This is the scene of horror that opens the eyes of the zookeepers of Thoiries (Yvelines, France) on March 7, 2017, when they enter the enclosure of Vince, a four-year-old white rhino. Breaking the gate alerted them, but nothing could have prepared them for what they saw: a peaceful animal shot in the head with three 12-gauge bullets, the horn was cut with a chainsaw. Miraculously and surprisingly, the poachers spared two of his relatives. Five years later, the case was supposed to end in dismissal, but the criminals were never found.
This unpleasant news served as the starting point for Didier Debruger’s novel. The world is a wonderful place, which includes a set of reflections on our relationship to the animal world. The first chapter recounts a murderous expedition of rhinoceros killers with brutal accuracy, while the second returns to the discovery of a mutilated corpse by its healer Aurora. The author then takes us to Namibia, where we meet Silas, a young father who dreams of starting his own travel guide agency: visiting Himbas, trying to spot the Big Five, watching sea lions resting on the sand, and so on. attractions that Western tourists love and are willing to spend generously on.
Money as a common thread
Except that Silas will meet his fate in O Croco, an ex-soldier who represents just about everything the worst the world can produce. “In Africa, you have to serve yourself,” this unsympathetic character thinks. If you want to live, do not hesitate, you must take it with your own hands. Do like the bastards on the spot. For example, Mugabe and his harpy. First his face, that’s the rule. Politicians are thieving bastards, corrupt through and through. Little ones always swell. For them, they are nothing. The people are nothing. They care about people. So of course O Croco can help himself, even in a natural park like Etosha. Just pull the trigger, after all. Rhinoceros horn sells for more than gold, about $60,000 per kilo!
My first human right is to be rich tomorrow. So if the party creates favorable conditions for me to achieve success, I agree with the party!
Who might be interested in this cluster of keratin, the very material that makes up our nails? The answer is well known, and then Didier Debruger sends us to Asia, more specifically to Vietnam, to meet a young real estate developer with long teeth, Dat. Who buys small plots at low prices in order to destroy them and rebuild more luxurious buildings. “Dat doesn’t care about politics,” writes the author. “My first human right is to be rich tomorrow. So if the party creates favorable conditions for me to get there, I agree with the party,” his architect friend declares to everyone who will listen.
Blessed with a beautiful car and an excellent wife, Death is looking for a new trophy to impress the gallery… And even if he has difficulty believing in the aphrodisiac, medicinal or other virtues attributed to rhinoceros horn, he is determined to pay the money it will take to produce impress the luminaries she intends to impress.
The question of our relationship to the animal world
It is clear that the three stories have something in common. And despite the sometimes chatty prose, Didier Debruger sensitively develops various themes related to our relationship with animals. It’s not just about standing up for endangered species like rhinos or elephants, but also about analyzing our attitudes towards animals: fascination, disgust, contempt, manipulation, exploitation, consumption… If poachers could be designated villains, not only this would be new: they are also people who are trying to survive by sliding into a market driven by supply and demand. As for the heroine Aurora, although she loves large mammals, which she feeds and takes care of, she works in a zoo where they have practically nowhere to live. And if one is interested in Namibia, what is the meaning of these natural reserves, preserved for the entertainment of wealthy tourists, while some populations around are deprived of protein sources?
For a long time, African wildlife has been reduced to a series of Walt Disney-worthy clichés: king lions roaming the savannah, graceful silhouettes of giraffes against the setting sun, acacias, and treacherous snakes hidden in some thicket or muddy pond. and a hungry crocodile. So many outdated images, full of too human fantasies. In recent years, the very perception of the animal world has evolved, and even novelists, without fear of sometimes slipping into anthropomorphism, no longer hesitate to slip under the skin of wild animals in order to allow them to somehow express their point of view. They don’t have a word, we have to give it to them.
A creature that has a voice
This is what Colin Neal does, who in his novel between big cats, voices Canellito, a bear from the Pyrenees, and Charles, a lion from Namibia. The complex plot follows a French national park ranger, a young Himba, and a young woman who loves to hunt with a bow. Like Debrugere, Niel multiplies points of view without ignoring those of animals. He analyzes in detail the principles of conservation, explores the place of animals in human imagination and behavior, explores Western fantasies about the famous “big five” …
More recently, Indian-American writer Tanya James has come out with Of ivory and blood a wonderful novel that also works on this principle. Like whales in the sea, elephants are among the mammals most capable of evoking emotion in Western audiences, and sometimes a certain amount of anger among the peoples of Asia or Africa, who see this herbivore as a constant threat to cultures. With Tanya’s skill, James also diversifies points of view: the point of view of a poor poacher who is interested in getting as many ivory tusks as possible, the point of view of the Forest Department guards, more or less honest, more or less corrupt, those veterinarians who they accept baby elephants whose parents were killed, those Westerners who came to shoot a film about the protection of pachyderms … And, above all, the elephant, traumatized by the death of his mother and becoming a real threat to people who gave him the nickname “gravedigger”. Here the author again considers the animal as a character who has a say in this matter, like others.
This trend is not insignificant and can probably be explained by the environmental consciousness that continues to grow in a world that humans help to destroy every day: the sixth mass extinction is regularly mentioned, which we know can also have serious consequences. for our own survival. Of course, it is known that the vegetarian or vegan communities are fighting for greater respect for animals, and the scientific world’s discoveries about the perception and behavior of animals are gradually spreading, whether in some kind of documentary productions (The Wisdom of the OctopusPippa Ehrlich and James Reed) or in very serious publications.
If our species shares certain sensory modalities with others, it is unable to develop the perception that is the prerogative of many animals.
Delachaux and Niestlé, famous for their naturalist guides, recently published two headlines that read: Animal Perception GateBenoit Grison and Tangy among hyenas, 30 amazing animal deedsby François Verheggen. The first title immerses us in the perceptive universes of “multitudes of animals—universes that sometimes have nothing to do with ours—and reminds us of our rightful place.” “Such perceptual universes demonstrate our inability to access many aspects of reality through our senses,” writes Benoit Grison in the introduction to his book. If our species shares a certain number of sensory modalities with others, it is unable to develop the perception that is the prerogative of many animals. This is a great illustration of whatHomo sapiens cannot be considered the “pinnacle of evolution” – the concept is scientifically absurd! »
Of the beasts we still have a lot to learn
Increasingly, artists, writers, scientists, activists are suggesting that we step aside, if not get out of the Anthropocene, then at least try to find a better balance between the world’s most invasive species and all those who suffer from its presence. . We still have a lot to learn about animals. “At the scientific level, the study of multiple sensory modalities supports the theory of embodied cognition that has been developed since the late 1980s in neuroscience and animal psychology,” writes Benoit Grison. According to the latter, the sense organs, the peripheral nervous system, interfere with cognitive processes just as decisively as the higher nerve centers: the animal “thinks” with its whole body, in interaction with the environment. In the river of life, intellect, consciousness and perception develop together. Maybe it’s time for us to relearn how to think in this beautiful place that (still) is the world.
Tangy among hyenas, 30 amazing animal deedsFrançois Verheggen, illustrations by Stephane Deprez, Delachaux and Nistle, 194 pages, €22.90.
Animal Perception GateBenoît Grison, illustrations by Arnaud Rafaellan, Delachaux and Nistle, 194 pages, 22.90 euros.
Of ivory and bloodTanya James, translated by Brice Mathessin, Rue de l’Échiquier, 266 pages, 22 euros.
The world is a wonderful placeDidier Debruger, One Hour in Summer, 438 pages, 22 euros.