Living & Dying In The Animal Kingdom

There is a beautiful young lady celebrating her 2nd birthday today, and I am too sick to join her for any of it.  She’s adorable, and hilarious, and super sweet.  I could spend all day just watching her be her.  Her name is Nneka, and she is a gorilla living at the Toronto Zoo.

In a way, I’ve always had a thing for animals.  The non-human ones, I mean.  I wanted to feel connected to them, as though I were one of them.  As a child, I was often a murderer.  Unintentionally, but several individuals who were unable to care for themselves died by my hands.  Well, my lack of ability to care for them.

Baby birds taken from their nests, caterpillars, butterflies, grasshoppers – my need for connection, to feel like I’d saved them, caused me instead to essentially torture them with neglect, and allow them to die, because I couldn’t just let them live their lives.  I wanted them in my life so much, I couldn’t leave them alone to survive the way they were meant to.

I remember the first time a butterfly died, I took it into the yard and buried it immediately, intending for it to go to Heaven.  Sadly, when I dug it up the next day, its body was still there, and I thought that meant it hadn’t gone to Heaven, after all.  Because I hadn’t buried it fast enough.  It was my fault, I believed, not only that it had died in the first place, but also that my ineptitude had kept it out of Heaven.

Flashforward a few decades and I meet a baby polar bear cub at the zoo.  Hudson.  He captures my heart and, more importantly, gives me a sense of that connection I’d been longing for as a child, but in a way I’d never understood before.  He let me know him, and because of that, I learned not just about polar bears, but about THAT polar bear in particular.

Suddenly everything changed for me.  I started seeing animals – all of them – as unique and different from other members of their species as we are.  Next thing I knew, I was coming up with enrichment activities for my cats – all different, because they are all different, and like different things.  I started being able to tells squirrels on my street apart from one another.  I started trying to learn all I could about the other animals at the zoo, at sanctuaries, in shelters, and in the wild (as much as possible, of course).

Because here’s the thing: humans are essentially evil and arrogant.  I think we are bored as a species, because we no longer need to struggle to survive, and we are in no danger of extinction.  We are cruel, to one another as well as to the other species who also live on this planet.  We value ourselves and our lives above all others, yet are unnecessarily horrific in our treatment of other lives.

We mass produce more food than we’ll ever consume, yet let others starve, and feel the need to torture and abuse everyone for the whole of their short lives before we slaughter them.  We throw more away that we use.  We poach species to extinction so that we can have knock-knacks and trophies.  We kill so that we can have real fur trim on our coats.  Because apparently science hasn’t solved the mystery of fur yet.  We destroy more than we create, we kill more than we grow, we have no respect for anyone or anything.

We’ve created a world where certain other animals not only depend on us for their survival, but for the quality of the lives that we give them while they are here.  And we are largely failing in that second part.  Life is about balance, and people need to learn how to take each circumstance for what it actually is, not what they want it to be.

Don’t look at an animal and think you know how it’s feeling, or what it needs, simply because you are projecting your own emotions and needs onto it.  The animal is not you, and you are not it.  They are not all alike just because they share DNA and/or some character traits.  Take each individual for who they are – observe them, learn from them.  Never assume that you know better.

All zoos are not evil, and all sanctuaries are not heaven.  Take each circumstance as it comes.  Find the balance and do a little research and observation once in awhile.  Don’t lump everything together into the same pile of uninformed assumptions.  Not being part of the problem doesn’t automatically make you part of the solution, any more than writing a blog post makes me any less evil than anyone else.  Always strive to be better.  It’s all any of us can do.

Understand that they, like we, are sentient beings who are just trying to get by.  Just like you, just like me.  In that, we ARE all the same.  It’s our one common trait, so don’t ignore it.  I think everyone can agree that merely being alive is not enough.  It’s not all there is.  We don’t all want the same things, and we don’t all go about life the same way.  But we all think, and feel, and learn, and grow.  We will all die, we can’t control that.

But where we can control the QUALITY of life – be it our own or that of another – we owe it to the planet to respect and honour that responsibility.  Do your best, and don’t be afraid to keep learning and changing so that you do better.  We can all do better.  But we can only control our own actions.  Live by example, but don’t expect anyone else to follow your example.

Because their best isn’t the same as yours.  We’re all different, and that’s okay.  A polar bear named Hudson taught me that being ourselves IS the best we can be at any given time.

We can just always do better, if we let ourselves try.


Note: This tirade did not go at all as I had planned, but I can’t concentrate.  The storm outside is freaking out the animals I lie with inside, and it’s all very distracting.  Such is life.  I’ll try to do better tomorrow.




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