I have been banging the drum pretty loudly in conversations and in social media about what I see as the senseless slaughter of Cecil the Lion. For anyone who cares to know, here is the last of a five-part series explaining why I am so outraged about this tragic event.
I am an optimist, and I don’t want to die disappointed.
I grew up in the 1960s. It was the beginning of the space age, and I was the absolute perfect age to be captivated by it. I was a little too young to remember any of the Mercury missions. But I had books that told me all about those missions (complete with drawn pictures – no photos!). I even had two LPs with narrated stories about those missions. My favorite was “The Flight of the Friendship 7.”
I actually recall watching the CBS Evening News broadcast with Walter Cronkite reporting Ed White’s first walk in space. That was June 3, 1965. At the ripe old age of 4 years and 10 days, I was a news junkie. And of course, I laid on the floor in my pajamas and, along with millions of people worldwide, saw Neil Armstrong’s first step on the moon and heard those words, “that’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” Grainy. Jumpy. Fuzzy. Full of static. Magnificent.
I was consumed by all things space. But as a 4-year old news junkie, I also remember being aware that the bald eagle, the symbol of America, was in grave danger. In 1963, breeding pairs of bald eagles had slipped under 500. Careless practices such as native habitat destruction and the widespread use of DDT almost wiped the grand bird out.
Mercifully, we figured it out in time. Grassroots support for saving the bald eagle grew into a national groundswell. More attention to habitat preservation, and a ban of DDT allowed the bald eagle to recover. Today, there are more than 10,000 breeding pairs. In August, 2007, this beautiful bird was taken off the Endangered Species List.
We went to the moon, and saved the eagle. Both. Progress and preservation in harmony.
For the great animals of Africa and Asia, it is 1964 again – only this time, there is little grassroots support, and there doesn’t appear to be any groundswell coming.
In the 1800s, African lions in the wild numbered 1,200,000. By 1940, they were down to 450,000. Today, there are 19,999.
In 1900, rhinos in the wild numbered 500,000. By 1970, they were down to 70,000. Today, there are 29,000.
In 1900, there were an estimated 2,000,000 – 3,000,000 African elephants in the wild. Today, there are fewer than 500,000. 100,000 elephants were slaughtered by poachers during one three-year period between 2010-2012.
Most are killed for insanely stupid reasons. Elephant tusks are ivory, and human beings love ivory carvings. Ground rhino horn is inaccurately believed to have aphrodisiac powers. Lions have beautiful heads that some people like to hang on their walls. That’s it. That’s the end of it.
This is not deer hunting, or elk hunting, or wild turkey hunting. Thinning those populations is both necessary and beneficial for the species. Most of that meat is eaten. They don’t eat lions. They just kill them.
Lions have been thinned from 1,200,000 to 19,999. Do the math.
The news isn’t all bad. As recently as 2008, the world population of tigers in the wild hit 1,400. Yes, 1,400. Try to comprehend this – in 1990 there were 100,000 tigers in the wild. That represents a 96% decrease in just 25 years. Drastic measures taken by India (where 70% of the world’s tigers live) have resulted in a 30% increase just in that time. China is following. Conservation efforts are pretty solid. Enforcement is consistent. So there is hope…a glimmer at least.
But why walk so close to the edge? Why hunt animals to the literal point of extinction? Extinction is forever. In today’s language: For.Ev.Er.
Last month, Aprill and I drove to Tennessee to see family and friends, and to attend a wedding. On our way through the mountains on I-40, we saw something ahead flying at treetop level. We are used to seeing hawks in that area. But when we got close enough, we saw a snow white head and tail, bounded by black, punctuated by a bright, yellow beak. It was a bald eagle – in full flight, parallel to one of the busiest highways in the country.
When I was 4 years old, there was a chance I’d never see one at all.
I want my nephews and nieces and great nephews and great nieces to have a world full of wonder and mystery. I don’t want them to see lions, rhinos, wolves and elephants in zoos. I want them to have the chance to travel to where they live. I don’t want them to look at stars on a computer screen. I want them to look up into a vast night sky and see stars there. I don’t want them to look at pictures of wild places. I want them to walk in them, and breathe and feel those wild places in the depths of their souls.
We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors. We borrow it from our children.
This is our time. We will leave it better than we found it. Or we won’t.
I do not want to die disappointed.