We are living through difficult times. Times ridden with uncertainty, illness and death. For the first time since the Second World War, the Revista de la Universidad de México will not be printing one of its monthly issues. Fortunately, in 2020, the internet allows us to reach many of our readers on their electronic devices. The COVID-19 pandemic, which originated in Wuhan, China, is a consequence of the contentious habit of eating animals, in particular bats and pangolins—which could just as well have been Spanish quails, French snails or maggots from our own magueys. Because of a tiny virus that these two species apparently passed on to us, thousands of people have died and the rest of us are trapped inside our homes. The economy has suffered disastrous blows, while ecosystems—rid of the human plague—have been cleansing themselves. It is astonishing to discover that the moment we retreat, animals begin to circulate more freely through the countryside and the cities, reclaiming the landscapes that have suddenly emptied while we, in our homes, recover something of our animality. It is without a doubt a good moment to think about animals, and this is why we have decided to dedicate this issue to them, and to the bonds we share.
Human beings have always had a troubled relationship with the animal kingdom, to which we undoubtedly belong. Apparently, our ability to reason, our tools and our complex languages fill us with so much pride that we consider ourselves superior to them and as a result adopt abusive behaviors. Not only have we hunted them for centuries in order to make use of their flesh, their skin, their bones, and their secretions, we have also captured them for fun, and exhibited them in zoos and circuses as Antonio Lazcano, Julieta García and Jacobo Zanella explain to us in their respective pieces. Over time, the perception of these ancestral habits has changed. Organizations such as PETA have made us acknowledge that animals have rights too, and that it is our moral duty to respect them, a stirring topic that the philosopher, activist, and AnimaNaturalis founder Leonora Esquivel takes up in her essay “Animal Rights.” This subject still sharply divides opinion, but at least it is now on the table. It is not a question of abandoning our insatiable curiosity for the animal kingdom, but of exercising it in a less invasive, and above all, a less extractivist way. Perhaps inspired by the virus that afflicts us, our authors emphasized the power of the minuscule: parasites, insects, organisms that form larger collective bodies, such as siphonophorae. In a revealing and unsettling text entitled “In Defense of Parasites,” Andrés Cota Hiriart explains the relationship that exists between animals and the tiny beings that inhabit us, and determine—without our noticing—a great deal of our behavior: “Who is the king of animals?,” he asks himself, “the lion, or the worm that devours it from the inside?” To this we could add: Who are we, really, if our organism is inhabited by countless microscopic entities with wills of their own? Another ancestral and no less illustrative topic is that of animal companions, those beings who live alongside us every day, at times in pronounced emotional symbiosis. Pets as reflections of our emotional needs, desires, and fears. Javier Ledesma, the owner of a long-lived turtle, and José Emilio Pacheco in his wonderful “Tryptic of a Cat” reflect upon this topic. As do the poems of Elisa Díaz Castelo and Andrea Bajani, who dissolve the borders between us and animals with their remarkable vision. For quarantined readers we have included a panoramic review of books about the animal kingdom, signed by Isabel Zapata. “All animals know what it is they need, except for man,” claimed Pliny the Elder centuries ago. Perhaps observing animals in their manner of being, the way in which they face hardship in their lives, in their communities, and in their interactions with us, might provide us with a key to that which we should know, but forgot long ago.
Imagen de portada: Agama tuberculata, ilustración de John Edward Gray, 1830-1834