The War on Wildlife
June 3, 2013 — Explorer’s Club, New York City
It is a pleasure to be here in the esteemed Explorer’s Club. I feel a little like a day tripper among the giants of exploration, in the field, the lab and beyond. But my own ventures have given me the privilege of being with some of the greatest field biologists of our time. You cannot spend time with these heroes of conservation and not come away with an understanding of the deep crisis we are experiencing with wildlife and their habitats. The human population of 7 billion, heading toward 10 billion in just 25 years has pressed into every pocket of the globe, dominating it in all manifestations. There is a war on wildlife today. Animals are slaughtered illegally for body parts; lands are desecrated and oceans trashed; science is repudiated and we have lost wonder, the mystery at the heart of being.
Steven Hawking has a sobering perspective of our world: “The human race is just a chemical scum on a moderate sized planet, orbiting around a very average star in the outer suburb of one among a hundred billion galaxies.” Ah…but what scum! We may be a complex combination of chemicals and neurons but that combination has the capacity to put together a 90 piece orchestra and play Beethoven’s Fifth and to build a spaceship to take us to outer space. We may be wrecking our home planet earth but we also have the capacity to fix it.
Good planets are hard to find. Earth has the right elements for complex life forms. The first one-celled creatures climbed out of the saltwater slime about a billion years ago. After the mass extinction of the dinosaurs 66 million years ago our ancestor evolved–a sweet looking weasely creature named Protungulatum Donnae.I don’t know how paleontologists know it had a white belly but I can relate to this female: two eyes, a nose, legs, live birth and so on. Humans actually share 95% of her same DNA, but then we share 75% with the nematode worm and 50% with the garden pea so that doesn’t mean much. We humans were predators from the beginning. We were hunting mastodon not far from Seattle about 13.800 years ago as this photo of a sharp bone point in a Mastodon’s rib shows. Most of the largest mammals in North America became extinct during the Pleistocene era as the planet got colder, probably aided by human overkill. Some of them were quite exotic: here is Chalicotherium Grande – sounds like an order from Starbucks. It is estimated that over 90% of all the animals that ever lived on earth are extinct today. The Pleistocene was a small event as extinctions go; there have been many small and five mass extinction events in earth’s history; we may be in for the sixth but the jury is still out. Cooling and warming of the earth has been a constant throughout its history. But now we are living in the hottest years on record and for the for the first time we human beings have spewed forth more carbon dioxide than the atmosphere can disperse, increasing the emissions to a point not reached in 3 million years. This is incontrovertible science about which allscientists agree. It is a matter of physics and the story that cores of ice tell. Glacial ice, millennia old, has been examined around the globe for climactic history and like rings in a tree trunk the cores show the lean years and the fat ones, the dusty droughts and the fecund soil. Change is happening 100 to a 1000 times faster than ever before; the finger points clearly at us. This is not happy news for those in the business of selling fossil fuels. And while scientists can agree that the earth is warming and the glaciers are melting there are so many variables involved in the timeline of impending disaster that Big Oil and Gas has successfully hijacked the climate debate by fomenting controversy, repudiating much of the science and using inexhaustible finances to stalemate legislation that might halt bad practices. In 2011 the industries spent 300 millions lobbying against climate change alone. This puts all of us in a curious position. Our grandmother’s adage of “better safe than sorry” carries no weight. We pray that human ingenuity will be up to the task of unbearable heat, inundating waters and the displacement of millions of people in the coming years. It is estimated that between 20 and 45% of bird species will be extinct due to climate change and this could happen by 2050. The Hudsonian Godwit is having a dismal breeding rate already in the warmer Canadian tundra, only 10% of the chicks are surviving because they are hatching before the larvae they feed on. The march to extinction begins. We are in for a rough 50 years, when we will have to make some hard decisions about what to save, because fully half of all species of flora and fauna may be gone by 2100. The need to switch to renewable energies now is vital. Meanwhile the Neroes of Washington fiddle while Rome burns. It may be too late to save the Godwit and other Tundra breeders but it is not too late to save some species from the most rapacious mammal of them all, the face in the mirror. Well before climate change we were pushing them out of their homes, and outright killing them. The list is very long. I will mention only some of the big ones in peril, the legendary animals we have loved since childhood, the icons of lore and bedtime stories: elephant, tiger, rhinoceros, blue whale, chimpanzee, whooping crane, gorilla, lion, cheetah, giant otter, giant panda, leatherback turtle, shark, orangutan, komodo dragon, cobra, condor, Bluefin tuna, Bactrian camel, and hippopotamus…to name a few. Because extinctions lead to co-extinctions and most species are symbiotic these keystone species support many others under their umbrella. This is what biodiversity is all about: connectedness. Save their habitats and you save legions more. And they are charismatic. The elephant is known for its intelligence, its affection and for never forgetting. Lawrence Anthony, writer of the bestseller The Elephant Whisperer, died suddenly at his home in Africa last year. He was beloved by all for his rescue and rehabilitation of animals harmed by human atrocities and was known for saving the zoo animals in Bagdad in 1993. Two days after he died a stately procession of two groups of wild elephants, 31 in all, arrived at his home. They traveled in single file from 12 miles away. They had not visited him for 3 years and they stayed for two days and two nights without eating and then turned and slowly marched away. How can one not be moved by the precise timing of these remarkable creatures? A great-hearted man had died and it seems they did not forget him.
As many as 30,000 elephants were slaughtered last year, victims of poachers, criminals who sell their ivory tusks to the Asian market where artists carve them into religious and decorative pieces, and chopsticks. China is the big buyer along with Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam. But before we cast stones at the Asian lust for ivory, know that New York City also has an underground ivory trade. In 2012 the DA’s office, New York State’s Department of Environmental Conservation and US Fish and Wildlife busted two mid town jewelry dealers holding 2 million dollars worth of Ivory. Their fine? $55,000. A slap on the wrist. Poaching is rampant and it is big business. Wildlife trafficking ranks fifth in International illicit trade after counterfeiting, drugs, people and oil. It is a 10 billion dollar per year business, luring terrorists with AK-47s and helicopters to decimate elephant herds in one deadly round to fund their wars. Or Rhinos for their horns, as this picture of the Chinese basketball star Yao Ming, a conservationist, shows. Failed states like Chad and the Congo have little government resources to combat the criminals. Most of Africa’s countries and many of Asia’s are considered failed states, hellish for the people who live there and for the wildlife too. These criminals need to be stopped.
Curbing the appetite for ivory is not easy. It has been white gold for thousands of years, and the market is growing. When CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, banned the sale of ivory in 1989 it was an invitation to collectors to increase their caches of the rare and lucrative commodity. Then CITES allowed some countries, which had stockpiled the tusks of naturally deceased animals and seized poached ones to sell their stockpiles in a legal market. The line between what was legal and what was illegal was stretched. It is now broken — the ivory for sale in Hong Kong alone is likely 84% illegal. The solution is to ban ivory sales altogether and in perpetuity. And to increase law enforcement and stiff fines for those who poach, sell and buy ivory. What then do you do with piles of tusks valued at millions of dollars? You could burn them all in a consecration ceremony remembering the elephants that have died you could continue to sell them on the legal market and give the profits to elephant conservation. But this is white gold. Do you think the USA would ever destroy 1000s of gold bullion bricks from Fort Knox? Or even the illegal ivory US customs has seized? This was the issue of most contention at the CITES conference in Bangkok in March. Thailand pledged to ban the sale of ivory and clamp down on the huge border trade, but Thailand has promised things in the past and little has happened. China is quiet. When I despair about the Asian ivory market I remember that trophy hunting was all the rage in the media until not so long ago. Ernest Hemingway’s macho image was built on it. You can find animal heads in the best of places, including this venerable old club. Hunting of elephants reduced the population from 100 million in 1900 to half a million today. We have actually come a long way when for most people it is more thrilling to get the perfect shot with a camera than with a gun. Sadly trophy hunting of big game animals still exists. It is part of the decimation of lions, and antelope in Africa. And much of it is right here in the USA on one of 500 private reserves in states such as Texas—outright slaughter as the animal has no chance of escaping. Truly irresponsible hunting is plunking down $10,000 on your credit card, picking out an animal on the reserve’s website and without ever leaving your armchair in New Jersey, pressing a remote button which shoots to kill
For the record, as a birder I am grateful for organizations like Ducks Unlimited, which help preserve and manage vast wetlands. The good hunters I know have a deep knowledge of and reverence for the land and animals and seek to sustain both for future generations. The truth is we are at a crossroads in human history. There are only two frontiers left: the human brain and outer space. Since we have already adapted to every environment on earth we will be managing it all for the future, and that includes all the wild animals. I remember 30 years ago Dr. William Conway, who was Director of the Wildlife Conservation Society, then called the New York Zoological Society, saying that the future would be mega zoos—and that is where we are today, trying to maintain wildlife in huge parks, some as big as countries themselves. And trying to keep ahead of the poachers who are killing them. There are about 3200 wild tigers left in the world, just 3% of what there were 100 years ago; more tigers can be found in Texas today than in India. A dead tiger is worth so much more than a live tiger to the Asian market. The bones are ground up for treating arthritis and other ailments, and the penis bone for virility. There are not enough law enforcers to keep up with the killers, the middlemen and the buyers. Even India with the most tigers finds it hard to stop the carnage with too few rangers in its vast parks, and conviction of only 61 poachers out of 900 tiger cases these past years, according to the Wildlife Protection Society of India. India puts on a good front because tourism is so important but the truth is that in the last 18 months alone 50 tigers fell prey to poachers. This is a difficult problem to stop. It could take decades to turn around the cultural incentive of the Chinese. After all, under Mao Zedong just 50 years ago tigers were considered enemies of the people and there was a vast eradication campaign. If minds are to be changed, the hope is with young Chinese men and women. The new generation is bright, educated and deft at social media; they may take on the overwhelming environmental problems their country is facing. For tigers it is a race against time. William Blake’s seminal poem begins:
Tiger, tiger, burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
This is not a poem about seeking to know the tiger but to know its creator. It is a poem of wonder, of the inexplicable, of the mystery of being. In an age of reason how do you explain the tiger? The tiger is also a metaphor for our own divided nature: “did he who made the lamb make thee?” As human beings we long for the gentler, rational side—our better natures—but in reality we must confront the ferocity of the tiger in us, the wild part. We too are predators, and the predator in us is alive and well. There are 134 armed conflicts in the world today. If we cannot keep killing each other how can we keep from killing the animals? We need to be honest with ourselves. Is there a moral imperative to save animals or as the most dominant and adaptable species on the planet do we continue to do what we need to do for ourselves and consider it part of a greater plan? After all in a hundred years time we may be living in gigantic pods of virtual reality somewhere in outer space, if not Mars. Does it really matter in the long run? We are a mere blip on the face of time and extinctions come and go. These are real questions that people are wrestling with in one way or another. Recently children in the Bronx were interviewed about going green and playing outside. All of them, with the exception of one girl, said that businesses would take care of going green and that they would prefer to be inside where the plugs were. Most kids in America today have little or no connection with wild animals or nature, and are comfortable, even more excited by virtual reality. They are not alone in their introversion or preferences. Most adults have lost the connection. A new study says that the more people watch TV the more they are afraid of going out into nature. Is it any wonder with all the reality shows with monster animals and extreme habitats? Reducing carbon emissions is not on their radar. We Americans are gamblers at heart—“I’ll take the risk and hope it all works out”. We are also masters of trade offs: “I’ll sacrifice beluga whales in the arctic for the oil to heat my home, or I’ll let the Sage Grouse go extinct so grasslands will be plentiful enough to feed the cattle for my hamburger.” While it is true we cannot save everything I believe we have not engaged enough people in the conversation, nor have we introduced enough children to the magic that awaits them outside: as Richard Louv says in his book Last Child In The Woods: they have a “nature deficit disorder.” Moral imperative aside, the way I look at it is wide eyed: I am amazed at the wonders of this world; I do not know what we are all doing here together, the giraffe and me, the Rocky Mountains and the Big Horn sheep, the windy beaches and the Piping Plover. But here we are and we haven’t begun to understand it all. Fully 90% of our planet’s biodiversity is in the oceans and we have barely touched it. So I care, a lot. But I care because I am in love with it all. And loving it, I do not want to lose it. Many of you in this room feel the same way or you wouldn’t be here. How do we make others care? As Yogi Berra said: “If people don’t want to come to the ball park you can’t stop them.” Well, let’s start the conversation in an open and honest way. Admit we are all predatory and that food and shelter come first as it does for every living creature on the planet, and that we are not holier than thou. Admit we love the perks of progress: heat in the winter, and air conditioning in the summer. Admit we want more adorable children than the planet can handle. Admit we want our mutual funds to go up even if it they aren’t 100% ethical. Admit we want our steak and eat it too. I think those of us involved in the environmental movement since the beginning have done a poor job of communicating what we are about and a poorer job of embracing everyone. And we have been marginalized for it. In the public’s eye we are tree huggers and bear huggers; we cheer for the wolf over the rancher’s cattle it kills; we are against big business and progress. The political right after the cold war called us “watermelons”: green on the outside and commie red on the inside. Rather than being celebrated as guardians of the earth we allowed the debate to slip from our grasp and we are paying for it. After all, other 20thcentury mass movements galvanized the public, leading to vital legislation affecting us all: the right to vote, civil rights, human rights, the labor movement, and health care. The environment is not mentioned in election campaigns even though it is our communal home, Earth. Donations to environmental and animal organizations are only 3% of allgiving according to Giving USA—the bulk of that money going to support dogs, cats and other domestic animals. The arts and humanities, my other passion in life, get twice as much money. Perhaps the environmental movement was misnamed from the beginning; it might have been called Planet Home, or Earth for All. We do have an Earth Day but it has lost much of its punch since it was founded back in 1970, and it seems to have been antagonistic from the beginning. The 60s were a powerful time. Many of us were under 30, and we were like Peter Finch in the movie Network: we took to the streets yelling “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore.” We marched against racial inequality and women’s inequality, we marched against the bomb and the war in Vietnam. The environmental movement was born from the same trenches, a war against corporate destruction of lands, seas and species. It still is. Rather than being a movement forthe earth it became againstthose who violated her. Anger is not a bad thing; anger motivates us to change, it creates momentum and can be highly creative. But it is not a state we can dwell in all the time; we too become perpetrators, victims of our own ill will. If Earth is the Mother of us all, a united family takes care of its mother, its home and all its children. “No man is an island…” wrote John Donne 400 years ago. Six year old Hushpuppy, a colloquial modern day John Donne, says in the movie Beasts of The Southern Wild:
The whole universe depends on everything fitting together just right. If one piece busts, even the smallest piece, the entire universe will get busted. That’s a pretty good definition of the connectedness of biodiversity. Hushpuppy lives in the Louisiana Bayou, at home in the swamp with the animals, the fish and knobby Cypress trees. She has a strong relationship with nature. Scientists do too. They have revealed the miracles of life for all of us. They have studied animals in the field, they have written about them in academic journals and in books, they have founded organizations to save them, they lecture whenever they can and they continue to raise money for these threatened creatures they love. Scientists have done all the heavy lifting. They cannot continue to do it alone. The rate of decline of species and their habitats is too fast and too great. And who among us has faith that these issues will be taken care of by our dysfunctional governments? I was in Washington DC two weeks ago lobbying with others on the board of national Audubon. We were trying to get members of congress to sponsor a bill to protect endangered Albatrosses and Petrels. Ten years ago First Lady Laura Bush visited Midway Island and was alerted to the decline of the Albatrosses due to long line fishing. The birds grab the baited hooks on the miles long lines and drown—as many a hundred a day.19 of the 22 species are facing extinction along with some of the petrel species. Affixing bright streamers to the lines, which deter the birds, solves the problem. 10 years later there are still no co-sponsors for this bill. Conservation doesn’t have a party but our Congress is in stasis and nothing is getting accomplished. Many on the political right are in the “climate closet” but won’t cross party lines. Although it is vital to keep pressing them because we need laws for enforcement we have to move ahead without them, and we all need to help. How do we begin? We begin with a conversation about conservation. I believe there is an innate connection that all human beings have with animals and nature. Even the kids in the Bronx who have never been exposed to the real thing. It is a primal connection that is there in infancy. Studies on babies show that they will connect with a live animal before any teddy bear or anything inanimate. There is fascination and there is fear. It is the wild within us. More studies show that patients in hospital heal faster if they can look out the window at nature. And that human beings are transformed in wilderness; that being overtaken by a sense of awe, a sense of something much larger than ourselves touches deep spiritual chords within.
The Quaker writer Sandra Lewis says: “To me the most significant failure of our time is the loss of belief that we are part of a sacred story unfolding in a sacred place. Instead of seeing ourselves as one actor among many in this story, we see ourselves as the main character in a secular story that exists solely for our benefit.” The conversation, then, recognizes that we are all in this together, that there is no “us against them.”
This past November my husband and I were with George Archibald in Bhutan. George co-founded the International Crane Foundation and helped bring the Whooping Crane back from the brink of extinction. Here he is dancing with Tex, the crane who fell in love with him. He learned from this affair that for crane chicks notto imprint on humans they better cross-dress…as cranes George taught me that the most important lesson is conservation, if not life, is inclusion. If you want to protect a species, such as the Black Necked Crane in Bhutan there have to be incentives for the people who live near the crane to do so. Everyone has to be included in the conservation. Phobjikha Valley is saved for The Black Necked Cranes because tourists travel thousands of miles to see the birds and the community, and because the cranes are the sacred bird of Bhutan. It doesn’t hurt being Buddhist either, with a reverence for all living things. The great held biologist George Schaller has always worked in the same way — saving pandas in China to gorillas in Rwanda to Snow Leopards in Tibet. Conservation cannot be imposed on anyone, and as he always says: “conservation is a process, not an event.” Most field biologists are masters of diplomacy. Thirty years ago I watched Alan Rabinowitz is the rainforests of Belize negotiate with the local Mayan people to protect the jaguars, resulting in the first jaguar preserve. Now as CEO of Panthera he has successfully negotiated a jaguar corridor from Mexico to Argentina to mantain the genetic health of the species. Alan sits down with heads of state in Central and South America, in Myanmar where he established two of the largest parks on the continent, and in other countries where there are wild cats. He gives them a gift: the idea of doing something lasting for the country, for humanity and for wildlife. The conversation begins with the local people and proceeds to the highest echelons of power. The strategy works. People like Liz Bennett of the Wildlife Conservation Society work tirelessly in the same way. The strategy can work for corporations too. They are people after all, right?—that’s what the Supreme Court said. Start the conversation without taking the moral high ground and work with them to do something good for the earth, and for their children and grandchildren. This goes for politicians too. Help them to get laws passed— even if it takes the usual 20 years for a bill, and press them to hold sacred those lands which should be forever wild. The Wild Foundation proposes that we should “give nature half”. In the past environmentalists only asked for 12%. Half is a bold move. Let’s start there.
Sometimes miracles happen, so we must always tell the success stories, one of the greatest being our national bird, the Bald Eagle. A scrappy New York aristocrat named Rosalie Edge back in the 1930s convinced everyone, including Audubon, that there shouldn’t be an open season on raptors. She bought and founded Hawk Mountain in Pennsylvania bringing an end to the annual slaughter of thousands of migrants and ushering in a pilgrimage of birdwatchers. Rachel Carson’s book Silent Springis celebrating its 50th year. When the pesticide DDT was banned birds rebounded. The eagle, almost extinct, soared again. Now they are found the breadth of America and are on the list of “least concern”. Just this past February, fifteen miles north of New York City, two Bald Eagles flew over my head and around each other in circles, courting. In a rush they grabbed each other’s talons and from 200 feet above they spiraled down and around and around like a carnival ride, down and down until they separated a few feet from the ground. They may be breeding on the Palisades next to 14 million people. Below them in the cleaned up waters of the Hudson River, sturgeon of six and seven feet have been seen again, oyster beds are being seeded and some beaches are swimmable. These are the shores where mustard gas was being manufactured for World War 1 and PCBs and other chemicals so polluted the waters that no one dared disturb the bottom. Never underestimate the resiliency of nature. Give her half a chance and she will respond. These wildlife wars will end this way if we are enough and are constantly vigilant. One by one they will end. Each scenario is different, but the mark of extinction is the same, caused by human incursion. It can be undone by human endeavor.
The Orangutan faces an uncertain future because of an illegal pet trade for the adorable babies, but most of all from oil palm plantations which rip out their forest homes habitats that are being converted to oil palm in Africa as well as Asia. The foods we eat are loaded with the nutritious palm oil, look at the labels — the price we pay for it is too steep. Birds on migration crash into the glass windows of hi rises by the hundreds of millions; Shanghai and Toronto have a particularly egregious record, a million annually in Toronto alone—dead birds littering the streets in spring and fall. If architects committed to fixing the problem and we had laws enforcing building codes it would make a huge difference. Toronto is already working on the problem. Domestic and feral cats kill over four billion birds and small animals globally every year,) a staggering figure that astounded even the Smithsonian researchers. The Cats Indoors campaign impresses on homeowners the gravity of the situation: safety for wildlife and for cats too. The lion, its habitat diminished, is poisoned like so much vermin and is declining rapidly. Not long ago a young Masai boy in Kenya, in charge of watching over his family’s cattle, observed that lions shied away from flashing lights. He installed some on the posts of the cattle’s night enclosure and there were fewer lion problems. Now everyone nearby is doing the same thing. In the high Himalayas the conflict between the rare snow leopard and people is being resolved by an insurance policy for killed livestock, the farmers paying a small premium. Buddhist monks also help protect this magnificent cat and other threatened animals. Reptiles and birds are being collected worldwide for the locative pet trade. They are smuggled out of Africa, South America, Asia and Australia, even our own Sonoran Desert, passed through ports with permits stamped “captive bred” that look legal but aren’t—a collusion between corrupt government officials and the criminals—and continue on to exotic pet stores like those in Florida, Ohio or Pennsylvania where up to 80% arrive dead: endangered snakes, turtles, lizards and songbirds. The next time you go to your local pet store snoop around; take a good hard look and get to know what they are selling and where it comes from. This is how it will stop, by being aware and getting involved. Read Bryan Christy’s The Lizard Kingfor an eye opening page-turner. 100 million sharks have died for shark fin soup, a cultural must at the Chinese wedding table. A bill before the NY legislature seeks to outlaw shark fins in New York as it is in the coastal western states. The Bluefin Tuna will not fare well. It is a staple for the Japanese Sushi market where a 489 lb. one was sold recently for 1.7 million dollars. My Dad and his friend, trophy fishing back in the ’50s caught one off Nova Scotia. It weighed close to 700lbs, and took 11 hours to reel in. Those big ones are virtually all gone now, and the young ones are being caught before they can reproduce, dooming the breed. We need to protect our Marine Mammals from Sonar, and our pollinators like bees from pesticides. The California Condor should be a success story. The largest bird in North America with a wingspan of ten feet, it lives to 60 years and mates for life. In 1987 the US government rounded up the last 22 in existence and captive bred them in California. Today there are over 200 flying free in several western states. I was lucky once, driving on a foggy morning from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara on a lonely stretch of the Pacific Coast highway; I looked up and there over the Ventura Mountains was a soaring giant, a huge black ghost of a bird riding the thermals. It took my breath away. Sadly, there is no federal ban on lead shot and these magnificent vultures are being poisoned by the lead they consume in dead animals, their perilous existence threatened once again. Hunters and the IRA won’t give up lead ammunition except for waterfowl. This should be a no brainer; toxins, like lead, are deadly for more than just Condors. California is still trying to institute a ban. If we push for it a federal one could follow. Conservation is not an event; it is a process and vigilance is its name. The oceans and the forests hold many secrets; secrets that will reward us if we let them. Secrets that will make it possible to cure diseases, conserve energy, explore telepathy and simply be amazed. The hummingbird can fly backward; the Bar tailed Godwit flies non-stop without food or rest for 7,145 miles–twice a year! Spider silk is stronger than anything man made; a house cat found her way home after being lost 200 miles away; a tortoise in Mexico was found alive in a locked box in a vacant house; he had not been seen for 30 years. There is a species of jellyfish that does not die. There is much to explore, discover and learn. We live in one of the great ages of transformation. How astonishing that we find ourselves on the planet at the same time as two revelatory global events, the technological age and climate change! It is as if with technology we have been given the tools to save the animals and ourselves. We can track the migration routes of caribou and know where it is unsafe to drill. We can learn about animals and birds through camera traps and critter cams, radio collars, implants and banding rather than killing and collecting them as scientists had to do in the past. Soon we will document all animals and herds—we will manage their lives as we manage our own.
We can galvanize our tech-addicted youth through social media and get them involved in protecting animals. Engage them in the conversation about extinction. Enlist our screenagers in spreading the word. If they knew the extent of this war on wildlife they might make it their cause. And they can start at home in their own backyards learning about the deer, the raccoons, the coyotes and all the wild creatures which come into conflict with human beings on a daily basis. If each one of us chooses an animal, or two or three that we care about and want to keep from extinction, and we dedicate an hour per week toward that goal, we can turn things around. There are organizations for almost every conceivable animal and habitat; organizations with sound science at the core and trusted scientists and photographers in the field. These men and women work in wild places all over the world; they know what the problems are and what needs to be done. While we may never be in the field with them we can be their aides de camp back home. They are doing great work: they are stopping poachers, and calling a halt to the desecration of lands and waters; they are helping put criminals behind bars and proposing new laws for the planet; they are finding ways to protect species and tell the public about it. They need our help. They need our help to get the word out to friends, family and media, to back them up when their science is repudiated, to aid financially and be aware of what is going on. Google just one species, perhaps the threatened lemurs found only in Madagascar, and you will find a number of organizations dedicated to protecting them. Track your creature on line; track its progress and be its protector. The naturalist William Beebe said:
“…when the last individual of a race of living things breathes no more, another heaven and another earth must pass before such a one can be again.”
I don’t want this to happen on my watch. Not on our beautiful home planet, Earth. There isan Earth Charter, by the way, ratified by thousands of organizations in 2000 and awaiting full endorsement by the United Nations. It’s preamble states:
We stand at a critical moment in Earth’s history…As the world becomes increasingly interdependent and fragile…we must recognize that in the midst of a magnificent diversity of cultures and life forms we are one human family and one earth community with a common destiny…it is imperative that we, the peoples of the Earth, declare our responsibility to one another, to the greater community of life, and to future generations.Let’s ratify the Earth Charter just as those 50 years ago did the declaration of Human Rights. There is a lot to do but it is all doable. It means rolling up our sleeves and getting to work with a glad heart, and doing so now. We can end this war on wildlife.
In closing here is Mary Oliver’s poem Wild Geese:
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely
the world offers itself to your imagination
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
Copyright 2019 by Jane Alexander. Used by permission. All rights reserved.