Newt Scamander, Animal Rights, and the Environment

newt-pickettWell, it looks like we here in America will soon be wreaking even more havoc on our environment. Trump’s recent attacks on the EPA and other scientific communities and his support of climate change denial are terrifying. Add to this his approval of the Keystone and Dakota Access Pipeline, along with a wall that will potentially endanger over one hundred different species, and we certainly seem to be gearing up for not only a humanitarian crisis but also an environmental one. Now more than ever we need strong messages in support of the environment and animal rights. That’s why I am so glad that Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them came out recently.

I have talked before about how poorly environmentalism had been portrayed in our media. Either the message tends to be written as “a very special episode” on the environment, or environmentalists are portrayed as radical terrorists who are willing to kill humans to help nature. That’s not to say that all media with an environmental message tends to be bad. There are a few that do very well, and I’m happy to say that I think Fantastic Beasts is one of them. For those of you living under a rock, Newt Scamander comes to New York with a case filled with magical creatures that he has saved and is protecting. Of course, things go off the rails when some of Newt’s creatures escape and Newt has to search the city to find them before they harm someone or they are killed by humans who don’t understand them.

newtthunderbird-frankNewt’s case acts like an animal rehabilitation center or conservation center. As Newt finds injured or endangered animals, he takes them into his case, which has been magically enchanted to give the creatures enough space and their own unique habitats. There he either rehabilitates them and releases them back into the wild, or keeps them, protecting them from poachers, hunters, or just wizards in general who might kill them. We learn from the movie that magical creatures are not really understood by the Wizarding community. A community that tries to stay hidden and unknown to Muggles doesn’t exactly appreciate magical creatures who, not knowing any better, could reveal themselves to Muggles and potentially out the whole wizard community. Because of this we learn that wizards have been killing many magical creatures just because it is easier to not have them around. When Newt and Tina first meet, he tells her that he is writing a book about magical creatures and Tina responds by asking if it’s a book on how to kill them. Newt tells Tina that his book is actually about why wizards should be protecting magical creatures and not killing them. He plans to educate the magical community about these creatures so that people will protect them instead.

The movie does a great job of promoting environmentalism and animal rights without turning it into to something that just comes off as preachy. Newt’s love for animals also changes other people’s perception of them. No one seems to really be able to go into Newt’s case without falling in love with the creatures themselves. Newt is able to teach people to love them as much as he does, and he also explains the dangerous situation they are in. He reveals that the Graphorns he has are the last breeding pair in the world, and then of course introduces us to Frank, a Thunderbird who was chained up and trafficked into Egypt when Newt found him and saved him. He also describes how the Occamies are poached because their shells are made of silver. It’s hard to hear these stories about fictional creatures and not connect it to real-life animals that are dying out. Currently a sixth mass extinction on Earth is underway and the cause is human beings. USA Today reported on this current crisis:

The Earth’s sixth mass extinction is already underway — and humans are the driving force behind it, according to a new study.

“Recent extinction rates are unprecedented in human history and highly unusual in Earth’s history,” according to a study published Friday in the journal Science Advances. “Our global society has started to destroy species of other organisms at an accelerating rate, initiating a mass extinction episode unparalleled for 65 million years.”

Researchers used “extremely conservative assumptions” to determine extinction rates that prevailed in the past five annihilation events. Still, they found the average rate of vertebrate species lost over the past century was up to 114 times higher than normal.

For example, about 477 vertebrate species have gone extinct since 1900, according to the study. Based on previous extinctions, only nine species would have been expected to die off in the same time frame had it not been for mankind’s involvement.

“The number of species that have gone extinct in the last century would have taken … between 800 and 10,000 years to disappear,” the study reported. “These estimates reveal an exceptionally rapid loss of biodiversity over the last few centuries, indicating that a sixth mass extinction is already underway.”

The previous five mass extinctions happened well before mankind walked the Earth, and are believed to have been mainly caused by natural disasters, such as asteroid impacts and volcanic eruptions.

Between poaching, cutting down animals’ natural habitats, pollution, and climate change, it is no wonder that Newt calls humans the most dangerous species on the planet. Obviously in the real world humans aren’t killing animals to protect ourselves from discovery, but we are killing them for various other reasons. One reason is using animals for their fur, tusks, or hide, as I mentioned earlier, and Newt dealing with wizards doing this as well connects this issue to our real world. So while Newt is fighting wizards who are just wholesale killing magical creatures to protect themselves from discovery, he is also fighting some of the same battles against poaching and trafficking that we Muggles do. Newt fights to let animals live their lives as they normally would, free of being abused or killed for whatever reason.

Even Newt’s case is meant to act more as a reservation for the animals and not a zoo. In fact, the movie shows us a Muggle zoo, which is small and in which the vast majority of the animals are in metal and concrete cages. Contrast this with Newt’s case, where he gives the animals free range to move around and enchants areas to be like their own natural habitat with a large amount of space. Without being preachy or Newt having to say anything in particular about the animals’ treatment, the movie creates a stark contrast between how Newt treats his creatures and how Muggles are treating animals in zoos.

FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEMThe one thing that the movie does not discuss, though, is the environmental impact of killing these animals. We know in our own world that killing a whole species dramatically affects the ecosystem and environment. For example, if certain species of frog die out, then insects flourish, and they could eat too much of the plant life and have a severe impact on the environment. J.K. Rowling never really discuss or explains how magical creatures fit into the ecosystem, but we can assume just based on how the real world works that killing these animals affects us and our planet as well. All these animals are, well, fantastic, so I’m not sure how these animals would realistically affect their environment given their powers, but again, we know logically that they would. For example, we know that in areas of the United States where wolves have been hunted to the point where their numbers have dramatically decreased in certain areas, the deer population has boomed. This actually harms the deer because there isn’t enough food and many of them starve in the winter. We can assume something similar would happen with Newt’s magical creatures. Potentially the wizards could be causing themselves more problems by killing off one type of magical beast which could cause a rise in another. Furthermore, we have no idea how magical creatures affect nonmagical ones and if their disappearance would have a profound effect on the environment for both Muggles and wizards.

One of the reasons I love this movie so much is because it manages to address animal rights and environmental issues in a way that gets its point across, without coming off like a movie whose whole point is to teach about these issues. In that way I think the movie’s message actually becomes more accessible, because those watching it who might disagree with Newt and his views aren’t immediately put on their guard. Instead, because we grow to like Newt, we come around to his way of thinking as well, and that is a beautiful way to get a message across.

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