Jasmin joined us as a Leopard and Predator Research volunteer back in June 2017. Originally published in the Greater Kruger Project's July Newsletter, Jasmin's article is a beautiful reflection on the relationships between human, animals and conservation.
As someone with an immense interest in animals and philosophy, I often find myself pondering the relationship between humans and animals. For instance, in the case of zoos, is it ethically justifiable to sacrifice an animal’s freedom for education and awareness? On the other hand, what should the moral status of pets be, and how should we coexist with them under the same roof? Here in South Africa, as I go on daily research game drives, a similar question arises: what model of human-animal interaction should we adopt with the wildlife in these reserves?
In the past four weeks, our guides have enlightened me greatly about this matter through their professionalism and dedication. With African Impact, our priorities are clear: the comfort and wellbeing of the animals always comes first, and we try to minimize the impact of our presence in the bush to the best of our ability.Of the many factors that must be taken into consideration, distance is an important one, as getting too close to the animals may cause them significant stress. This is why our guides always observe the animals’ reaction to our vehicle while approaching with care, and why we would rather take a detour than to risk startling the giraffes standing in the middle of the road we had intended to go down.
Up until now, I have spent my entire life in a city where people care a lot about what they own and little about what we share — the Earth and all the life within—and I constantly find myself surrounded by misconceptions about animal behaviour. Most recently, upon sharing photos of our amazing lion and leopard sightings,I have had multiple people ask, “they are so near you; aren’t you worried that they might suddenly attack?”. It can be quite disheartening as one tries to fathom the extent of such misunderstandings among the general public, the detrimental consequences of these oversimplified and mistaken associations on conservation endeavours, and the amount of time and effort needed to make a difference through education and exposure. Yet on the bright side, such occurrences present us with the opportunity for dialogue, and it is often in moments like these when I get to share with my friends and family what I have learned here (“an animal’s instinct is usually to run and avoid confrontation instead of attack”, “the predators do not associate our game vehicles with food” etc.) Such an act may be quite insignificant on its own, but this is how change begins: one person, one small step at a time, until we reach the ideal place we long to see.
“We are not animals; we are not the same.” This was a message I received from a loved one, and it was what inspired me to write this article — because we are animals, because we are more similar than different. There is no “us” and “them”; we share this planet of ours, and we need each other. At the end of the day, it is all about mutual respect and love, towards nature and towards life; to have the humility to see that human beings are not superior to the smallest of creatures, and to have a heart big enough to care. I must end with a quote that the research team shared with us when we first arrived, a quote that holds so much truth, “In the end, we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand and we will understand only what we are taught.”
Our time here with African Impact may be limited, but by sharing what we have learned with those around us and hopefully inspiring them to contemplate our relationship with wildlife as well as the importance (and urgency) of conservation, we can make a profound and limitless impact.