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 second of a five-part series explaining why I am so outraged about this tragic event.
Part 2: I need wild places, and I want the wild places to remain wild.
On the same trip to Yellowstone I mentioned in part 1, we decided to take a pretty long hike into the Canyon region, an area of the park we had spent very little time in. It was another early morning start, and a rain from the night before had left the trail soaked and quite soggy. We walked through wooded areas, along a river bank, past rocky cliffs, and in and out of thick bush. As we hiked, I noticed the tracks of what seemed to be a very large moose walking the same trail some distance (and time) ahead of us. Not particularly wanting to turn a corner and surprise a 700 lb. bull moose during the rutting season, I watched the tracks intently during our entire ingress.
We saw no other people that morning, hiked in about 6 miles, then turned around and hiked out on the same trail. We never saw the moose. On our way out, I noticed four sets of tracks: mine, Aprill’s, the moose and one other animal. Not sure what it was, I took out a journal I was carrying and sketched the print.
Back at the visitor center, I showed the track print sketch to a ranger and described its size. He immediately said matter-of-factly, “oh yeah, that’s a mountain lion. You were in mountain lion country. He was probably stalking you. Pretty big one, too – maybe 200 lbs.”
When I was a Boy Scout (back in the 1900s!), my Scoutmaster Dr. Wally Bigbee once said, “we go into the woods to learn things we can’t learn anywhere else.” I will never forget that.
John Muir, widely regarded as the father of the preservation of wilderness in America, put it another way:
In God’s wildness lies the hope of the world – the great fresh unblighted, unredeemed wilderness. The galling harness of civilization drops off, and wounds heal ere we are aware.
Why then do we destroy it? Though each of the five most professed religions of the world – Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism (and Judaism at #6) – accounting for almost 75% of the world’s population teaches stewardship and sanctity of the earth, human beings tend to be tamers. We have a history of taming things. Animals. The land. Rivers. The wild.
Sometimes, taming is necessary – to have adequate clean water supplies, or to grow crops, or as an attempt to guard against natural disasters. Sadly, a lot taming is for personal gain or ego, and in direct conflict with preservation. In order to preserve something, it must be considered valuable of its own accord, left alone or at most watched over.
We cannot leave things alone.
According to the World Wildlife Fund, the National Wildlife Federation and the Nature Conservancy, habitat destruction is at an all-time high. Populations of the great mammals are in continual decline. It is a sad state.
I don’t discount (nor ignore) the human needs some critics have said should be at the fore instead of this. If you know me at all, you know I herald those causes, and take part in their efforts. I simply view good stewardship over earth as a spiritual discipline, too. It is one of the earliest commandments given in each of the religions I noted above. But even if you don’t subscribe to any of that, isn’t it just smart? I mean, this is our place – our only place – the one place we have to be.
And so it is. I cannot fathom the destruction of life or habitat for the pure sake of destruction. When one man destroys one wild acre, or slaughters one wild animal purely for his enjoyment, I am angry. I do not apologize for that. It is not stewardship. It is selfishness. Squander. Foolishness.
It takes one more piece of the wild away from us, and from future generations.
Any fool can destroy trees. They cannot run away; and if they could, they would still be destroyed – chased and hunted down as long as fun or a dollar could be got out of their bark hides, branching horns, or magnificent bole backbones. Few that fell trees plant them; nor would planting avail much towards getting back anything like the noble primeval forests. It took more than three thousand years to make some of the trees in these Western woods – trees that are still standing in perfect strength and beauty, waving and singing in the mighty forests of the Sierra. Through all the wonderful, eventful centuries, God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, and a thousand straining, leveling tempests and floods; but he cannot save them from fools…
Nor can he save a lion.
Tomorrow, part 3: I respect conservation efforts, and don’t like it when they are undermined.