02/13/2013 01:53 pm ET Updated Apr 14, 2013

Taking Aim to Kill a Helpless Animal

It can be hard to not get cynical, and the following won't help. Nathan Weaver, a student at South Carolina's Clemson University, placed a realistic looking rubber box turtle in the middle of a lane on a multi-lane road near the campus and then stepped into the shadows to watch. Over the next several hours he witnessed seven drivers swerve to obviously crush the animal, along with several others who apparently tried but whose aim was less accurate.

There are several species of box turtles in the U.S., a harmless and ancient animal. The populations are all declining and all considered at risk. One reason: many end up as road-kill. Before this study, one would have hoped that was solely as the result of accidents instead of human intent.

Professor Hal Herzog is on faculty at Western Carolina University and the author of Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat, a book about human relationships with other animals. He reports asking a class of about 110 students whether they had ever intentionally run over a turtle or been in a car with someone who did. About a third of them acknowledged having done so.

Before I get too bleak here let me point out that, in the work I do, I not only get to see the animals who are victims of purposeful abuse but I also get to meet the many wonderful human beings who come to their aid. For every act of violence there appears to be at least one act of empathy and compassion. In a world which is supposed to be made up of grays, from where I sit it often seems pretty black and white. Human beings are indeed a most strange and diverse type of animal.