It may surprise some of you, readers, but I'm deeply interested in animals. I blame my parents, who got me a subscription to Zoobooks while in my formative years when I didn't know any better. Thus began a long-lasting interest in the kingdom that is defined, according to the Smithsonian Institute's Animal, as any multicellular species that takes in food. As a food-consumer myself, I can identify with that sort. That's my kind of organism!
Resultantly, I know things one shouldn't know about animals. I know why pigeons have acclimatized so well to urban settings. I've read how certain ravens have been observed using passing cars to open hard seeds and nuts. I know that, in danger, squirrels circularly climb, simultaneously escaping danger on the ground while putting the trunk between themselves and any airborne predator. Owls' ears are on the sides of their head, while the tufts on top simply direct sound. While cheetahs are the fastest animal on land, pronghorn gazelle are the second fastest, peregrine falcons fastest in air, and sailfish fastest in water. The axolotl is a creature that even in adult form has not metamorphosed as other amphibians do (and as its DNA was designed) but can be artificially matured in a laboratory. The ancestors of gerbils come from the Gobi Desert in Mongolia, while chickens hail from tropical jungles in Southeast Asia. And, yes, I have read cover-to-cover the book sitting on my shelf entitled How to Raise Milk Goats Successfully.As I've matured, the basis for my interest in animals has shifted from boyhood curiosity to firmer ground. As with so many other things in my life, I find that my spirituality influences my way of thinking. How compelling it was for me to discover that animals have spirits of their own and that some will inhabit the heavens, that they too are here to fulfill a measure of creation, and that God has commanded humankind to treat animals well. As a practicing Latter-day Saint, I am reminded every time I go to the temple how important the Earth and its lifeforms are to God. Nature is beautiful, complex, and majestic and, in my opinion, worth preserving even if we are inconvenienced in doing so.
I'm a firm believer that all lifeforms have intrinsic worth and that to take a life, directly or indirectly, animal or human, is a practice that must be held up to careful scrutiny. That being said, I'm not a vegetarian and I value human life much more than the life of, say, a cat. Even a really awesome cat. In fact, the aesthetic or utilitarian qualities of animals seldom affect the importance I place on any particular species. I kill only in self-defense or to eat. If a mosquito attacks, I fight back. I feel no guilt eating meat. But I am willing and do pay more for animal products humanely raised and slaughtered. I've even been known to go out of my way to take a nasty insect outside instead of crushing it with the nearest shoe.
But it's strange to me that so few people share my feeling. After thinking about it, I grew surprised that the Christian world in general seems so apathetic toward animal life, with little or no liturgy on the subject.
That said, might I suggest some reading material on the subject of animals/nature that might be of interest to Christians (and Mormons in particular): Genesis 1:26, 28; 9:2-5; JST Genesis 9:10-11; Deuteronomy 12:15-16; Psalms 115:16; Proverbs 12:10; Isaiah 45:18; Daniel 1:8, 12, 15; 1 Timothy 4:1, 3-4; Doctrine and Covenants 49:18-19, 21; 89:12-13; 104:13-14; Moses 7:48-49. Also, Gerald E. Jones' "The Gospel and Animals."
What especially saddens me is the extinction of an entire species. As a LDS, I know that all animal life will be resurrected so, in a way, the species is not forever lost. But is that a viable justification for causing a species to go extinct? If so, the same rationale can be used about taking other forms of life, even human. Through intentional harm, apathy, overhunting, or lack of foresight, we sometimes bar a unique group of animals from multiplying. Do we not rob them the ability to obey the law God specifically gave them in the creation?
I conclude with a Zion's Camp story, from the life of the Prophet Joseph Smith: "We crossed the Embarras [R]iver and encamped on a small branch of the same about one mile west. In pitching my tent we found three massasaugas or prairie rattlesnakes, which the brethren were about to kill, but I said, ‘Let them alone—don’t hurt them! How will the serpent ever lose his venom, while the servants of God possess the same disposition and continue to make war upon it? Men must become harmless, before the brute creation; and when men lose their vicious dispositions and cease to destroy the animal race, the lion and the lamb can dwell together, and the sucking child can play with the serpent in safety.’ The brethren took the serpents carefully on sticks and carried them across the creek. I exhorted the brethren not to kill a serpent, bird, or an animal of any kind during our journey unless it became necessary in order to preserve ourselves from hunger" (History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2:71-72).