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Friday, September 19, 2014

Territory and Violence: A Universal Approach

"People all need to look at Earth from space and realize there are no true borders except those made by humans."  

Wrong! There are borders made by humans, there are borders made by other animals, and chimpanzees are known to patrol their borders to keep strangers out. Dogs recognize borders, and so do many other animals. And you don't necessarily need to see a border in order for it to be real. Sometimes you can smell a border, or hear a border, and the true test of the border's validity is whether your life is threatened when you go past a certain point.

The border between my land and the neighbors'
Borders are real. They're important for survival, and they are worth fighting over. If you don't understand this, then you are not only missing the point of all recorded history, you are also never going to understand chimpanzees or dogs or most of the life on this planet.

If you want to start a fight, the first thing you do is set foot on somebody else's turf. You don't have to do anything else to be seen as a challenger. That in itself is an act of aggression. After that, any action that the person defending the turf takes against you is not aggression, but defense.

The border is the fence. A snake outside the fence is safe from the dogs.
Some animals can coexist within a territory, when their interests do not conflict. But a snake that thinks it can go hunting rodents in a yard owned by dogs has got another think coming. The yard reeks of dog. The dogs are noisy and boisterous. There is no way not to know that this yard is dog turf. Any rodents to be had here as prey belong to the dogs.

Being defensively assertive on somebody else's territory while refusing to leave is still aggression. I am guessing that a lot of people are confused about this issue.

Usually, I try to save the snakes, because I do think they make for better rodent control than dogs. So whenever I feel it is feasible, I will capture a snake, transport it in a plastic container and then let it loose in the field. But this snake was much more aggressive than most, and I was not sure at first whether it would be safe for me to intervene.

"I think you mean defensive. There were two dogs trying to kill it."

This is what one of my readers tweeted. The idea being that the fact that the snake was attacking the dogs to save its own life made the lunges defensive. I had to think about that for a while. It really depends on whose territory it is, whether the snake's actions are seen as aggressive or defensive. If the dogs had gone onto snake territory and attacked the snake, the very same actions by the snake would be rightfully described as defensive. But since this was in dog territory, I'd say the snake was aggressive.

If you don't get this rather abstract difference, then you will not understand most of the things that are happening all around you. You won't understand the news. You won't understand the real reasons for war. And you will not understand why a stray human standing right outside the border of a chimpanzee sanctuary   -- within touching range -- is seen as fair game for the male chimps in charge of the border.

Yesterday, in the news, there was an item about chimpanzees and killing.

"Murder" Comes Natually to Chimpanzees

But is it really "murder" when it involves protecting borders? Isn't it more like war?

"Lethal aggression in Pan is better explained by adaptive strategies than human impacts." That's the Nature headline.

Every group has its own territory. The territory provides all the necessities of life, but it will not support an unlimited number of individuals. Therefore, the stronger members of the group work together to keep outsiders out. It is a matter of survival. It works like that for chimpanzees, and it works like that for man. And it is not a matter to get all sentimental about.

But here's another point that various animal rights activists do not understand. Group membership is not decided genetically. It is based on mutual acceptance. The dogs kill snakes, but they know I have a right to be in the yard, because I am the leader of their group. They are killers, but they are also very loyal and supportive of those on their team.

Bow gets very upset every time a stranger shows up on my land. But we are family, and he is not going to hurt me. He often gestures for me to get out of the way, concerned that I might get hurt in one of his displays. He is a true gentleman, that way.

Group membership is a matter of being used to one another and forming lasting bonds. It is not about blood ties. That's why apartheid between humans and chimpanzees is the surest way toward enmity, and why coexistence requires committed and lasting contact.


  1. Excellent post, Aya! I think we all NEED borders and I agree with you - it's more "war" when they're crossed than it is 'murder'. It also has a financial aspect. If my neighbor decides he will come camp out on my porch or even walk into my house (my doors / walls being my 'borders' too), and use my electricity & eat from my garden or my fridge, then he is also costing me money. Same thing is happening with illegal immigration. We also don't have an unlimited amount of our tax dollars to give to the illegals in forms of 'free' services. I take this as 'theft' of money directly from my wallet. We all have borders - starting with our own personal boundaries all the way up to our country borders and every country has them. It's very, very necessary to our continued survival.

    1. Hi, Kathy. I agree. Borders, just like property lines and personal boundaries, are necessary for survival.

      I also think those "free services" you mentioned are a big part of the problem of tempting people to cross over. Once the freebies are eliminated. there will be much less incentive.