(this is something I wrote down for myself almost ten years ago, when I came across some “Save the Tiger” campaign. See at the bottom the reason why I resurrected this note and put it online now)
May we get rid for good of a huge misunderstanding, please? We don’t need to save forests to preserve tigers. It’s the other way around.
Every single species changes or disappears anyway, sooner or later. Even tigers, lions, eagles, buffaloes and wolves. So? The issue it’s not the species.
Relax, however: if any big and fiery animal worth a protagonist role in a Disney flick is endangered, by all means act, that’s fine with me. I’ve even done it myself, actually: I distance-adopted a wolf in the southern forests of Italy, some years ago (and all I got was a lousy T-shirt…).
Today, I am even more convinced that we must protect the big puppies. Just not because, mind you, they are the easiest to love. It’s because all animals of that kind need a vast, pristine area to survive… just like us. And I mean survive as in “living a worthwhile life”; not as in “I’m still alive, but sometimes I wish my life expectancy were lower”. We humans badly need places where it is possible to see the stars and be alone for a while. Even if for limited periods of time, and taking turns, people need outdoors to recharge and (spiritually) grow. To feel closer to one’s Creator or, if you prefer, farther from one’s mother in law.
Yeah, sure, according to this or that set of calculations, the whole population of earth could feed itself with just as much land as Texas. And the cultivable land of the whole planet could sustain five or whatever number many more humans than are alive today. So? I have never seriously investigated about the the truth or falseness of such statements, because I don’t really care. Even if they were true, I don’t really believe that life in a world as crowded as Manhattan everywhere, all the time, would be at all gratifying. Come on, even Linus van Pelt admitted it: we love mankind, it’s people we can’t stand.
Now, why big beasts disappear? Because their habitat, as a whole, is destroyed. In that sense, they are just excellent health indicators. Thermometers. Somebody said once that an environment able to produce a wolf is a really healthy environment. A perfect one. That must be our goal.
In other words, wolves are wonderful animals, but I don’t want to preserve wild forests to save them. Don’t worry: I might still join the next wolf- or tiger-centered campaign. But only because if it does succeed, it will have been forced people to save some wilderness in the process. A big chunk of it, actually. If, when I go into those woods later, I don’t ever meet a wolf, no big deal. It’s the wilderness I really wanted. Let’s not miss the forest for the trees er, I mean wolves.
Sure enough, campaigns focused on big animals get more funding. They are more concrete flags for the general public: nobody wants to identify with, or pay for, those minuscule Humpty-dumptied Scarlet Twitknacks. Since they don’t roam in million units swarms like mosquitoes, big animals can be quickly counted. And their numbers are so little that they’re easier to grasp for many, giving a simple, tangible measure that something good or bad is happening.
On a related note, conservation is essential, but not sufficient anymore. We must start to create new natural areas, that is to regenerate new woods, prairies, whatever. We need to pass to a pacific attack. To expansionism. Enough playing defense. To lead a decent life, and also, why not, to make business in a sensible way, it’s time to create more pristine land, not just preserve what still exists. Don’t we all want to be able to hike through a summer weekend without risks of meeting Mr Jones from Accounting in that gorgeous valley?
One momentous consequence of all this is that we must stop to… escape. Saying “this place stinks, I’ll go play/live somewhere else” is a luxury (and limit) that only children can afford. It is not responsible adult behavior. We have to stop the drive to single family homes, to the suburbs, to the second and third home inhabited only a few weeks a year for summer vacations and some extra weekend. Above all, let’s stop moving the whole circus around for a while, thanks. If our cities stink as they actually do, we must make them decent places, instead of running 30 Kms away at every generation to ruin some other place.
If wolves or tigers mattered by themselves, zoos may be enough. Such animals are (or must become) only pretexts to check that the whole areas they live in are still in good shape, so we can enjoy them. And that such areas, whenever possible, increase in both size and number. Because that’s what we need, the whole Garden of Eden. A point of view, by the way, which besides being much more mature than any totem-like enthusiasm, is also much more acceptable for religious minds, that is much easier to share.
This, as I said, is something I wrote as food for thought for myself a few years ago. This year, I discovered Rewilding Europe which, I believe, is a wonderful program based on the same general principles, and deserves much more attention than it gets.