Maria Fotopoulos, 6/9/2016 [Archive]

Gorilla Incident Just One Drop in an Ocean of Mistreatment

By Maria Fotopoulos

The response to the shooting death of Harambe, a 17-year-old endangered Western lowland silverback male gorilla at the Cincinnati Zoo, has been highly charged and emotional. The shooting has provoked perhaps as much outrage as the killing last year of Cecil the Lion by a Minnesota dentist-cum-trophy hunter.

Thus far, it seems the online public has judged this as a parenting failure, which then led to the loss of a majestic and rare gorilla, with real questions on the use of lethal force. The killing has raised the discussion level on zoos versus sanctuaries, the right of zoos to exist at all, animal rights, wildlife extinctions, values, personal responsibility and our egocentric, anthropocentric worldview.

We continue to portray so many animals in the Wild Kingdom as powerful, frightening and invincible, but the reality is that most of these wild animals now live an incredibly fragile existence. That's because of one animal who has become the dominant player on Earth, Homo sapiens, population more than 7.4 billion and counting — likely headed to 9.7 billion by 2050.

As I write this and check the online world population clock for a current number, the meter for human births is clicking upwards so rapidly I can't write the full six-digit number fast enough — it's somewhere upwards of more than 367,000 births, and that's just for one day. Mother Earth this year will need to accommodate another 80 million people.

Too many of us fail to comprehend numbers and facts — think U.S. national debt, federal deficit and the infamous "deficits don't matter" of Dick Cheney. So it's probably not that surprising that the reality of an overpopulated world and a concomitant decline in wild things continues to not register with so many.

Online I was mocked for stating that worldwide there's been a 50 percent decline in wildlife in just 40 years. Again, pesky numbers and facts, but well-documented by WWF's Living Planet Index and in Elizabeth Kolbert's extensively researched book, "The Sixth Extinction," that one reviewer described as "the biggest story on Earth" — the greatest loss of biodiversity since the dinosaurs.

The numbers are very clear about man's impact on everything else. Environmental degradation and loss of habitat to human use (urban development, energy production and agriculture) are dominant threats to all wildlife. We've moved from a world filled with wild things and few people to a world dominated by Man, domesticated animals raised for food and, if you were to see this in graph format, a tiny sliver for wild animals. This dramatic shift has happened in rather short order.

If numbers still don't resonate for people, a seemingly unending flow of horrifying stories and images of the barbaric treatment of our wildlife should. Sentient life is being poached for their fur and body parts to serve subscribers of magical thinking. Many animals threatened with extinction are "hunted," so someone can mount a head to a wall for decor and claim some sort of expertise, skill or level of macho.

Google "Yulin Dog Meat Festival, China" to read how dogs (often stolen pets) end up beaten, boiled alive and eaten not only at an "annual event," but by the tens of thousands throughout the year. Or search "orangutan, palm oil, Borneo and Malaysia" to learn how the drive to develop more and more palm oil plantations is destroying orangutan habitat, with animals sometimes burned alive.

Which brings us back to Harambe. His story, and Cecil's last year, are against the backdrop of all this decimation that is being inflicted upon our wild world. So their stories are flashpoints for the many who do see what is happening, are angry and want positive change — a sustainable world that provides a good quality of life for all living things.

Can anger drive positive change? Of course. In the U.S., we have a long history of individuals making personal choices that collectively can impact policies, economics and belief systems.

If we want to have a world with wildlife that can thrive, we must choose to be significantly better stewards of Earth. Our species needs to choose small family size, or choose not to reproduce, and we need to instill high values for all life in teaching our children. And right now, we need to do much more to save, rebuild and connect wildlife habitat, and protect the biodiversity living there.

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2016 Copyright Maria Fotopoulos. Maria is a Senior Writing Fellow for Californians for Population Stabilization (capsweb.org). Contact her at caps@capsweb.org. This column is distributed by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

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