitation that animals can’t look forward to, whereas this place-of-the-animals, to borrow Isaac Bashevis Singer’s term, is eternal, and on the other hand there’s a kind of unstated rule, out in ‘normal’ human society, that you can’t compare animal suffering to human suffering, the Shoah in particular, though ironically it was survivors of the Shoah who first made the link. But it keeps coming back to me. If it seems to over-state then that is perhaps only appropriate. The hell of so many animals cannot be overstated. We speak of a fourth dimension to things; isn’t the place-of-the-animals a kind of dark fourth dimension to our humanness? A dark realm (reich means ‘realm’), with humans the oppressors, the self-appointed master race?


But enough. Perhaps – 11th March 2018 – it’s just my dismay at this week’s horrid new outbreak of hostilities toward ‘animal activists’ from the pro-kangaroo-harvesting lobby getting to me. Such distortion, misrepresentation and calumny in the media at the moment! And I had been wanting to end this 100 days on a more positive note.


Let me tell you, then, that Thelma came through. As the authors of the unpublished essay go on to inform us, the rescuers on site that hot midsummer day were Professor Steve Garlick and Dr Rosemary Austen, of the Possumwood rescue centre. They rehabilitate between two and three hundred sick and injured animals annually. Thanks to their care and expertise – and what care and expertise she must have required! – Thelma recovered ‘and lived out her days on a private property where her natural diet was supplemented with a high protein compound to prevent her from suffering malnourishment due to her worn down teeth’.

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