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The Crow Whisperer

Don’t Dolittle: on the need to reassess our relationship with animals

“Sous les pavés, la plage!” (“Beneath the pavement, the beach!”) was the rallying cry of the May 1968 protests in France. As demonstrators tore up paving stones in order to build barricades or to hurl at the police, they discovered that there was sand beneath the streets. Though this was a typical building practice, it reinforced the protesters’ belief that everyday life wasn’t quite what it appeared to be, but was rather an illusion manufactured by modernity, capitalism, and consumerism. During the early months of the pandemic, we were all confronted with the same truth. The levels of noise, garbage, and greenhouse-gas emissions pumped into the environment were drastically reduced because so many schools, workplaces, and restaurants were shuttered. Just as people abruptly changed where and how they spent their days, all sorts of wildlife began venturing into public places they’d previously avoided: deer roamed the streets of Paris while coyotes wandered around San Francisco. But these incursions weren’t really incursions at all: the natural world had been there all along. It became clear that animals, rather than living apart from human society, had always been living alongside us—our belief in absolute anthropocentric control was an illusion.

In “The Crow Whisperer,” which appeared in the April issue of Harper’s Magazine, Lauren Markham writes about the ways we might rethink our relationship with the environment. Following an incident involving some friends, their dog, and a murder of dive-bombing crows, Markham delves into the world of animal whisperers—specialists who serve as translators, negotiators, or arbiters between members of different species. In this episode of the podcast, Harper’s web editor Violet Lucca talks with Markham about the complexity of animal psychology, epigenetics, climate change, and a crow’s talent for nursing a grudge.

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April 2021

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