Lawrence Wright, a writer I’ll read no matter the topic, has new piece in the New Yorker “The Elephant in the Courtroom” that explores whether an elephant in the Bronx zoo should be granted personhood legal rights. It’s a fascinating deep dive into the state of animal rights more generally. And it includes sentences like the following which will tug at the heart of anyone who has one:
Orcas have no natural predators, other than humans, and yet one population in the Pacific Northwest is critically endangered—at last count, it had only seventy-three residents. They are threatened by overfishing, pollution, and noise disturbance from boats that interferes with echolocation, which they use to forage. A new calf was born in 2018—thought to be the first in three years—but lived for less than a day. The grieving mother, surrounded by other females in her pod, carried the calf’s body with her for seventeen days, across a thousand miles of ocean. It would be going too far to say that the mother knew her loss was a step toward the extinction of her community, but it might also be going too far to say that she didn’t.
I’ve become a lot more interested in these topics over the years. As Wright points out, as pet ownership has boomed in America, our natural affinity towards animals has risen in turn. Having a dog myself (his name is Oreo and he is very good, as you can tell from the photo below) has certainly made me more attuned to the potential richness of the inner life of animals, more sympathetic to animal rights causes, more interested in learning more about endangered species around the world.
Social media has also magnified scenes of animals at their best and perhaps caused a greater attention to animal welfare. We can’t get enough of cute animal pics and videos which go viral on the regular on TikTok and Instagram and the like — especially if it’s two different species of animals who have become “friends”. I find myself frequently binging on Instagram reels of dogs.
But the most likely transformative event in one’s journey toward love of animals is visiting them in the wild. Recently, I was lucky to visit many endangered animals in the wild in some unforgettable places:
- Arabian oryx in the deserts of UAE, which have an interesting conservation story. (By the way, the Al Maha hotel is pretty spectacular and an easy 60 minute Uber ride from downtown Dubai.)
- Mountain gorillas in Uganda. Two days of trekking to visit with two different families of our closest cousins. Worth doing if you’re under ~50 years old — strenuous hikes, but unforgettable. And there are only 1000 mountain gorillas left in Uganda/Rwanda/Congo.
- Various epic wildlife in Kenya’s Maasai Mara, including black rhinos. (If you haven’t already read Sam Anderson’s amazing piece about the last Northern White Rhino, you should.)
- Dizzying array of fish and coral in the Seychelles islands
So many beautiful scenes. And also so many tragic stories of poaching and human-caused destruction of natural habitat. I hope to learn more in the years ahead and learn how to make a positive difference.