“We need an inclusive movement and need to eliminate anything that stands in the way of that.” These were words during the presentation, “Fiddling While Rome Burns,” given by Shane Mahoney the plenary speaker for the International Congress of Conservation Biology. I couldn’t agree with him more. In fact, my efforts in conservation in the last decade have been committed to finding ways to support the human dimensions of conservation so that we can get along, not just for greater satisfaction and sustainability on conservation teams, but for the sake of all life. The earth needs us now, not some time in the distant future when we might decide to work with others who are different from us, or who think of wildlife differently.
A pertinent and timely example of this comes from the placement of the Lafeber Conservation and Wildlife booth at this conference. I am on “Trapper Row.” On my aisle of the exhibit hall are 3 trapper organizations and one safari group. Just to my left are the skins of lynx, wolf, beaver, and wolverine and examples of many kinds of leg traps. The most common question I get from people who pass by is not “what do you do,” or “what is Emeraid,” but “how do you feel being next to trappers?” That’s a good question, I tell the people, and then they proceed to give me their views. The thought is that trappers don’t have a place in true compassionate conservation solutions. I have also talked to the trappers on my row. They say they love the animals and their habitats, and want the same things I do – sustainability, diversity, and abundance. Yet, our strategies are so very different.
Though the strategy of trapping brings up pain for me, if I think that I do not share the same universal needs as the trappers, then I won’t be able to empathize with them. If I can’t empathize with them, then we won’t be able to see each other as belonging on this planet, belonging at the table, and belonging at the conference.
Shane ended his talk by saying that we are human because of the different other and that in all of us is some part of God. Without talking to him about this I can’t be sure what he means. What he says to me is this. Though my heart aches to imagine the suffering and stress of an animal bound in a leg trap, I will not close my heart to that pain and that conversation with the different other. For if I close my heart to the pain, I close my heart to the beauty, the joy, and the possibility of what we might create together. I also diminish how I can be the change I wish to see in the world. For if I settle for blaming the trapper, the hunter, the cattle rancher, I risk settling for not looking at my own complicity in harm in the world. So dear trappers, thank you for being at this conference so that I might just get to know your mind, and in the attempt, get to not just know my mind, but change it to feel interconnection and empathy with all beings. May the traps of the mind so free me, and all beings.