Today I want to share about a subject close to my heart: compassionate conservation. Not too many people talk about this peaceful approach to conservation (though I hope they start), but recent heartbreaking stories in the news remind me, yet again, just how desperately all animals need better protections worldwide.
Managing wildlife populations is complicated; I get that. But the international field of compassionate conservation helps us to stay true to our ethics when it comes to solving problems where killing healthy animals in the name of conservation or cost concerns seems to be the only viable answer (case in point: the 44,000 captive wild horses the Bureau of Land Management just voted to kill). The foundational principle behind compassionate conservation is “first do no harm.” Imagine if more governments and agencies let this belief guide them in situations of human-animal conflict—more animal lives might be saved!
Because this revolutionary movement is just getting its feet (or paws, or hooves) off the ground, we need more advocates to step forth and demand a change in unacceptable conservation tactics—even in the face of immense pushback. Calling all spiritual warriors for animals: The world needs you!
You may not think you’re a spiritual warrior, but you’d be surprised. In my mind, true spiritual warriors for animals cultivate what I like to call the four C’s of compassionate conservation. See if any of the following resonate with you:
1. Compass: A spiritual warrior without a compass is like a traveler without a map. If you don’t know where you are going, how are you going to get there? But spiritual warriors for animals know the direction they are going. They are guided by inner wisdom, compassion and an intention to honor animals. They value peace and respect for animals over convenience or liability concerns.
2. Consideration: When a spiritual warrior remains connected to her heart and follows her compass, she instinctively knows which path to follow. When troubling questions or situations arise, spiritual warriors take the time for reflection and deep consideration. Sometimes everyone else goes one way, yet you feel you must go another—which causes the human side of us to pause and question where we’re headed. No better is this internal fight illustrated than in the current (losing) battle over wolves going on right now in the Pacific Northwest:
On one side, you have animal nonprofits (which, yes, do plenty of good work otherwise) like Defenders of Wildlife and Wolf Haven International, and even thought leaders like Wayne Pacelle of the Humane Society of the United States, refusing to fight against the controversial killing of an entire wolf pack, deemed to have posed a “threat” to livestock in Washington State. Let me say right now: I believe these “animal defenders” have lost sight of their compass and spiritual wisdom.
And on the other side, you have the courageous (see the next point)—who refuse to follow orders they find deplorable or fall in line with a popular stance that doubles as inhumane.
3. Courage: I am grateful for spiritual warriors like Bryce Casavant, a conservation officer in Vancouver who was suspended after refusing to kill two eight-week-old bear cubs in July 2015. Or Marc Beckoff, an outspoken proponent of compassionate conservation, who responded brilliantly to Pacelle’s explanation as to why the Humane Society is doing nothing to stop the killing of the wolves in Washington:
“In my humble opinion,” writes Bekoff, “I can see why WAG [Wolf Advisory Group] benefits from your presence, but I don’t see how you benefit from it—and I also don’t see why you think that there will be more killing if you clearly say you are against this round of killings and step off WAG, especially if there are additional sanctioned ‘authorized removals,’ as WAG calls the killing of the wolves—killing to stop presumably more killing just doesn’t sit well with me.”
Or those members of Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission who voted this summer to cancel 2016’s planned bear hunt in Florida. These are just a few examples of courage in conservation. It takes true bravery to stand up publicly for beliefs considered unpopular in society. But I truly believe future generations will look back honorably at these, and other, early pioneers and supporters of compassionate conservation.
4. Change: Spiritual warriors never back down because they believe change is possible. That said, modernizing our approach to animal welfare will require society at large to rethink many strongly held beliefs. Change also means fighting against the status quo and preventing inhumane ideas from gaining ground to begin with—such as those outlined in the recently released, unconscionable book that calls for the killing of all “free-ranging cats.” This article from Best Friends Animal Society reminds us that “killing is never the answer.”
Are you ready to be a spiritual ally to compassionate conservation? Here’s a special meditation to get you started:
Sit in a comfortable position and place your hands over your lower belly. (This is your energetic foundation, grounding and center.) Close your eyes and breathe. As you breathe in, imagine light is flowing up from the earth through your feet and the base of your spine into your lower belly. On the out breath, imagine this light can move up into the rest of your body, until your entire body is filled with a beautiful, glowing light. All the balance, wisdom and power of the earth is contained within this light.
Breathe deeply and slowly. Feel the strength and calm of your breath stabilizing you and the light dissolving any worries or concerns. When you feel centered, visualize the conservation issue you would like to focus on—wild horses, wolves, feral cats, African lions and so on. Imagine the pure, grounding and harmonious light of earth energy can infuse and embrace the situation and all who are involved.
As you continue to breathe in earth energy, it’s important to stay positive in your thoughts. Visualize the humans involved as acting with compassionate wisdom, and the animals as being protected and honored. There is a way forward through kindness and reverence. See yourself as a stable and confident spiritual ally to the process, supporting the possibility of harmony and balance through compassion. Imagine how effortless and easy this harmony will be attained when compassion leads the way. All is well. All is well. Continue this affirmation and visualization of the light of harmony and compassion for several minutes. Revisit this meditation whenever you feel worry or anger at the situation. The healing ripple effects of meditation are deep and wide!
For more on compassionate conservation, visit the Centre for Compassionate Conservation.