Lack of awareness and cognitive dissonance compels us to support industries that exploit and hurt animals for our own entertainment both when we’re at home (like going to the zoo or circus) and when we travel (like swimming with dolphins, getting photographed with tigers, or riding elephants). Our desire to be close to other animals and interact with them is exactly what causes them the most harm. Most of us are drawn to animals, and that’s a good thing, because it also means we want to help them and protect them, but it’s a bad thing when our desire to interact with them is at the cost of their own welfare, safety, happiness, or lives. Listen to today’s episode about how to travel to Thailand without harming animals.
I recently returned from a dream trip to Rwanda seeing mountain gorillas, golden monkeys, and chimpanzees — all of whom are threatened due to human activity. But still I have hope.
Afterwards, we saw lions, giraffes, impalas, warthogs, ostriches, hippos, zebras, and elephants in Botswana, a country that banned trophy hunting but is still dealing with poaching. But still I have hope. In fact, we were in Botswana when we heard the news that China is banning the legal trade in ivory, which is a thing to celebrate although the work is not done. It never is.
Even as I stood awe-struck looking at the animals characterized as “exotic,” I thought of the animals in my Oakland backyard—the ones considered mundane—the deer, the squirrels, the foxes, opossums, raccoons, skunks, crows, and jays. Rather than pay to view them, people pay to eradicate them, but nonetheless, they’re valuable to me, to themselves, to the entire ecosystem.
I thought of our state’s coyotes, mountain lions, and wolves—all of whom are demonized by private ranchers who use public land to graze their livestock, then blame the predators for being who they are.
I thought of our nation’s animals, who will be negatively impacted if the current administration makes good on its promises to support fossil fuels, curtail plans to cut carbon emissions, withdraw from the Paris Agreement, construct oil pipelines, dismantle the Endangered Species Act, and build a wall that will impact the lives and migratory habits of native species.
And still I have hope. While I daily urge our federal congresswomen and congressmen to pass legislation that protects animals and reject legislation that harms them, we have much work to do on a state and local level, both of which can get neglected when our fears are focused on an animal-, environment-, and human-hostile White House.
I have hope because possibility dwells in uncertainty. The darkness that lies before us is not inevitably bleak; it’s just unwritten. And we are its authors. We have a future to write—for the animals near and the animals far. For the human and the non-human animals. And I intend to write it.