The ears were visible but the face was partly hidden by the swaying barley. I stopped, hardly daring to breath, but too late; the deer was leaping to its feet and bounding through the tall stalks. Reaching the edge of the field, it paused to glance back at me before running into the woods. Those precious seconds, as we two different living beings looked intently at each will stay with me forever. This brief encounter with a wild animal coloured the rest of my day. I went home and through the following hours with a sense of joy and peace inside.
Is this the reason people, young and old, congregate at the edge of ponds, or in city squares to feed the birds? Why we walk through forests and over hills? Catching even a brief glimpse of a rabbit, squirrel or a bird of prey takes us out of ourselves. It is a special moment when we meet other living beings. We are innately drawn to the natural world but modern life cuts us off from nature and regular contact with wild creatures. The popularity of nature programmes on TV such as The Living Planet would seem to indicate that we seek contact with the natural world in any way possible. What happens to those feelings when we walk out of the woods or through the park gates or when the programme ends? Over the past forty years, nearly half the world’s wildlife population has disappeared. As individuals, we may have never harmed a wild animal yet we allow this destruction to continue.
Ours is a society based on a growth-oriented and materialistic approach to living where everything is measured in terms of size and quantity. Money and possessions have become our chief concern and value is defined only in monetary terms. To meet our insatiable wants and desires, many creatures are cruelly mistreated and exploited and pushed to the point of extinction and their habitats destroyed.
We are wiping whole species from the face of the planet and causing indescribable pain and suffering to others for short-term gain. As a result, we are now facing a series of environmental crises. Seeing ourselves as superior to other creatures and capable of dominating nature has been a fatal error. Failure to identify with the living Earth has made us apathetic with regard to the suffering of other species and unable to see that when we damage our ecosystems we endanger ourselves. Our arrogance and ignorance are taking us to the edge of catastrophe. We seem to have forgotten a basic fact of life; all things are interconnected and interdependent.
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We should be outraged at what is happening to wildlife but the modern world has turned us into passive consumers who follow trends and fashions without giving a thought to the consequences of our actions.
How many of us ever stop to consider how our behaviour and life-style may be affecting the natural world? We each have a right to a decent standard of living but surely with rights come responsibilities to others, human and non-human. We have a more positive, nobler side to our natures and we have the imagination and abilities to adopt a new attitude to life. We have a choice as individuals to live and act differently.
Politics is not only the domain of paid politicians; it is the concern of us all. We are individual people but we do not live in isolation from each other or the world. We are each part of the web of life and have a moral responsibility to ensure that it remains intact. Government has a role in protecting wildlife and the natural world, but each of us can question our own attitudes and behaviour and how they impact on others. All change begins with the individual. We can each strive to live by different values where compassion and understanding of the interconnectedness and interdependency of the natural world determines how we live our lives.
In such moments, empathy, respect and compassion for non-human others are alive within us and here lies the catalyst for change. Wildlife in all its forms comprises sentient beings who are not a resource to be exploited and dominated but have intrinsic value in themselves. At such moments, we see the dignity of all life in its many different forms. Our sense of wonder and mystery are reignited. It is only through contact with wildlife, with this ‘otherness’ that we feel at one with life and not separate from the natural world.
We spend our lives working and consuming, searching for wealth and riches but as John Ruskin said “there is no wealth but life” And it was that sense of life and wonder that held me spellbound as the deer and I held each other’s gaze. It is in search of these other riches that we go to park and field, pond and sea. This is the treasure that each of us, in our own way, should take into account in our daily lives and do what we can to protect.