There is a fascinating, albeit depressing, dialectic between the consumption of “wildness” and the destruction of our natural world. As my previous entry details, for the past few months I have been living and working at Mission: Wolf, a remote sanctuary in the Southern Colorado Mountains for wolves, wolf-dogs, and horses. I am coordinating educational programs for the sanctuary and learning a great deal about human/non-human relationships.
I am attempting to explore the conceptual intersection of modern civilization and wilderness. The wolf is arguably the most unfairly demonized and persecuted animal in human history, being pushed to the brink of extinction numerous times. Yet ironically, as genuine experiences with “nature” become increasingly fleeting, humans now obsessively want to keep these wild canids as household pets. The recent proliferation of wolves in captivity is a new commodification of animals that I believe has been brought forth by the simultaneous destruction of the environment and a deep yearning for humans to “commune” with nature in the 21st century or anthropocene age.
Most wildlife sanctuaries, and most wolf sanctuaries, don’t allow interaction between the staff or researchers and the animals. The reason being that the animals are, well, wild. Nature never intended for them to neccessarily have relationships with humans. Mission: Wolf is unique in this respect, because the staff, and under certain circumstances the public, are allowed to interact with our most socialized wolves. In some circles this is highly controversial–there are those that would say it straddles the line between a zoo and a sanctuary. In response to a few inquiries, the staff here at M:W recently created this short video to help explain the philosophy behind the decision to let humans and wolves meet face to face.
The sad truth is that wilderness is rapidly disappearing in this world. The ever-steady march of progress all too often comes at the expense of the Earth. Not to be overly Malthusian, but at 7 billion humans and counting, one wonders how much longer the planet’s carrying capacity can be sustained. While the reintroduction of wolves in the United States and elsewhere is nothing short of miraculous, they are still no exception. The idea behind meeting the wolves is simply that if people actually touch this animal–a being that has been the object of intractable fear, violence, hatred, mysticism, lore, sensationalism, love and adoration–they will begin to see it for what it truly is. They will see that it was never meant to be leashed, caged, and put on display; that it never wanted anything to do with humanity and the encroachment of civilization. Then, hopefully, they will care about it more, and ideally, the conservation of the natural world.
As one of my favorite naturalists, Barry Lopez, said in his seminal work, Of Wolves and Men,
“We assume that [the wolf] is entirely comprehensible and… taken form on a plane beneath the one we occupy. It seems to me that this is a sure way to miss the animal and to see, instead, only another reflection of our own ideas.”
Is this not precisely the case? Do we not look upon animals and the environment and impose our own preconceptions, which are woefully misinformed by fairytales, media sensationalism, popular culture, and the general hubris of humanity? I cannot overstate how such forms of human exceptionalism justify animal cruelty and climate destruction. We project what we want animals to be rather than what they actually are.
Things to meditate on as we move forward.
Video Production by John Ramer Photography, Voiceover by Elisa Behzadi, and script by Austin Hoffman and Kent Weber.