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The Real Buzz Kill

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This month’s keynote blog is a guest post by Clara Bowe.

I can’t remember who it was that first told me it is impolite to discuss politics or religion with company… perhaps a distant cousin at a crowded thanksgiving table, or I heard it in passing. Either way, I didn’t give it much thought as a child – I wasn’t interested in those issues as a toddler. As I got older, and became privy to more  “adult” conversations, it struck me that these issues, politics, religion, and anything else “taboo” for polite society, were not only more interesting than the weather, but more important.

As an adult now, I can choose my own company based on common interests, and I am rather well versed in the art of conversation. That being said, there are still topics I am reluctant to bring up among my friends or family. These topics generally fall within two categories: the unpleasant, and the disempowering. I feel there is not much of a point to bringing up a subject that will make others shut down, because they either dislike the situation I am describing, or they feel bad that they can’t do something to change it.

In other words, it is ok to talk about political issues with some people if they are advocates and feel that they can take control of the situation, by participating in the body politick. But it is much harder to bring up the gritty, gory, and depressing subject of wildlife crime. Certainly I can discuss the issue with other wildlife advocates and conservationists, but as stimulating as that dialogue might be, it is not as satisfying as raising awareness with people who don’t already know.

In my mind, the challenge comes down to making a difference. I can quote the poaching statistics all day long, but to a certain extent, after a certain point, I know those numbers will be falling on deaf ears. Or I can be more strategic: I can organize the Wildlife Conservation Film Festival, and invite all my friends to attend, and I know they will support my work and the work of the film-makers. In fact, when I arranged this event at New York University this past spring, attendance was amazing – standing room only by the end. One of my very best friends, a vegetarian incidentally, came up to me after the screening and said something which struck me… “I had no idea how bad the situation is in Africa! I always thought that by not eating animals that I was doing my part to protect them, but now I know that doesn’t impact wildlife crime.” My only response was admittedly lame, “I try not to bring up a problem unless I have a solution.”

And that, I think, is the essence of the issue. We, as humans, are not simply averse to conflict. On the contrary, many of us thrive on it, or even make our livings off it. But we hate to feel like there is something in our face that we can’t change. We have learned how to take the natural world under our control so efficiently that it seems offensive, almost rude, that we cannot simply identify the problem of illegal hunting of rare and endangered species, wave a wand, and POOF! Problem solved.

But then, there is that saying, the best things don’t come easily. It is not easy to make a difference. And frequently it is not comfortable talking about the things that need to be done in order to do so. But it is worth it. It is beyond valuable to take a stand for something, even if, for a few seconds, you will kill someone’s buzz. That’s got to be better than 100 elephants, and 3 rhinos being killed PER DAY.

On the bright side, it is possible to make a difference. Modern society is driven by connections and networks that enable individuals and groups to radiate out ideas and create action that has impact. The question is, how to find the right network for your needs, and what to do when you find it.

When it comes to wildlife conservation, one of the best things any one can do is to volunteer. Take it from me, there are tons of options – you can work in the field, at the zoo, from your home office, or your mobile. You’d be surprised which organizations are looking for something as little as a few hours a week of PR and Marketing, and you won’t know until you start looking. (Or, in the case of LinkedIn, you can add your skills to your profile and every week or so you will get updates of organizations looking for volunteers with your ability.) Regardless of what your circumstances are, and how much time you have to give, volunteering can help everyone to identify the line in the sand, and step across it. It is empowering for us, and the community we serve, even when we do not yet have a solution.

Ultimately, I understand why some choose not to discuss politics or religion, even if I don’t always agree: people don’t want to be disrespectful of others’ views. Because it’s not cool to be judgmental. But neither is slaughter. The conversational dictates of “polite” society need not always apply when it comes to wildlife crime, which in essence disregards the inherent value of African wildlife, and thus threatens life itself. Unfortunately it seems we’ve become so bound up in manners that we’ve become less civilized… When I think of the potential for open dialogue to support individual action and large-scale change, it seems to me that is the real buzz kill.

Clara Bowe is a Master’s student at New York University in the Environmental Conservation Education program. Her previous experience working abroad includes working on the production team of a documentary of the world’s first rhino orphanage with Youth 4 African Wildlife, and teaching environmental ethics in Spain. Since moving back to America she has been a Marketing Intern for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a docent for the American Museum of Natural History, and has started an after school gardening education program for KIPP School Team Academy in Newark, New Jersey. Any questions or comments can be addressed to ckb287@nyu.edu, or you can follow her on Instagram @ckmbowe.

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  • Cynthia V. Anderson

    “When it comes to wildlife conservation, one of the best things any one can do is to volunteer.” Well stated Clara!

    • Clara Bowe

      Thank you Cynthia. I hope you will join us as we continue to raise awareness at our next event at the Explorer’s Club. Public support is on par with volunteering!

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