Stop and Appreciate Our Animals — Before They Are Gone
Although my life revolves a great deal now around dogs and cats, I really had no intention of spending my career working with them. I grew up a biology and conservation nerd, reading National Geographic back issues from the little leather folios on my parents’ shelves, looking at pictures of Jane Goodall and wondering if there was room for one more conservation-minded blonde in Tanzania.
When I studied biology in my undergraduate courses, I took as many zoology courses as I could, digging around in the murky tidepools in the greater Los Angeles area counting mussels and fighting against my fear of water to get PADI certified, the better to study marine biology. I lectured my friends and family about orcas at Sea World before it was cool (just ask my aggrieved neighbors!).
My point is, despite my current focus in companion animal medicine, I’ve always held a deep and abiding love for wildlife, which is why marking World Wildlife Conservation Day on December 4 is a cause near and dear to my heart.
The poaching of endangered species has only gotten more severe over the years, despite increased awareness of the scope of the problem. As a $10 billion a year industry, illegal wildlife trade is now run by the same syndicates that traffic drugs and weapons. Once limited to individuals trying to earn money in a desperate economy, now the criminals are better armed, and in some cases they are the very same individuals as the people charged with protecting animals.
Just this past week, we mourned the loss here in San Diego of Nola, one of only four (now three) northern white rhinoceros left in existence. In my children’s lifetimes it is possible that some of the most beloved creatures I grew up dreaming about—mountain gorillas, African bush elephants, tigers—may go the way of the rhino and leave us, only to be remembered in photos.
Although species do come and go as part of our planetary evolution, there have been only five mass extinction events—brief geological periods that see a massive die off of between 50-90 percent of the Earth’s species. Most of these events were precipitated by a massive disaster, such as comets or volcanic eruptions, events that created huge changes in the Earth’s climate in a relatively short amount of time.
Many scientists believe we are in the midst of a sixth mass extinction event, except this time the cause is not volcanic or comet, but biological. It’s us. And that makes me tremendously sad.
The scope and impact of how we are contributing to mass extinction goes far beyond poaching and into a complicated mishmash of overextending our resources, poor conservation, and politics far beyond the scope of this blog. It’s not a problem for one person to solve, it’s a problem for everyone who loves the planet we live on to be aware of.
For more information about wildlife conservation, visit the World Wildlife Federation and then head to your local zoo and remember why these magnificent animals are worth protecting.
Dr. Jessica Vogelsang
Image: Humpback Whale / Thinkstock