OUR PLACE IN THE ECOSYSTEM
All the living things in an area and the way they affect each other and the environment.
Have you ever noticed the linguistic gap most languages have when talking about wildlife and Nature? It happens when we use the word 'it' to refer to them instead of using 'being/she/he'.
I believe that language affects our perceptions and understanding of our place in Nature. When we use the word 'it', we become disconnected from Nature and less attached to the consequences of our actions. We forget to acknowledge that getting too close to an animal for a photograph, pasturing cattle in certain areas and walking off tracks have tremendous consequences for the animal and the environment - and one photograph shouldn't cost the cheetah to fail a hunt or a bee to fail pollination.
When we use the word 'it' we are removing ourselves from the environment and increasing the distance between us, homo sapiens, and the rest of the natural world. This also reflects when we tell stories about the natural world. We tend to explain how wildebeest eat grass, how their droppings nourish the land and how the dung beetles use the dung for laying eggs. What about humans? Do we live in a parallel world that doesn't interconnect with wildlife and ecosystems and that is why we refer to them as 'it'? I don't think so! Then, where are we in the story and the ecosystem? How are our settlements affecting wildebeest migrations and how are our actions and climate change affecting the lion (wildebeest predator) population?a
Our greatest strength lies in the gentleness and tenderness of our heart - Rumi
Sometimes I think it is an easy choice, when our perception is altered, and we believe we are in a superior position, it is easier to harm the environment for our sole benefit and take no responsibility. It seems to be a repeated incident throughout history. But maybe, we could help change attitudes towards nature with the stories we tell and photographs we take and help mind the linguistical gap that exists in most languages to reframe our place in the ecosystem.
Where are these thoughts coming from? Well, recently, I was on a safari in Serengeti. We camped in a very remote area and barely came across any other car. One afternoon, on the way back to camp, we came across three cheetahs. I think they were a coalition of males. The cheetahs silently approached a group of Thompson gazelles grazing in the long grasses. We watched them calculate their moves and step-by-step approach the clueless gazelles.
Suddenly, a car rushed and stopped right in front of the leading cheetah, blocking the way and interfering in the hunt. It was extremely sad and frustrating to watch. Cheetahs have an average hunting success rate of one out of three. When we were there, rains failed to come and the area was patchy dry and animals no longer knew where to go which probably didn’t help cheetahs get food in the early days either.
To get a close-up photograph, humans interfered with Nature. One photograph cost the cheetah to lose a meal and we shouldn’t allow this to happen, at least not because of us humans. Now, if we are part of the ecosystem but we can't interfere, what is our place in it? Well, in my opinion, and as Marc Bekoff mentions in his book 'Rewilding our Hearts: Building Pathways of Compassion and Coexistence', our place is one where we can establish meaningful connections with Nature and other forms of life and step lightly into their lives. A place where we name a cheetah 'her' the same way we will use the pronoun for our mother.