Rescuing Wildlife Is Futile, and Necessary

Helen MacDonald in the New York Times Magazine:

ScreenHunter_1311 Aug. 14 19.12We increasingly think that wild animals live in a world separate from our own, and that we are supposed to leave them there. We are happy to watch them and sometimes to feed them. But we physically interact with them only when they’re hunted, studied or in serious trouble. And the latter is usually our fault: We dislodge nests, soak seabirds in oil, hit deer and foxes with cars, pick up casualties from beneath glass windows and power lines. When I was 12, I reared a brood of baby bullfinches brought to me by a neighbor who had felled their nest tree. When the birds flew free, I felt I’d righted a wrong that thoughtlessness had perpetrated on the world. Against a backdrop of environmental destruction and species decline, anxieties about our impact on the natural world become tied to the tragedies suffered by individual animals. Just a few weeks ago, the news that an American hunter had illegally killed a lion called Cecil in Zimbabwe caused outrage across the world: It’s an apt illustration of how people care more about the fortunes of a single animal than those of its species. (It’s not as if people are furiously protesting the decline of large carnivores every day.) Tending animals until they are fit to be returned to the wild feels like an act of resistance, redress, even redemption. Rearing a single nest of finches in the 1980s didn’t halt the decline of bird populations. But my simple sense of the justice of saving them taught me simple, concrete things about finches I’d never otherwise have learned: how they slept, how they communicated, their idiosyncrasies.

More here. [For my sister Sughra Raza who is on a quest to save the wild elephants of the world.]