Balancing Acts – Lions and Tigers and Bears … Goodbye! (And elephants, rhinos, orangutans, and …)

tom b

Editor’s Note: Tom Beutel, a regular contributor to PeaceSigns, is Professor Emeritus of Computer Science at Mount Vernon Nazarene University in Mount Vernon, Ohio. Balancing Acts is a monthly feature of PeaceSigns and appears the second week of each month.

Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns,
 and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.
Matthew 6:26 (NRSV)

As far as I know, nowhere in the Bible does it actually say that humans are to care for and protect the wild animals. Nowhere does it actually say that we should not hunt them to the point of extinction for their hides, meat and other parts (such as tusks or horns) or drive them to the point of extinction by our wanton destruction of their habitat for food, fuel or cosmetics. So, then, it must be OK that …

•    There has been a “catastrophic collapse” in the number of lions in West Africa, with only around 400 left in the region. (http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-25722058)
•    African rhino populations fell by 96 percent between 1970 and 1992 and now only about 25,000 remain in the wild. (http://www.fws.gov/international/wildlife-without-borders/rhino-and-tiger-conservation-fund.html).
•    A century ago there were 100,000 tigers roaming the forests, swamps, and tundra of Asia. TODAY, there are as few as 3,200 left in the wild. (http://www.savetigersnow.org/problem).
•    More than 12,000 elephants [are] poached every year mostly in Central Africa. (http://www.flickr.com/photos/wwfint/8043573027/)
•    Over 50,000 orangutans have already died as a result of deforestation due to palm oil [production] in the last two decades. (http://www.saynotopalmoil.com/Whats_the_issue.php)
•    Polar bears are in serious danger of going extinct due to global warming.(http://www.nwf.org/wildlife/wildlife-library/mammals/polar-bear.aspx)

And yet, recognizing that all of creation with all of its diversity was created by God and that all of creation, including humans, forms a vast and complex ecosystem, these facts just do not seem to be what God intends for His creation. It is not “things as they ought to be.”

Peace, or shalom, as described by Perry Yoder (Shalom: The Bible’s Word for Salvation, Justice, & Peace, Evangel Publishing House) involves healthy, right relationships of humans with God, ourselves, others and creation. As peacemakers, we can hardly endorse human activity that literally endangers large segments of the animal world, destroys large sections of rainforest, puts lives and livelihoods of others at risk, and dishonors God, the creator of all.

Wild animals, particularly those of Africa and Asia are methodically hunted, captured, and killed to be sold as trophies or pets, or for their meat, hides, horns, etc. Since such practices are illegal under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), they are considered trafficking (live animals) or poaching (killing of animals). CITES was instituted in 1975 and is implemented by 180 countries worldwide, including the United States.

CITES and related legislation such as the African Elephant Conservation Act of 1989 are intended to protect endangered species from practices that threaten their survival. Nevertheless, trafficking and poaching, primarily in Africa and Asia, and consumer demand, including that in the United States and Europe as well as in Asian countries, continue as significant problems. Here are a couple of examples of how we in the United States contribute to this problem.

•    “You can go into New York City, you can go into Washington D.C., you can go into San Francisco, and there’s ivory for sale.” (http://e360.yale.edu/feature/amid_elephant_slaughter_ivory_trade_in_us_continues/2738/)  See also
•    “Illegal-Ivory Bust Shows Growing U.S. Appetite for Elephant Tusks” from WIRED magazine July 2012 (http://www.wired.com/2012/07/2-million-illegal-ivory-bust/)

In addition to the obvious aspects of this issue, the capture and killing of endangered wildlife, two other aspects are important. First, a link has been shown between elephant and rhino poaching and funding for terrorist groups such as Al-Shabaab, an al-Qaeda linked group. It is estimated that up to 40% of this group’s funding comes from wildlife poaching.

Second, the increased use of palm oil in as many as half of home products including margarine, cereals, candy and baked goods, laundry products, and cosmetics is driving deforestation and habitat destruction in Indonesia and Malaysia (http://borneoproject.org/updates/major-snack-makers-criticized-for-using-conflict-palm-oil). The deforestation affects humans directly in the loss of watersheds and forest resources, and contributing to climate change. It also destroys the habitat for the orangutan.

Here are links to some good resources for information about wildlife trafficking and poaching and palm oil:

•    World Wildlife Fund: Illegal Wildlife Trade: http://www.worldwildlife.org/threats/illegal-wildlife-trade
•    Wildlife Trafficking (Smithsonian.com): http://www.smithsonianmag.com/people-places/wildlife-trafficking-149079896/?no-ist
•    Wildlife Trafficking (US Fish & Wildlife Service): http://www.fws.gov/International//wildlife-trafficking/index.html
•    Stopping Illegal Wildlife Trade: (http://www.ifaw.org/sites/default/files/wildlife_trade_us_0.pdf)
•    The Elephant in the Room Infographic: http://www.flickr.com/photos/wwfint/8043573027
•    The Ivory Quiz-can you spot illegal ivory products? http://wwf.panda.org/about_our_earth/species/problems/illegal_trade/wildlife_trade_campaign/ivory_quiz/
•    Say No to Palm Oil: http://www.saynotopalmoil.com/index.php

Peacemaking is an active undertaking. It is not just about being against something, but also inherently embraces actions and behaviors to promote peace. In the arena of wildlife trafficking and poaching and related issues such as habitat destruction there are several things we can all do to promote peace and reduce the threat to endangered wildlife.

•    Become aware of the problem and make others aware through groups of family and friends; church, Sunday School or small groups; and social media. Use the information in the links above as a starting point.
•    Take action by writing congressmen, senators, and other government leaders, and by supporting regulations and laws that limit or eliminate practices that would encourage trafficking and poaching. Also, join the call to the major snack food companies to stop using “conflict palm oil” in their products at http://act.ran.org/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=8546
•    Reduce use of products that contain Palm Oil, the production of which is responsible for habitat destruction: (http://www.saynotopalmoil.com/What_can_i_do.php)
•    Donate to groups active in opposing wildlife poaching and trafficking such as World Wildlife Fund (http://wwf.panda.org/how_you_can_help/support_wwf/donate/) or the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW, http://www.ifaw.org/united-states)

Elephants, tigers, rhinos and other endangered wildlife were created by God for His enjoyment and ours. Scripture tells us that he feeds them. They form part of a vast and complex ecosystem of which we are a part. The well-being of these animals is intrinsically tied to the well-being of the entire system in ways which we do not even understand. For their sake, and ours, let’s vow to care for these creatures that God has made.

Note: If you’re not sure about the title to the article, it is a take-off on the line from a song in the 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz where Dorothy, afraid to go into the forest, exclaims “Lions and tigers and bears…Oh, my!”

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