When I was a kid I knew exactly what I wanted to be when I grew up: an assassin of poachers (the hunter of the hunters if you will). I hadn’t actually ever considered the assassination part, all I was sure of was it was my life mission to stop people from murdering lions, tigers, and bears and posting their heads up on walls. I’m not sure what stirred this in me, perhaps it was my nature or maybe I watched too much Steve Irwin growing up, but once this notion was stirred it was instilled. As a kid, when I imagined myself as an adult, I pictured myself wearing a camouflaged bodysuit, somewhere in a rainforest, high up in the treetops with a stun gun pointing at a poacher's back. From forcing my parents to support my vegetarian lifestyle at the age of ten, to trying to come up with a solution for the lack of spaying and neutering in the Costa Rican village I was living in at thirteen, I had a track record from a young age that proved I was very committed to the cause of lessening animal suffering.
Unfortunately, my dream was thwarted a little bit when I started learning more about poaching as an industry. I became very aware that those causing the poaching to happen were not the local people making a living from supplying elephant tusks and zebra heads (i.e. those doing the shooting, and those in desperate need to support their families), but rather the wealthy, sitting comfortably with plenty of stuffed elephants and lions surrounding them, in re-animated graveyard houses probably somewhere in the Alps. The consumers are driving the industry, and the consumers have a lot more in money then they do ethics. When I understood this, I began to understand the global picture a bit more clearly. This was about a lot more than a few stuffed lions, this was about our collective conscience as humans and how we choose to deal with the natural world, a world which is the basis of our existence. Poaching and trafficking are quite literally, whether it be with the pull of a trigger or a monkeys seven-year stint in a cage in someone's house, killing off species of animals we’re never going to get back, as well as ruining their lives while we’re at it. That just should not be acceptable. I personally feel as if us humans have given up on training our muscles of empathy. Which, ironically, is one of the aspects we feel sets “apart” man and beast.
In my previous blog post, I explained my apprenticeship at R3 in Brazil, and briefly noted some animal behavioral disorders I witnessed concerning three birds (two papagayos and one raven). The meat-eating parrot probably disturbed me the most, but there were many terrible things I witnessed in regards to the after-effects of animal mistreatment. The owls, hawks, and other birds of prey each had one wing caught off, in order to make them easier to keep as pets. I would watch them, terrified of me when I entered the cage, attempt to run away or fly off, and then watch them slowly remember that they couldn’t fly any longer, and they had to kind of hobble away. The most tragic part of this… and it’s difficult to put into words… was that the most crucial part of an owl is its wings. Without its wings, an owl cannot hunt, mate, and fly. It is left completely dependent on us, or it dies. To know that someone took the essence from an owl for the pure vanity of having a part of the wild locked up in their house broke my heart. Other than the physical restrictions human captors placed on the animals were mental ones. There was a monkey which was neurotic (more than monkeys already are) because his “owner” had gotten him addicted to chain smoking and drinking. Other animals came from homes which domesticated them to the point where they would not survive in the wild. I don’t believe poaching is a common conversation – yet it’s a ginormous industry. It earns tens of billions of dollars each year. Unfortunately, it’s a complicated issue with many different causes: the fatal combination of capitalism and traditional medicine, the want for “exotic” pets, the want of “decorative” animal pieces… it all ties into an expansive network of hunting, capturing and selling which goes unnoticed by most of the world. It’s important for us to educate ourselves on issues such as these, when we choose to keep ourselves in the dark we let the light destroy us.
*These do not constitute all the behaviors I noticed, just the most obvious examples that come to mind.