By Jessica Murray
The world of conservation is changing. Despite hearing horrifying stories about increased poaching and dwindling wildlife numbers, millions of people all around the world are waking up to what is truly going on in the natural world, and trying to make a difference so that the next generation doesn’t have to grow up to only hear about elephants in a story book.
As a conservation writer I am constantly learning, and writing, about such a huge array of wildlife tragedies caused by human greed. From the currently well-known elephant and rhino poaching crisis to smaller, but just as horrifying, incidents, such as EU animals being transported in illegal conditions, and captive animals being shot due to human disregard for life. But if we look beyond those headlines, we can see the people who are constantly fighting hard to reunite people with nature – a connection that was long ago forgotten with the emergence of technology.
I’ve spent a lot of time living in the African bush in recent years, with nothing but the mesh of my tent separating me from lions, hyenas and snakes, and that is my favourite feeling in the whole world. I can tell you that there’s no better feeling for me than knowing that I am completely at one and equal with nature. There’s genuinely no other feeling like it; the air, the colours, the shapes, the sounds, and the fact that you’re not distracted by a virtual world that will still be there when we wake up the next morning. Sadly, this may not be true for our wildlife.
Every single day I realise what a privilege it is to have spent each and every one of those times surrounded by wildlife, and how billions of people will never get that opportunity. Whether that is down to money, responsibilities or distance, the profit-driven industries play on this, which is why they offer alternatives to big safaris in the form of cub-petting facilities and hands-on interactions.
After being sent in to film undercover at an awful cub-petting facility, I immediately felt the ‘pull’ to really help. I knew that I was doing my bit by volunteering to work at genuine wildlife facilities, and learn about true conservation, but it was time to use our burden of social media as a tool of power in order to help the world that it replaced – nature. So I wrote a blog post about my experience in South Africa, and the awful truth behind cub-petting facilities.
The article very quickly went viral and this is when I truly understood just how powerful social media can be.
Conservation Through Education
Since the post, I have received a lot of coverage on my blog and Facebook and Instagram accounts. My main ethos for my blog is ‘conservation through education’. I believe that education truly is the key to everything, because as terrible as thousands of popular wildlife facilities are, the response that I received from my initial blog article showed me that if people were aware of the truth behind these places, then the majority would not support them.
My line of work has meant that every single day I see hundreds of comments from ignorant people on wildlife posts. They are, sadly, very close-minded and won’t budge from what they believe. But the real tragedy is, if a qualified individual (someone who has worked in the field of real conservation and spent time with wild animals) reveals the truth about a particular issue, facility or photograph, they then constantly get attacked by these people.
Sadly, I see hordes of name-calling, nasty statements and just general verbal bullying against those trying to inform others, and the response from a lot of people is to fight fire with fire.
But this is what I am trying to change through my work. Just because people went to a cub-petting facility doesn’t necessarily mean that they support canned hunting – chances are that they just didn’t know.
The Power of Nature
I am pleased to say that the world is waking up, and we are currently going through a huge movement for the better with regards to education. On every single captive animal/cub-petting related post, I now see at least a couple of comments standing up for the wildlife, and pointing out the truth behind these places. Just a few years ago this wouldn’t have happened. I believe that we are currently going through a mini-revolution, where people aren’t taking what they read as fact simply because someone in authority wrote it.
Being surrounded by wildlife in their rightful place feels like a blissful euphoria. In the moments where I am sat in silence photographing wildlife, spending hours noticing and admiring every intricate detail, that is when my breathing feels a little lighter, and for that moment every thing feels right in the world. And these moments feel like this because that is when nature is in perfect balance… no one is disturbing or threatening anyone. Everything is in perfect harmony, which is as it should be.
It is sometimes hard to write about such wildlife hardship every day, because it really makes you realise just how much is truly going on behind closed doors, but someone has to talk about it. And the more that we talk about the tragedies and victories of the natural world, the more awareness will be created and the more that people will come together to help.
We must all be patient, but endlessly persistent, and herein lies the truth behind the power of nature: When we unite, it is truly powerful.