She doesn’t really have a name, just a number, and she lives near the dump. We spotted her and her three young ones walking along the edge of the road as we drove by. When she heard the sound of our vehicle, she shrank away, gathering her children behind her. As we passed, she broke into a run, impatient to see what we had to offer. Her young are straggling behind, but her hunger is obvious as she claws through the garbage bags, looking for scraps. Occasionally she glances up and watches us with a wary eye. Life for a young mother of three is not easy.
Her number is 164.744, and refers to the collar around her neck. She is affectionately known as ‘seven forty-four’. No, this is not George Orwells “1984”. You see, seven forty-four is a black bear. The collar around her neck is a radio transmitter used by biologists to study her movements and activities, and to help her kind. But this is not a story about science, it’s about parallels. And the parallels are obvious.
This scene is replayed countless times every day. In Mexico and South America and around the world, children scavenge through piles of rubbish, looking for a few pennies worth of foil, glass, paper. There, and even in our own city streets, entire families live in cardboard boxes and babies cry into the night to announce their hunger. If a late frost kills the blueberry flowers, seven forty-four and her cubs will not likely make it through the winter. If the rains fail to come in Ethiopia, thousands of people flock to hunger camps; many die along the way. Seven forty-four’s children have to be wary of wolves, large male bears, and other predators; in the United States a black youth has a better chance of being shot and killed than a soldier in the Vietnam War.
Which scene is more tragic? To some the very question is absurd and the answer is obvious. Standing there, watching seven forty-four chewing on a piece of grease-soaked paper towel, the boundaries became less defined. Everything has a right to live.