We happily tested negative with a few hours to spare before returning to Africa. Under the immense strain and stress of a pandemic. But we had to go. Not only were we escorted by a Himba guide who knew more about his peoples than any scientist, he shared with us an indelible sense of responsibility his people feel for the wildest land left in southern Africa. All is not perfect in this arid Eden, but native people have come to understand better how utterly priceless wildlife is. 

We managed to get to Namibia for initial research into a new project on the future of humanity and wildlife and were reacquainted with the realities of what is happening on the ground, particularly with Indigenous-based conservation efforts in some of the most remote terrain in Africa. And while Namibia has had to deal with many conservation challenges in the last few years, it is my reintroduction to the depravity of some of the American mindset with regards to predators that is truly saddening. 

Steve Capra of Footloose Montana told me in an exhausted voice that had almost run out of options, that in Montana where the air still sears with the forest fires of the summer, the killing season will soon start on the state's wolves. On September 15th to be precise. Wanton bloodlust on what remains of the free. Because so many of us are no longer free, we are turning our rage on the innocent and those who are truly alive. Tourists flocked to Yellowstone in thronging hordes looking for something that hinted of life this summer. In unprecedented numbers. Vehicle after vehicle lined the roads, in hopes of seeing grizzlies, moose, elk and maybe even the eyes of a magnificent, free ranging wolf. Desperate to get out of the confines of their homes, multitudes came eager to witness the untrammeled life, anything that reminded them of a certain freedom still pulsing, far from the standardized, mechanical, processed and predictable lifestyle that has become the American Scream. And in a few days, death will not only come to Montana, but an entire ecosystem that is the last of its kind in the lower 48.

Recently a Howl Across America protest was organized by the animal advocacy organization Friends of Animals, and it attracted protesters from Montana, the East Coast and the Pacific Northwest. In a few days, for the first time in 27 years the most well known wolves in the U.S. and perhaps the planet will face the specter of annihilation. Any wolf going from Yellowstone across the imaginary border to ranch land will face the ire of killers, not even hunters, not even trophy hunters, but those who are ready and willing to take that wolf’s life out, just for being a wolf. 

Tourists who swarmed Yellowstone for the great privilege of seeing a wolf will have to live with the perfidy of a few mindless killers who are abetting in murder. Some are hoping to have tourists boycott Montana to bring the killing to national attention. And still the tourists come. Why? To see grizzlies and wolves. The schizophrenia is emblematic of our state of mind in this time. The many yearning to behold the miraculous. A few desperate to annihilate the life force, even in the form of wolf pups who have barely had a moment to make sense of the human strain.

This is how the West will be lost. The new law enacted by Gov. Gianforte will allow any hunter or trapper to kill up to 10 wolves. The social dynamics of the wolves in Yellowstone will be literally shot to hell. Some of us have tried to get the ear of Secretary Haaland and senators from different states and ranted against the imminent murder of one of the cornerstones of what makes America truly special. It is her land and her wildlife. The wolf, so maligned in Europe and the U.S. for centuries is a stand in for the devil within us. The wolf is but one of the irreplaceable life forms that do not appear on data sheets on the day’s earnings on Wall Street. And it will be targeted and trapped and brutalized so that a few will be able to feel that they have won, or vanquished the foe. The foe that is a stand in for a lifestyle that doesn’t work anymore, that is costing us the lifeline to the future. The foe that is the anger for a mismanaged country abetted and made bare by the very ones who will obliterate life.  The irony is written in blood.

One cannot buy a wolf or grizzly bond. What they countenance, what the species we are annihilating are worth is nothing less than the Earth itself. As I write this our golden retriever comes to greet me perhaps wondering what the human animal I encompass is about. The autumn wind tossed the dead leaves with the empty promises and vacant ideals of an entire civilization starting to go bankrupt. The look from our retriever’s eyes is commensurate with the life force of an entire planet. The vice we are about to unleash on her wild cousins, the wolves, is tantamount to sin, a sin that has taken out 10 percent of the sequoia trees in California and which is melting the glacial face of Mt Shasta all the way up to Alaska, the last frontier.

In a few years’ time, despite the new variants and the pandemic, tourists might not flock to Yellowstone anymore. The ecosystem might not be able to withstand climatic upheaval. The wolves might be so stressed they might not howl again. Despite the protests of 31 senators, 104 U.S. representatives and 241 conservation groups, who denounced the riders that would undermine the Endangered Species Act, Congress is largely unwilling to see the forest for the trees. Some members of Congress are still looking to weaken the landmark act of 1973 in favor of industry and mining and the special interests of the livestock industry, which is wreaking havoc on the world’s last forests. More than 1,300 species have been protected by the Act and fully 90 percent of species are recovering. What will Americans, so eager to get away from their workaholic schedules and TV’s flock to, when these species are gone? 

Despite the near apocalyptic scenes of completely deserted Swakopmund on the coast of Namibia, where the 20th century’s first genocide took place by the Germans on the Herrero people, I wonder if the ineffable wonders will be lost on future generations. And as genocide was the order of the day over a hundred years ago on innocent Africans, it continues on the four footed. On every flight from New York to Joburg, Joburg to Namibia and from Joburg back to New York, we were met with trophy hunters, often in tight shorts, armed to the gill with rifles, ready to obliterate. Some of the hunters were the size of trucks. The photos of heavyset hunters with their large grins, hunched over a bagged lion, reeks of sadism, a kind of revolt against life that was also perpetrated on Africa’s peoples. And North America’s indigenous peoples. Everywhere the story is the same. We have nurtured and imposed a malignant psychosis of eradication on fellow beings, both human and non-human for far too long. This is the way the best of America, the West, will be lost. Already the lack of moisture and drought and fires is changing the West. The old adage, Go West Young Man, started by Horace Greeley, was joined to the concept of Manifest Destiny generations ago. The Dustbowl could raise its ugly head again and soon. People, agriculture, forests and wildlife will not be spared. It could make the last Dustbowl seem tame by comparison. And not coincidentally, the New York Times magazine cover has a piece September 12 asking What Have Kids Lost?  

In killing off the innocent, the wolves, the polar bears, even large portions of the great seal population on Namibia’s superb coast, the species that foster fascination and that welcome the heart and reason for living on Earth, we are taking wonder and the reason for living from the children. With great freedom, as exists in America, there comes great responsibility to preserve that which came before us. We cannot abdicate those responsibilities, for the life force is colliding with the arrogance of our kind. The political dysfunction that has underscored America in the last generation is taking the best of America. The best is not stored in the vaults of the Smithsonian, or the Metropolitan or the Space Museum. The best of America is not the Statue of Liberty or her railways or Fifth Avenue or the Golden Gate Bridge. It is her forests, the Grand Canyon, the Arctic Refuge and Yellowstone. And the species those places harbor. They are the true gems of each citizen of the world, because they are alive. Without them America will become a mausoleum for the magnates of machines.

For the sake of the next generation, let us stop the murder of the wolves while children still have something to look forward to. It is one thing to be brave and reopen schools with the right safeguards despite a pandemic. It is one thing to teach that which is unknown, digest second or third hand information culled from lives of people who may or may not matter to us, many of whom are long gone; it is one thing to regurgitate lessons learned from the safety of a classroom wearing masks, absorbing the facts of the world, a wounded world entirely of our own making. It is one thing to learn what others tell us so that we can find our place in the marketplace of industry that created this quagmire in the first place. But it is quite another to be able to honor and find one’s place in the Cosmos of life, the raw and remarkable real world that cannot be digitized, and safeguard the boundless, irreplaceable classroom of the natural world, while it still pulses with some vestige of life.

Learn more about Cyril Christo and Marie Wilkinson's work at their website.

WT Trailer cut 4 from Lightningwood on Vimeo.

Published on Sep 14, 2021