I guess you could say I'm an animal lover, though there are probably many other people who deserve that label more. It's pretty hard not to encounter animal products in the US, so even though I try to do things like buy from cruelty-free makeup brands and wear faux leather, I'm nowhere near the commitment of an animal rights activist. That being said, even the most devoted carnivore can see that we have been causing wildlife a lot of suffering this past year. While climate change is slowly hurting the environment, humans are endangering animals much more quickly, and we owe it to them to do better in 2017.
This year saw the destruction of the Great Barrier Reef, which, although not entirely dead, is 80 percent severely bleached, and is in critical danger of dying out completely. The reef is an enormous and diverse niche for ocean wildlife, and there's no other place exactly like it in the world. Oil spills and trash dumping have wreaked havoc on many important biological areas like the reef.
Just a few days ago, too, Tilikum, the famous orca kept in SeaWorld for most of his life, died at the age of 35. Blackfish, a documentary about SeaWorld's captive orcas, shocked people with descriptions of how unhealthy the animals are when kept in small spaces and only let out for entertainment. Tilikum ended up killing three people: one trainer during a live show, a volunteer, and a trespasser who snuck into the area at night. This aggression seems to have happened because of Tilikum's lifelong captivity, separated from his herd and forced into a rigid schedule of tricks and exhibitions.
Even more tragic animal deaths have happened because of random tourists, who tried to take selfies with vulnerable animals. A baby dolphin taken out of the water by beachgoers, a shark moved by lifeguards, and a bison calf in Yellowstone sadly died because of these superficial picture opportunities. Usually, this is because visitors ignore blatant signs, warnings, and common sense in order to get a close-up. Apparently, the phrase our parents told us at the zoo ("Look, don't touch") didn't sink in enough, and already endangered animals are paying the price for it.
Humans haven't been immune to tragedy because of this as well--people have been injured and sometimes killed at wildlife sanctuaries, at Yellowstone several times this year. When encountered in a park, animals can seem gentle and domesticated, so people try to get near them. However, more people have been killed in the past decade because of bison than grizzly bears. Assuming that an animal will allow you to invade its environment is dangerous. People fail to follow the signs and end up falling into a hot spring, or get gored by an animal that weighs a literal ton. Messing with natural environments isn't only dangerous for the animals; we risk our own lives when we do it as well.
Americans often criticize foreign countries for their poaching exploits and environmental damage, especially Asian ones like China. However, we need to take a look at what our own country is doing, inside and outside of our borders. Americans are invading wild spaces in different countries for fun, like the hunter who killed "Cecil", a lion in Africa. Two of president-elect Trump's sons have posed smiling in pictures with a leopard they killed. We are harming the animals that are supposed to be protected in our own wildlife sanctuaries, because people are treating them like petting zoos. And we are ignoring when climate change and environmental issues threaten wildlife all over the world.
We debate so much over what we can do to nature, like building pipelines and fracking. It's time we focus on what we can do for nature, instead. Running out of natural resources is a problem. Running out of nature, though, is a global disaster.