No church in the wild

November 29, 2021 09:21
Photo: RTHK

A recent uproar over the government’s ostensibly wanton killing of wild boars – has rocked the city. The uptick in number of altercations between boars and humans has prompted the administration to respond, through investigating the prospects for capturing and culling wild boars caught by the regime.

The uproar is – as with most public backlash in Hong Kong – understandable, regrettable, and fundamentally superfluous. The “boar-ing” debate in public discourse, as it stands, has very little to stand on. On one hand are folks who sanctimoniously preach the need to safeguard animal welfare and rights – whilst happily splurging (as one is fully well within one’s rights to do) on a night out on steak; on the other hand are folks whose instinctive response to boars is fuelled by such unbridled moral panic, that one could not be faulted for pondering – have we travelled back in time to witness the waves of paranoia that swept the West in face of the transformative effects of technological modernisation? To put it simply – it’s a ludicrous discussion of woeful quality. Must we see the world through false dichotomies and exaggerated impacts that bear little relevance or resemblance to reality?

There are several issues worth unpacking when it comes to the “boar-acious” debate – indeed, one would be “sow-ing” seeds of disingenuous complacency if one were to shun away from the following considerations:

Firstly, how legitimate and grave is the risk – or the threat – posed by wild boars? As with all things in life, there obviously is an element of chance – it could be the case that boars taunt, haunt, and harangue individuals to the point of physical threat; it could also be that they pose engender egregious psychological distress amongst those ill-equipped to tackle wildlife. There have indeed been reports – albeit anecdotal and sporadic – of individuals being attacked by wild boars, to the point of grave physical injuries. Such incidents are obviously tragic – and it is imperative that we offer our support and condolences to those afflicted. Netizens glorifying or celebrating the injuries inflicted upon a serving member of our city’s diligent and conscientious forces – should feel embarrassed by their pious callousness and inane politicisation of misfortune. Yet in the grand scheme of things, if we are to take statistical risk and probabilities seriously, it remains deeply unclear if the risks posed are all that large – in any case, a vast majority of boars only charge and attack if they feel threatened. We should not hyperbolise the scale and extent of problem, in order to provide tentative justification for our arbitrary whims.

Granting that there exists a problem, we must subsequently ask – what are the solutions? Must we accept that euthanising wild boars is the sole way to go? There are two possible strategies that we could adopt, which both come short of culling or euthanising boars: the first requires us to avert particular areas geographically and temporarily, through accepting that there may well be no-go zones that we should not traverse, especially at hours when boars are most active; the second calls for swifter crisis responses that could adequately take on the straddlers only when they pose a viable and imminent physical threat. A corollary, here, is that the administration should profile and identify exclusive boars with a track record of physical aggression, and relocate them to alternative destinations far removed from town – as opposed to killing them altogether. Whilst the first approach is – of course – inhibiting in its prescriptions concerning what we can, or cannot do, the second approach can feasibly be implemented, without incurring substantial financial or alternative resource costs.

The final question, on the other hand, is this: granting that there exists a mismatch between existing problem and solution, what are we to do? The volume of unctuous online commentary lamenting the culling of boars – coupled with thinly veiled attempts at spinning such commentary into a broader critique of the SAR government – reeks of political opportunism. It is trivially true that inhumane practices should be called out and wrestled with in the public consciousness – but the highly exaggerated, deeply polarising tone adopted by the self-anointed “animal rights activists” only serves to alienate a vast majority of those who do not, and have never, felt sympathy for wildlife and animals. If we are to win allies over to the animal rights movement, the least we could do is to eschew the holier-than-thou proselytisation that has become all too ubiquitous in the times in which we live.

And of course, it is imperative that our administration communicates its prerogatives and decisions – when it comes to balancing the interests of its own citizens, and of Hong Kong’s wildlife – with both precision and compassion. Much of this is, unfortunately, lacking in the communicative approach – that much is clear.

As Frank Ocean croons in his opener for his, Jay-Z and Kanye West’s collab:

“Human beings in a mob.
What's a mob to a king?
What's a king to a god?
What's a god to a non-believer,
Who don't believe in anything?”

Good questions.

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Assistant Professor, HKU