The other citizens

Nationalism and animals

Authored by: Sandra Swart

The Routledge Companion to Animal–Human History

Print publication date:  September  2018
Online publication date:  September  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138193260
eBook ISBN: 9780429468933
Adobe ISBN:


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‘Wounded Lions angry and disappointed after Springboks victory’, ‘Angolan Black Antelopes outrun the Lions of the Atlas’, ‘Congo’s Leopards devour Mali’s Eagles’, ‘Wallabies wallop Los Pumas’, ‘Vultures off to a flying start against Mauritius’: one reads the headlines and one might be forgiven for thinking that there is a global war raging in the animal kingdom. It appears to be an apocalyptic post-human extension of the nation-state; as though governments had wearied of human casualties and decided to appoint animals as their proxies – like knights of olde jousting to represent their kings. Another image is that of the more jaded of the Roman emperors, wearying of his bestiarii slaughtering exotic creatures and simply pitting the beasts against each other for the thrill of the crowd. Or perhaps it is rather as if heraldry itself had come to life and suddenly the lion rampant confronts a griffin sergeant or a springbok courant. This muscular menagerie of competitive and athletic beasts struggle to defend their nations’ honour. They seem to have taken Darwin’s hypothesis to heart and wish to see if really only – literally – the fittest survive. To turn from the sports pages, however, to the political cartoons, we see international disputes between the British bulldog, the Spanish bull, the Russian bear, the New Zealand kiwi, and the South African springbok. Sometimes even real, living animals make the political pages: in 2014, for instance, an endangered Siberian tiger named Kuzya crossed the frozen Amur River into China, prompting an international incident – after consuming some Chinese chickens. Kuzya inspired an even less diplomatic Russian-born tiger named Ustin to cross the border into Chinese territory and go on a sustained goat-killing spree. Ustin and Kuzya were not just any tigers – they were rescued as orphaned cubs, taught to hunt by Russian officials, and released into the wild by President Vladimir Putin himself. Since these tigrine wanderings, there have been outraged calls in Chinese social media for Putin’s tigers to be hunted and killed. Others have declared it a Kremlin spying mission through the GPS collars on the beasts. A Chinese official noted worriedly that the Russian tigers clearly had plans to cross the border again – but the sub-text is clearly a fear of the Russian Bear following the tigers’ example.

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