In one of the lecture I followed, us the students was asked why we should protect nature and conserve it. Just like how the earth goes into the cycle of global warming and global cooling over and over again, the rise and the extinction of species also happen naturally. So why do we have to protect the wildlife? For most people, the extinction of one species might even go unnoticed. The sad thing is, I don’t think the disappearance of any of the big animals can be felt directly by the modern humans living in the middle of civilization. At least not materialistically.
So why protect them, then?
When I was in my second year of my bachelor's, I was given a chance to join a young researcher team. Our task was to analyze the habitat of the endangered Javan Rhino. Needless to say, two weeks of data gathering in the middle of the protected forest area was one of the turning points in my life.
While we did not get to see the shy rhinos, we get to see their foot prints!
After preparing for months, we eventually walk ourselves to the wild tropical jungle. We had to walk in the wilderness from one camp to another. We also had to walk kilometers on the shore of the ocean under the blazing sun. It amazes me how big the trees could grow. We had the chance to see a tiger with my own eyes while they were drinking by the water body; it was both scary and magical. I also watch the migrating pelican birds feed on the river, and for the first time in my life, I realized how huge they were.
It was beautiful and I want to protect it. Indeed, the beauty of the nature I saw has no materialistic value. But personally, there is this sentimental value in it that makes me want to protect it.
How the big animals work
In the Way Kambas national park, there is a conflict between the human and the elephants. The elephants were seen as a pest because they keep on trampling the human settlements. The fight between humans and elephants is full of blood. Humans are not equal opponents to elephants, even with their advanced tools. Over time the people realize they could fight the fire with fire. They are further taking care of the orphaned elephants and raise them to fight the wild elephants.
Despite all the pros & cons of using elephants for human purposes, elephant conservation in Way Kambas is quite successful. It is because the elephants possess economic value. Besides mitigating human-elephant conflicts, the trained elephants can provide tourism and help the ranger patrols for illegal activities in the forest.
Other than that, I think there are not many people works directly with these wild animals (and wild plants or microorganism, really). Other than these smart and cooperative elephants, I think the wildlife is not valued beyond their physical value. And to be fair, while the textbook could tell you why we have to protect the ecosystem (food, water purification, carbon sequestration, soil stabilization, recreation, and cultural values), they never really tell how these big animals participate in it.
The hard truth is, you can never actually show the values of these big animals to those who do not care.
Practicality vs morality
A lot of conservationists try to put the economic value of the wildlife. While conserving the big animals will likely also protect the practical side of the ecosystem (that we might not know for the next one hundred years), the main reason for conservation should be morality. We should stop thinking that nature has to serve humans to be worth protecting.
As written by our founder Tak here, sustainability resembles a wedding cake. Us human lives in the circle of nature, which means we are part of the nature itself. By focusing on the practical side, we separate humans away from nature even more. Some people might argue that the Javan Rhinos are not important to the economy; but wouldn’t it be very hopeless of us, —the beings with a high moral standard— to think of just materialistic things. In the end, I think the take-home message for all of us is to see things beyond their materialistic value.
So how about you? Do you have experiences that make you want to protect nature? I want to hear about your story, too!