I’ll never forget an encounter I witnessed, as a teenager, between my mother and a mouse. I was in the dining room, Mom was in the kitchen a few steps away, and we were chatting about nothing in particular. I was doing most of the jabbering, and as I looked toward the kitchen doorway I was the first to spot the tiny intruder. I was surprised but gave no audible reaction. But when Mom caught a glimpse of our visitor, she let out a sound none of us kids had ever quite heard before—a gasp followed by a piercing shriek. I guess the mouse had never heard such a scream either, because in an instant the creature scurried across the kitchen floor and disappeared into the tight space beneath the stove. By then Mom was standing on a chair, just like in a cartoon. Not yet able to exhale, she whimpered, “There’s a mouse!” I ran into the kitchen just as she stepped down from the chair and rushed out. I can still recall her wide-eyed expression of fear as she dashed by me and then ran up the stairs to her bedroom. I got my bear- 22 the bond ings, and then followed to calm her, as well as any thirteen-year-old could manage. Mom’s reaction was not exactly proportional to the threat. The mere sight of the mouse triggered some deep-seated fear, planted not by any incident in her own life but ages earlier by the experiences of our human ancestors. I imagine the little guy was pretty scared himself, running for his life once he found himself out in the open. Rodents, snakes, and certain other species have this effect on us. Many people have a conditioned fear of snakes in particular, even in areas without poisonous species. Younger children rarely exhibit such fear, but often by age five or so become more wary. Primates react much as we do. They don’t have chairs to jump on, but they get up those trees in a hurry. Large predators, of course, elicit a similar instinctive reaction in people. An experience of my friend and colleague Katherine Bragdon has stayed with me because it still seems so completely irrational. Katherine and I have run a number of political campaigns for animals, including a ballot initiative in Oregon in 1994 to ban the use of hounds in hunting bears and mountain lions. Critics of the ballot initiative—mostly leaders of sport hunting organizations— shamelessly played off people’s fears, arguing that if the initiative passed, mountain lions soon would prowl the suburbs and stalk children in school yards. In debates with our opponents, Katherine and I countered that hunting with packs of dogs was unsporting and inhumane.
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