All in a Life’s Work

Scholar, writer, and humanitarian Dr. Marc Bekoff, has always “minded” animals. Born to loving, compassionate parents, he understood even as a child that “other” animals were also intelligent creatures, capable of complex emotions and thoughts. These perceptions became a passion and led him to make the study of animal behavior his life’s work.

We recently talked about his new book, “Ignoring Nature No More:  The Case of Compassionate Conservation,” an amazing collection of essays that he edited with an eye to bringing together “bold and forward looking ideas and action” to heal what he calls our “wounded world.” The book presents complex thoughts and analyses about the profound human impact on a planet filled with billions of other species and why it’s time to rethink or sadly, in some cases, begin to think about what needs to change to ensure that the world as we know it continues to be filled with natural beauty and essential resources.

So What Exactly is Compassionate Conservation?

Ignoring Nature No MoreWell, the formal answer is that it is a rapidly growing movement that brings together diverse stakeholders to develop solutions for protecting the environment and conserving biodiversity by addressing the human psychological, cultural, and social factors that have made real change challenging to implement thus far. BUT, in more basic terms, it all comes down to figuring out how to work together to replace the beliefs we hold that, as humans, we are entitled to dominate and exploit nature, with compassion and conservation. Then and only then, along with considering the well-being of all stakeholders, factoring in what human and non-human animals need, and by taking into account what works for all groups, he believes that compassionate conservation can take a foothold in our collective consciousness and create real change.

We Don’t Need Science to Tell Us What to Do to Save the Planet. We Just Need More Compassion.

 Making sure the planet remains the green, growing, and ever bountiful home we have enjoyed during our lifetimes sounds like an intricate subject that requires much scientific research, and billions in government spending or think tank funding. But Dr. Bekoff said no, that’s not the solution. “We don’t need more science to define the impact. We just don’t. We just need the masses to understand and show them that what they do makes a difference. The world needs more love and more commitment and more devoted people,” he said.

He also believes that we need to show people what works, not just scare them with prophecies of doom that the world needs to change. This resonates personally because from the comfort of my pampered, Western life, it’s pretty hard to imagine a future without birds, bees, grass, trees, oceans, and dolphins except when watching the occasional apocalypse zombie movie. And it’s imperative to convince the masses, Bekoff reiterates, that though they may not be affected now in their suburban lives, except now and then by a mother bear and her cubs who have probably lost their habitat to a new housing development down the road, it’s pretty much guaranteed that our children and our grandchildren will face real challenges from the changing climate.

But how do we get the masses on board, I asked, because even for me, sometimes the problem can seem so huge, that I don’t know where to even begin. For example, when I hear about the orangutans in Borneo losing their habitat to palm oil developers, it’s feels overwhelming, as if there’s nothing that I can do, as an individual, to help the big red apes. Bekoff said NO, this is absolutely not true. “Do anything, set the example. Everything you do for animals matters,” he said. AMEN! I gave the good doctor a BIG cyber high five on that one!

There’s a Real World Out There. Let’s Be Kind and Compassionate

Photo courtesy of Evelyne Ayuda Animales, Cancun, MX

Of course, a Humane Advisor interview wouldn’t be complete without finding out how Dr. Bekoff feels about animals and tourism. He said that he had encountered stray dogs during many of his travels and could understand how seeing strays could negatively affect someone’s vacation. For me, this is an excellent example of how the model of compassionate conservation could be utilized to create positive change for animals. By raising the issue of how stray cats and dogs that suffer at tourist destinations impact tourism, local economics, the health and safety of communities, and the ecosystem, diverse stakeholders could come together to work on solutions. For example, tourism companies and tourism bureaus that have a vested interest in keeping their customers happy; local governments who are responsible for the health and safety of visitors and residents and preserving resources; nonprofit/nongovernmental organizations who are committed to ending the problem; and even tourists who care, could collaborate to share concerns, resources, and best practices and implement programs to humanely manage the stray populations.

As Dr. Bekoff said, “there’s a real world out that demands we display sensitivity to all stakeholders,” so making the discussion broader than just animal welfare concerns can prompt stakeholders who are not focused on animal welfare to understand the impact of neglected animals on the system.

Moon Bears and 7 Billion Small Acts of Compassion 

Jaspers StoryDr. Bekoff is a card-carrying optimist and believes that it’s in our nature to be kind and really care for other beings. He thinks the future of conservation depends on having first hand experiences with animals, especially for children. He enjoys talking to children about what they can do to help animals by sharing the story from his book, Jasper’s Story:  Saving Moon Bears. Jasper, a moon bear, was rescued from a Chinese bile farm by an extraordinary woman, Jill Robinson, founder of Animals Asia, and rehabilitated only through the intense efforts of a few caring people. It’s another example of how diverse factors can come together to effect change as the bear farmers were paid by the government to end bear farming so they wouldn’t lose their livelihood, thus keeping the local economy healthy AND ending cruelty to animals. Bekoff also believes that through Jasper’s Story, children can see that it’s possible to enrich the lives of animals with a lot of devotion and hard work but that we can all help, even in small ways. Way to plant the seed, Dr. Bekoff! Imagine if all 7 billion plus of us did one small act to help animals today? What a wonderful world it would be. Click here to save a moon bear like Jasper.

It was such an honor to talk to Dr. Marc Bekoff. We should all be grateful for his courage to follow his passion and curiosity, for his insightful research, writing and speaking that he has shared with us, and for his never ending advocacy for “other” animals. Now go and buy his books and share his message!

And today, do something, anything, to help animals.

More Info:

Links to Amazon:

Ignoring Nature No More: Compassionate Conservation

Jasper’s Story: Saving Moon Bears

Click here to:  Save a Moon Bear and End Bear Bile Farming

Twitter:  @MarcBekoff

Psychology Today Blog: