“The only way we can guarantee our continued survival on earth is to recognize the importance of other non-human life forms and stop pretending we’re on top of some pyramid of domination over other beings.” — Rod Coronado
I watched Wildlife Smugglers on the Discovery channel this week. Hunters, both legal and illegal, are raping the world rainforests for exotic fare at restaurants, the pet trade, the game-shooting farms, and for trophy and taxidermy. On the show was a tiny taxidermied tiger cub as a status desk decoration. A dozen skinned tigers, jaguars, leopards, and cheetahs for fashion. High profits, low penalties, and low risk of being caught spur the trade.
Wildlife trade is second only to drugs in billions of dollars in suffering and death. Baby bears, baby lemurs, baby monkeys stuffed into narrow tubes, drugged for flight, were stashed under a tray of poisonous snakes so customs officers would not investigate. A pair of macaws that scientists thought extinct were put at risk in transit. Birds and mammals in net bags, drugged and transported in suitcases.
Many die — but the profits on the survivors make traders rich. A freezer full of 180 pounds of exotic endangered animals for just one restaurant in a tourist part of Cambodia. Butterflies so rare that they bring $15,000 each (dead) hidden under the table at trade shows. Butterflies pushed to extinction by the collector trade. Low priority by law enforcement, low prosecution, fines and minimal jail time make undercover work frustrating.
The warnings about massive extinctions seem to fall on deaf ears. Nature is seen by too many primarily for its resource value and those who are in position to take the most, are taking it all.
In his new book, “Take Back Conservation,” Dave Foreman writes: “(T)his old network of wilderness and wildlife conservationists is being undermined and weakened by enviro-resourcists among funders, consultants, new staff leaders and board members who want to change conservation in these ways: Dump the ethic of wild things for their own sakes — save what is economically good; replace wilderness areas and national parks with sustainable development; remake grass-roots clubs into corporate institutions run by professionals. … Above all else, enviro-resourcists say, conservation is about people, not wild things.”
Are humans the only species whose lives matter? Or is that selfish thinking the surest way to our own demise?
Fifteen years ago, I attended a lecture by Michael Soule, a scientist who has helped lay out the Rewilding Project with former Earth Firster, Dave Foreman. At the Rewilding Institute website is a map for the North American Wildlands Network: Four MegaLinkages. Scroll down the page to see their map that envisions a connected land going up the West Coast through Canada to Alaska, down the spine of the Rockies into Mexico, and across the northern boundary with Canada to an East Coast corridor. The Boreal-Arctic linkage dips down through Wisconsin, Michigan and the Great Lakes. This visionary plan honors the science of giving nature room to breathe and survive. Even Teddy Roosevelt, an avid hunter, knew, when there were 5 billion less people on the earth, that nature needed large wildlife refuges to survive human plunder.
There are three major components to saving wild native nature and healing the ravages humans have inflicted. According to Soule’s work, these are the three C’s of conservation:
1. Core areas: The larger the core area protected, the more biodiversity saved.
2. Corridors between core areas for migration: Larger mammals need to move over vast roadless areas to survive. They need to migrate for genetic diversity and strength. This is why we need a 48-state plan for real restoration of wolves, cougars and grizzlies.
3. Carnivores: Return large carnivores to the landscape in natural, not man-arbitrated numbers, because they guard and heal ecosystem complexity: “A large body of research supports the conclusion that large carnivores are critical components of healthy and biologically diverse ecosystems. The presence of large carnivores tends to promote plant and animal diversity and ecosystem complexity, which makes ecosystems more resilient to disturbances and longer term changes such as the consequences of climate change.”
Healthy biosystems require large carnivores who require large safe havens. We’re talking about thousands to tens of thousands of square miles of suitable core habitat areas (safe havens) connected by hospitable linkages (safe passages). Foreman says, “The scale of carnivore conservation drives the ecoregional and continental conservation vision and mission of The Rewilding Institute. This is the scale of conservation required for preserving ecological and evolutionary processes, without which nature would be little more than uninteresting scenery.”
Scientists are ratcheting up decades of warnings that we must quickly change from killing to saving all we can — warning that the earth’s biosphere is nearing a catastrophic “tipping point.”
In Wisconsin, “the sun, the moon and the stars would have disappeared long ago … had they happened to be within the reach of predatory human hands.” (Havelock Ellis, “The Dance of Life,” 1923)