“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” - Mahatma Gandhi
Let us consider these, the words of one of the greatest humans to walk this planet, and in that same moment reflect on the current state of our planet. See, this precious world that we share with many others is in a perilous state and the wild beings that can stake as much of a claim to it as us, have found themselves clinging on to the microscopic wild spaces that remain. Whenever we see a lion hunting a buffalo on the great plains of Africa, or a wolf pack chasing their prey across the vast tundra, or perhaps when we see a pod of orcas using their phenomenal intelligence to stalk a gray whale and her calf, we often grimace and say that nature is cruel. I can assure you though that nature’s cruel balance pales in comparison to the gluttonous cruelty that our own species is capable of.
Truth be told, we as a species know more than any generation before, we have an infinite library of information and knowledge at our constant disposal. Yet, it seems that even in this time when this wealth of information is available to us all, our planet is spiraling into an abyss, and this catastrophic event is happening before our very eyes and at our very own hands. So, it begs the ultimate question… Maybe knowledge and information is not what will save this planet, maybe what this planet and all its beautiful creatures desperately need is for humankind to refamiliarize itself with compassion, empathy and a sense of stewardship. Aren’t these the very qualities that we so vainly claim define us as a species, that separate us from the great beasts that walk this planet. I am not sure any more if bearing the title “human” is as noble as it once was. Maybe the answer to the de-evolution of our species stems from something primal, or maybe the answer is as simple as it is cruel, and perhaps now, in the time of the “selfie” where our vanity dictates our actions, maybe in these self-obsessed times we simply don’t care…
There is no denying it, our lives have turned digital, there is an ever-widening void between us and the natural world that we so intricately depend on. This void, this act of distancing ourselves from the natural world, and the willful ignorance that we have toward our responsibilities as the largest consumer of its resources has had disastrous effects on our planet. There are choices that we make every day, as consumers, as tourists, as travelers and simply as humans, that have untold ramifications. However, it seems that the “burden” of making the right choice, of putting the freedoms and wellbeing of other inhabitants of this planet above our vanity, is one that we simply cannot bear, for it impedes our convenience or far worse stifles our few moments of fun.
The brash arrogance of our vanity, and our need have unabated fun regardless of the circumstance or impact on others, has allowed us to continually turn a blind eye to the cost of our actions… as long as the selfie was good. Now many might say that “I am powerless”, or “the problem is far larger than me”, that my friends is simply not an excuse, and it is this “self-justifying untruth” that we have used time and time again simply because we want our conveniences to continue uninterrupted. While I do understand that we cannot all suit up and disarm poachers, or sail to the Antarctic and fight Japanese whalers, there are many, and I mean many choices that are made by thousands of people every year with complete disregard for the welfare of our planet or any of the incredible creatures that call it home. Some of these are done in our everyday lives, for example by not thoroughly researching the products that we buy or by not actively reducing the amount of single use plastics that we consume, we place a tremendous burden on our planet, nay we are contribution to its destruction. Then there are the choices that we make in the name of fun; People continue to choose to visit facilities that allow lion cub petting, disregarding the fact that those very cubs will be killed in cruel canned hunts. People continue to attend dolphin shows or choose to visit places that allow you to swim with dolphins ignoring the fact that captive dolphins are captured in cruel drive hunts and after their families are slaughtered, they are forced to perform for food in a concrete tank for the rest of their lives. Many tourists travel to the east and gleefully visit tourist facilities that allow you to ride elephants, we do this turning a blind eye to the unspeakable tortures that these great sentient beings face every day of their lives while being forced to entertain us. Again, people visit these places because our species is driven by a self-serving lust which feeds our vanity. It is apparent that those who choose to spend their money at these facilities do so with complete disregard of the true cost of their entertainment, these people don’t love animals, they don’t care about this planet or its many sentient beings, what they care about is nothing greater than the price of a measly admission ticket. If this is what we have become, then our species is truly vile. For when you visit these places there is no love and no beauty, only pain and suffering. Those that choose to pet lion cubs instead of seeing them roam wild and free on a safari, those that pay to ride elephants instead of watching a matriarch guide her family across the dusty horizon, or those that swim with a captive dolphins trapped in a pool instead of watching them surf the bow way of a whale watching boat with unbridled freedom, are as guilty of crimes against our planet as the poacher willing to kill a living being in the name of a few dollars.
As a wildlife photographer, it utterly guts me, to see these great beings used for our ignorant cruel entertainment, for these imprisoned performers only empty shells of what they were destined to be. Their souls have been ripped away, they are nothing more than a reflection on man’s cruelty to all others.
The thing is, these are just a few choices you can make that will make this world more bearable for the creatures that we share it with, because I assure you nothing compares to freedom…nothing. You may never get that selfie with a dolphin, but you will also never contribute to the slavery of one of the most intelligent creatures our planet has ever seen. You may never pet a lion cub, but you also will never be guilty of contributing to cruel canned hunts of this great predator.
This my friends, is how you make a difference, this is how you change the world.
We all have the responsibility to make a difference, to make the right choice. It is imperative that we embody what it once meant to be a human being. Aren’t we better than the self-obsessed, vanity driven species that we have become? Surely within us all there is still some sort of moral compass that guides us. We must be the change, we must.
I have been fortunate to visit many incredible wild places through my many adventures, and even in these last so called edens on our planet, it’s very hard to escape the clutches of humanity’s quest to use up every last resource our planet has. Our planet is being plundered by greedy corporation, it is being destroyed by politicians whose are only concerned with reelection and managing the expectations of the super-rich. There is no time and there is no tomorrow, our planet and countless of beings that depend on it will perish, because the majority of us will sit idly by expecting someone else to save it.
In this ever shrinking world, it is more important now than ever that we the bear the mantle of our very own vanity, embodying our presumptuous nature as the so called stewards of this planet and do everything we possibly can to save and preserve these last remaining great wildernesses. We must allow these incredible places the opportunity to flourish, not just for the great beings that call it home but for us as well. If we don’t, surely, the generations to come that will inherit a lifeless, colorless world, one devoid of life, one completely barren of beauty. We cannot and must not let this happen. For if we are connected to all other living beings, then surely our spirit is deeply connected to the spirits of those great sentient beings, and thus our freedom intricately connected to theirs. I hope that we always have a world where these great beings live free, free to follow their heart, free to follow the changing winds of the seasons leaving nothing but faded footprints in the dust.