As a child, my fantasy wasn’t to meet Mickey Mouse in the magical kingdom of Disneyland. I didn’t care to meet Goofy, the Seven Dwarves, or any of Walt’s numerous other friends.
In the end, once a Disney movie was over you’d simply mind the sticker on the VHS that read “Be Kind, Rewind.” Readying the VHS tape for the next person to memorize an ever-increasing amount of Disney songs.
My destination has always differed from others. There has never been an option of going anywhere else. Simply because there is no rewind feature in the real world. Once the story’s over, it’s over.
Did you know “simba” means “lion” in Swahili? In reality, the estimation of Simbas left in the wild is 30,000, significantly less than the average daily attendance at any singular Disney Park. Lions are now extinct in 26 African countries. Only 40,000 Dumbos are left in Asia. An estimation of 15,000 sloth bears are left in the wild, represented The Jungle Book’s Baloo. Much like the Lion King’s Simba, “baloo” means “bear” in Hindi.
Sadly, there are less than 4,000 tigers left in the wild. At this rate, I think it’s time for Princess Jasmine to release Rajah to a conservation program to repopulate the species. Especially since there are more tigers caged in backyards in Texas than in the wild.
Not too long ago, on a trip to Johannesburg, South Africa, I found myself on the road just before midnight. I planned on driving eight hours through the dark, guided only by near-illegible handwritten directions that read “turn L in 23k and immediate R for 7k.” With hardly any street signs to guide me, I put all my trust into a torn piece of paper. Forty-eight hours later, with Witwatersrand researcher Wendy Panaino, I was staring into a camera lens taking photos of my first live Pangolin. This was my dream. It was my equivalent to a child walking into Disney World for the first time.
I couldn’t help but think of Walt Disney’s words, “All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.”
So many animals on this planet are unwillingly racing towards extinction. Increasingly, species are crossing that finish line as hunters and corporations gather around the end cheering the animals on. They might as well be holding flags emblazoned “Extinction #1” in one hand while holding dollars in the other. They green wash their products to increase profits, all while polluting the environment, destroying water resources, and cutting away natural habitats.
The unrelenting drive for profit and the bottom line acts as a proxy for their unspoken desire to see species after species wiped from the planet. The more that unfortunately die, the more money they profit, whether it be from direct killing or an animal being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Take bycatches, for example. When mass nets scrape away ocean life, the bycatch is the species that weren’t intended to be swiped up. The bycatch is why the great white shark population in California and Mexico are dwindling and estimated to be less than 3,500 globally.
After learning the word “extinction” as a child, I knew it’d be my life’s purpose. My worldly duty is advocating for the voiceless; to shepherd the planet, with the help of so many others, against all odds facing governmental ineffectiveness and corporate power; to care for the creatures; to educate people on the plight of animals and the environment. It is also my personal goal is to see as many of these animals in the wild as I can before they do cross that deadly finish line.
Did you know that Rhino’s are expected to be completely eradicated from the wild within ten years?
Next time you plan a vacation, don’t go to New York or some other big city. Don’t go see a building that leans or a tall tower in France. Or see those places, but while you’re there, make sure to visit an AZA accredited zoo to your list. Your entrance fee goes towards helping animals in their natural habitat.
Animals, including humans, are on borrowed time. We are in the midst of the 6th mass extinction, humanity’s self-directed collision course with nature. It is reported that the 6th mass extinction is currently proportional to the past five mass extinctions responsible for wiping out millions of species. Each time taking millions of years to recover.
Please take that giant step towards the direction of fear and take a trip where postcards aren’t sold. Go visit the wild. Go explore and be the adventure because once these animals are gone, they’re gone.
The planet has proven that it’s not big enough as human-animal encroachment occurs. We are beginning to find animals in the city, the suburbs, and in villages. It’s our anthropogenic impact that is devastating these habitats.
When you see an animal crossing the road, it’s not crossing the road, it’s just the exact opposite, we are crossing its home.
We all love visiting the eight Wonders of the World, ancient or modern, but never forget the number one wonder of all– Mother Nature–because, “It’s a small world after all.”