There was a time, not-so-very-distant-at-all, when wilderness management corresponded to “the art of producing sustained populations of wild vertebrates for man’s convenience, pleasure, and use” (Alexander, 1962). Wildlife conservation so far has indeed been more about human satisfaction than natural balance.
A healthy wildlife population is one of the pillars of humanity and nature as we understand it. From termite to tiger, each link of the chain of life matters, and it matters that they remain wild. Let us explain why wild animals make your life possible.
The simplification of life
But first, we must understand what makes an animal wild or tamed, and how we came to this distinction.
Animal domestication appeared before agriculture did. Over the course of generations, humans have selected and favorised the breeds, the genes and the attitudes they prefered for their use. This led to specific traits such as aggressivity, physical aspect or diet to progressively fade or become more prominent. This effectively created a genetic difference between wild and domesticated animals.
Wild animals evolve in much more complex environments. Nature opposes challenges that teach animals to think on their feet and to stay on their toes (they don’t learn to walk though). But they are to a certain degree and in many respects more astute than “our” domestic animals.
Wilderness also has a way of regulating itself that civilisation simply hasn’t been able to match nor imitate. The natural system leaves no waste aside. The variety of ecological niches allows for individual species to develop, evolve and naturally move in different directions. This in turn creates more biodiversity, and adds complexity to what can be considered the most intertwined network of all, life.
On the contrary, domestication tends to simplify and deconstruct this biodiversity. Take tomato for example, which is not wildlife but has been domesticated too. There were dozens of tomato species, from Atacama desert tomato to the Andean mountain tomato. They were reduced to a few strands that only thrive with the help of human irrigation to fit the customer’s criteria of beauty and size, mostly.
This situation is similar for cows, fowls, chicken, salad and virtually all other forms of domestication, which voluntarily direct a species in a specific direction, rather than let the genomes evolve freely.
The age of man
So have we overturned the natural selection process? By systematically killing all forms of life posing a potential threat to humans, the most established apex predators are down to their last members, and evidence of animals evolving according to human realities is piling up.
Elephants now hide their tusks from the sight of men (we know this thanks to the monthly documentary screening series organised by Plan A, monkeys have figured out how to make the most of cities and even bacteria is learning to digest plastics. This shows how much humans have shaped their environment, and how deeply it is influencing life on this planet.
Clothing, food, shelter, rodent patrol, hunting and herding aides, pollination, transportation and mechanical labour… Animals – wild or tamed – are still at the heart of human activity. Today, it may not seem so obvious, thanks to the advent of mechanisation and synthetic materials, but wildlife and pristine nature still control the very air and water we intake, and act as enabler for any subsequent development. It’s quite simple actually: no nature, no life.
The anthropocene is a reality that affects not only the atmosphere and inorganic aspects of the planet’s mechanics, but also the living parts of this equilibrium. Preserving and protecting wildlife is essential because that they may well be the most fragile part of this superb machinery.
The age of symbiosis
Despite what we may believe, humans rely more on wildlife than the contrary. We would be crazy to believe that your dog waiting at the apartment door for your return speaks for all the living creatures. After all, it was living organisms – microscopic plankton, and then mighty trees – that made this planet habitable for oxygen-breathing species like hoomans (and cats, and lemur, and fish, and 99.9% of the fauna on Earth).
What is more, our race with our arch-enemy, disease, is still raging. Wildlife provides a world-sized incubator for research and development of cures that already exist in nature, in the forest or in the sea. Or maybe both.
The way we come out of the anthropocene will determine the name of what comes next. Hopefully we can make it a more interspecies kind of moment? More favourable to other life forms? Symbiocene is a proposed term. The era in which man and nature share the Earth equitably, for the benefit of all parties.
Did someone say parties?