• Letter from America – long distance toad-rescue is good but monkey-rodeo not so much…

    Jul 22nd

    I receive a message from Ann, still in hometown Virginia, US,  that two toads are stuck in a window bay in the garden.

    They must have slipped through the grate and now there is no way out for the little critters. The moist, cavernous space by the side of the house is a few feet deep with sheer walls. She is being kept awake at night by incessant croaking ( calls of distress?)  but knows she can’t dispose of the pair given my commitment to the welfare of small slimy garden creatures (see previous snail post).

    One of the two stuck toads, Virginia, USA

    ‘What should I do?’ she says

    ‘Is the croaking bad?’

    ‘It’s pretty bad, yeh’

    ‘Hmm…we must do something

    A quick search on the internet reveals that…

    ‘Toads make homes under boards, porches, loose rocks and roots of trees. They like protection from natural predators such a birds or even house pets so will seek cover. Anywhere that is moist is preferable, particularly where they can feast on insects and snails.’

    That kind of sounds like a hole in the ground under a grate. But I looked at the picture again. No, they are stuck for sure. We must rescue these dying toads.

    Another thought flickered through my mind – if I rescue the toad then surely it might go and eat snails. And if it eats more than one snail will that leave me with a life-saving deficit? The tip of a moral conundrum revealed itself like the loose end of a home-knitted jumper, willing to be picked at: what do I do about saving animals that kill other animals? And what do I do about saving animals that nature would otherwise want to dispose of?

    I’d be a really bad God (if it ever came to it) Everyone would survive:

    TYRANNOSAURUS REX:please mr God, don’t let me go extinct

    ME: of course not, your poor scaly thing. Come and stay in my garden, your front legs look so feeble

    NEANDERTHAL DODO: please mr God, don’t let me go extinct etc. etc.

    DODO: please mr God, me too!

    ME AS GOD: of course not, your poor hairy things. Come and stay in my garden etc etc.


    In other words,  nature know best, right? Let things do their thing. Perhaps these toads are destined to die because they are so stupid as to climb into a moist cavern out of which they can’t be rescued. Survival of the grate-avoiders. Perhaps there is no place for compassion in the natural order of things.


    ‘Look, we have to get them out of there,’ I say to Ann, ‘can you get in there and rescue them’

    ‘In the hole? You want me in the hole.’



    ‘Can you put a plank in there instead?’

    She puts a long net in there and waits for the toads to climb out. I can’t imagine toads naturally like jumping into nets but clearly these toads have a death-wish.  It doesn’t work however. Eventually her dad rescues them both and drops them in the nearby woods. There we did it!

    Two more lives saved – from across thousands of miles away!

    ‘Oh, by the way, we’re going to a baseball game tonight.’ says Ann  ‘They have “monkey rodeo” there’

    All my sense of compassionate victory drains away.

    ‘What is that?’ I ask

    ‘Small monkeys on dog’s backs, herding sheep…. at baseball game’

    Evolution, in all its ruthlessness, never intended this.

    Later that evening she comes back with this video. I feel powerless again. While I’m trying to save snails and toads, someone somewhere is training dogs and monkeys for rodeo. It’s so depressing. Kind of funny, but at the same time so depressing.


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