I remember a particular day in my early twenties, sitting beside a pool questioning life. I remember it because it started with chewing on a blade of grass and doing very little else which is one of my favourite pastimes. My deep wondering was, like all wondering, both profound and all together very simplistic. I was pondering the meaning of life.
Naturally, I am much wiser now, in my late twenties, and I know that to a certain extent that is a question I will take to my grave. I can, however, say that on that day at the pool I got just enough of an answer to make it there with some degree of sanity.
What happened was this; as I sat chewing my blade of grass a butterfly came and landed on the end of it. Seeing a butterfly just centimetres from my face was a first for me. Not that I’ve never seen them up close before, it’s just that when I have they’ve all been dead with a pin in them, as if they died in some noble and valiant duel within the butterfly kingdom.
But this one was alive… and it sat there, completely unperturbed, for what felt like an hour. I could see it slowly moving up and down as it breathed. Its antenna flicking, its dusty wings slowly flapping, and its massive eyeballs staring at me. I had never seen life like that, its intricacies blew me away. Of course I had no real clear cut answer to my life questions, I couldn’t even understand this simple living butterfly but that was something of a resolution. I realised that life was beautiful, and so beyond human understanding. It was a strange yet disorientating comfort.
Now I cannot claim to hold any weight of opinion whatsoever within scientific, biological or environmental fields, but I do know that humans understand through comparison. That is, for example, that we understand kindness in relation to cruelty and vice versa. Within that, an increased experience of either ‘opposite’ results in a greater understanding of the other, be it directly or indirectly.
So, in essence, all of this is a very round about explanation as to why when I was asked to write a piece on endangered species, I was reminded of my poolside moment. The converse of life is death, and the extinction of something is, to me, the end of the beauty of life that I saw that day. The awe I held for life in that moment, is matched by gloom at the thought of losing it, and thus, the absence of life must be as astounding as the existence of it.
There are so many statistics and interesting facts one can mention about extinction, but for me the saddest thing is that animal endangerment is one of the most powerful illustrations of the human effect on the planet. Leonardo DiCaprio, famously said in a speech that “not since the age of the dinosaurs have so many species of plants and animals become extinct in such a short period of time.” That is a harrowing and shameful truth.
Finding a list of all the endangered animals is a simple google search away, but it’s something that James said on a drive the other day that stood out to me. He was talking about lions, an animal we don’t necessarily see as endangered, saying that over a century ago there were 300 000 plus in Africa, and yet today there are only 20 000. He then compared that to humans, our population standing at estimated 7.6 billion, and it hit me how we’ve dominated our earth to such a scary extent.
Within all the complexities of endangered species, there is a simplicity in extinction that is a very black and white thing – the animal is either still with us, or gone forever. For those species that are currently vulnerable or critically endangered, one thing is clear; that human beings are playing an active role in making it happen, and that’s something that we have to face up to.
In a humble closing of my pool side thoughts, this is not a scientific explanation of endangered species at all, but a simple personal musing behind the concept of existence and the beauty of all life. If we can realise that we are all interconnected, and can appreciate life in all forms, then hopefully we can be better custodians of our planet. If we can see that we do not exists in isolation, but rather that we are part of a complex whole that operates as an interwoven system where the sustainability of all life is inextricably linked. If we can see that the same essence of life in us is also alive in the wings of a butterfly, then surely we will be stirred to make a change and reverse much of what is in many ways a grave nonchalance towards the gift of life.
By: Luke Macdonald