“What is man without the beast? If all the beasts were gone, men would die from great loneliness of spirit,
for whatever happens to the beasts also happens to man. All things are connected.”

Attributed to Chief Seattle, 1854

It struck me to learn that there is much controversy surrounding the above quote, about whether or not it was actually spoken by Chief Seattle, the mid-nineteenth century Suquamish Tribe leader. What strikes me even more, though, is how strenuously people are willing to argue about the quote’s source–as if its author is more important than its message–without taking to heart its significance, and living in accordance with its implications. However important proper recognition of the quote’s true author may be, I feel certain that its progenitor, whoever it was, would be more concerned with the quote’s substance–our understanding of what it means with respect to our planet–than with being credited for the sagely adage. It is telling us, essentially, to be wary of and distressed by the fact that species are disappearing from the face of this Earth at an alarming rate–as a direct consequence of humankind’s collective conduct.

I want to be a wildlife special agent because I am concerned with the health of our planet, because it troubles me that there are more tigers in captivity than in the wild, and because I want my grandchildren to marvel at the majesty of condors in flight, soaring above our land as symbols of a national commitment to conservation. I want to work with fish and wildlife because I find it staggering that we have actually over-fished the oceans, that mankind’s appetite has exceeded the sea’s ability to satiate it. I am troubled and saddened to know that there may be less than seventy Florida panthers left in Florida. Who is looking out for these magnificent creatures, and will they still be called “Florida” panthers if and when they too have become extinct?

Dead rhino with horn cut off One hundred thousand black rhinos were alive in 1960, but less than two thousand hang on today? An Asian two-horned rhino population halved in the last decade alone? How are such atrocities possible? How has the rhino’s horn, which protected the mighty beast for thirty million years, today become that which leaves it most vulnerable to predation by a “higher species”? Dead rhino with horn and limbs cut off
It doesn’t seem so. De-finning sharks for cartilage soup, aphrodisiacs, and dietary supplements seem to be more important priorities for the masses. That bears are imprisoned in tiny cages, prostrate their entire lives, to extract gall bladder bile–in 2003–is absolutely appalling to me. How can a grizzly bear population which has crept back to one thousand bears–in a country populated by two hundred and eighty million people–no longer be considered “endangered”, even as the bears occupy less than two percent of their former territory in the lower forty-eight states? Some scientists actually foresee “humanity” extinguishing half the species of plants and animals by the end of the current century. Do we care if our descendants only know about blue whales in picture books, see elephants only behind concrete walls, and eagles in taxidermy shops? Bear in cage with gall bladder bile tube

I care. I believe that “quality of life” is more than a buzz phrase. The quality of the very life we endeavor to enrich–be it through larger homes, lengthier driveways, more luxurious cars, more lavish clothes, or longer vacations–is substantiated, indeed validated, only to the extent that we have time to appreciate the natural wonders which surround us when we are not working–that is, once we’ve attained the white picket fence, two-car garage, and trellises hung with colorful mums. It was Aristotle who said roughly 2,500 years ago that the purpose of work is to be able to enjoy leisure time. If there’s no wilderness to escape to, though, no wide open spaces in which to muse over a blue sky, no unspoiled landscape in which to contemplate an infinite yet still-expanding universe, no pristine beaches on which to lie and count shooting stars, then what we will do with our free time? Where will we go, and at which lingering natural milieux will we awe? Will “getting away” mean merely that we substitute one metropolis for another, all equally devoid of “wildlife” save pigeons, stray cats, and squirrels? Are we to leave every holiday haven similarly bereft of the creatures which once flourished there, amidst ecosystems since vanquished by “progress”, swept away by “super” highways, forever buried beneath layers of luxury homes postured on former pastures, or resting beneath landscaped parking lots surrounding sprawling shopping malls, replete with more asphalt than Chief Seattle could have imagined? Where will we expand to, once we’ve paved the “amber waves of grain” from coast to coast? How to escape the strip mall suburbs we’ve built up around ourselves in the name of “development”?

On a 1964 safari in Kenya, Charles Lindbergh remarked: ” I realized more clearly facts that man should never overlook: that the construction of an airplane, for instance, is simple when compared to the evolutionary achievement of a bird; that airplanes depend upon an advanced civilization, and that where civilization is most advanced, few birds exist.” Proud as we are of our industrialization, it may be that we are still a “developing” nation ourselves–in terms of coming to grips with mature stewardship and conscientious custodianship of our wildlife’s welfare. It’s been nearly a half-century since Charles Lindbergh brooded over the catch-22 he inevitably spawned in promoting his love of aviation: how to fulfill his love of flight and advocate aerial transportation, without perpetuating a need for more runaways, hangar spaces, factories, rubber plantations, and petroleum exploration, and thus exacerbating the fragmentation of wildlife habitat, the clear-cutting of vast swaths of the pristine land he yearned to lose himself over in flight? How to expand humanity’s horizons, he wondered, while simultaneously respecting animal habitats and the ecosystems crucial to their existence?

why_seals1 It’s a predicament whose urgency has only intensified with humanity’s escalating numbers. Gravely concerned with the dilemma, Lindberg himself became a staunch supporter of the World Wildlife Fund, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, and The Nature Conservancy, working to save endangered species and establish conservation parks. But even with renowned supporters and international campaigning, the problem persists. “We are in grave danger of losing forever not just millions of years of evolution on Earth, but the eons of change that have produced man and his natural environment” (Lindbergh). Indeed, the magnitude of such challenge is daunting, but we cannot be overwhelmed or intimidated by it. I believe the solution is multifaceted, encompassing–first and foremost–ethical principals espoused by a population committed to the preservation of nature for its own sake, followed by education, and finally, law enforcement. why_seals2_coat

While I envision ethical principles as a necessary base of any long-term resolution to environmental crises, some may argue that the need for ethical underpinnings is obviated by the formulation of sensible laws and sound law enforcement. Such assertion forgets, however, that at their foundation, laws are a reflection of a society’s mores, its values, of what people deem necessary and proper to facilitate a healthy social order. Regarding education and law enforcement, just as there will always be opponents of political freedom, and thus a need for militaries to guarantee the peace, there will always be opponents of biodiversity, who see financial gain in the exploitation of the natural world. Worldwide there are many examples of successful efforts, led either by the United Nations Environmental Program or various other organizations, to convert exploitation, predation, and defoliation into conservation, preservation, and appreciation; to turn would-be-extortionists into game wardens–and poaching into profit–whether through sustainable development or ecotourism. Just as the U.S. supports allied nations in the global war on political terror, we must bolster partner nations in their efforts to combat ecological terror. For without effective enforcement, laws are rendered useless. Just as sports games have rules and referees, governments exist to provide and enforce regulations. But conservation is no game. The creatures of this planet are players on a world stage whose cast list is rapidly dwindling. Life forms which took millions of years to evolve without our involvement may take only decades to extinguish, through trophy hunting, poaching, poisoning, dynamite fishing, oil spills, or irresponsible waste management. Yes, the aforementioned efforts may be costly, but it’s high time to realize that just as “freedom isn’t free”, safeguarding our natural wonders isn’t free either. Bull and bear markets are cyclical. Extinction is forever.

why_orcas But why all the fuss, some ask me. Shouldn’t we just let life take its course? No. As Chief Seattle suggested, to relinquish concern for the animal kingdom is to imperil our own welfare. Humankind must take responsibility not only for assuring those aspects of life it finds pleasing, but for renouncing those activities which jeopardize its well being. Much like the air we are often oblivious to but cannot live without, biodiversity enriches our lives. We may not often ponder it, but in the same way that ethnic, cultural, religious, political, and linguistic diversity enhances our human experience, an array of environmental biodiversity embellishes our Earthly existence.
Consider for a moment how royal is the blue bird’s blue. How magnificent the moose ambling across an Alaskan meadow. How literally breathtaking is a killer whale pod arcing across an Arctic horizon? Have you ever fathomed the beats-per-second of a hummingbird’s wings? Creatures whose fragile presence we take for granted titivate an otherwise mundane human ontology. How much we’ve learned, and have yet to learn, from the mysteries and miracles of Nature. As Thoreau said, we must “see man as an inhabitant, or a parcel of Nature, rather than a member of society.” why_bluebird
why_dolphin Unfortunately, however, as long as we continue to sacrifice those aspects of the natural world which make it so wonderful–in the name of economic “return”–we relegate ourselves to the same dollar value significance. Our own worth is consigned to–reduced to–“the market rate” of the commodities we exploit–whether air, water, land, timber, ivory, pelts, cartilage, or gall bladders. In surrendering our surroundings to the “business model”, we commodify ourselves by association. Conversely, just as a price cannot be put on love, family, or friendship, we must resolve to avoid conceptualizing our own environs in monetary terms. As the Ocean Conservancy warns, we are “spending the principal” of our natural resources, rather than appreciating and living off the interest.

On an ethical level, most believe that dying for one’s freedom is virtuous, but that dying for someone else’s is even more venerable. In the same vein, I believe that while it’s noble for man to help his fellow man, there is something even more inherently honorable in helping lesser creatures. For while man has a voice of his own, animals have no voice–at least not one immediately intelligible to our sometimes impervious ears. Abigail van Buren affirmed, “The best index of a person’s character is the way he treats those who are of no use to him, and those who can’t fight back.” I concur. Our magnanimity will be measured by the extent to which we’ve shared our prosperity with all conscious beings. How we as humans, self-professed stewards of this planet, tend to the interests of our non-human cohabitants is a direct reflection on our humanity, our civility, our worth as earth’s curators, and an indication of our competence as Nature’s keepers, custodians of this living orb. Indeed, if we are to consider ourselves the most sentient beings on this planet, we must exercise the most rational leadership, in accordance with the divine mandate, natural law, or whatever it is we use as justification for our privileged position. Whether Chief Seattle said it our not, our welfare is inextricably linked to that of the creatures with whom we share this sphere. To eradicate them in the pursuit of our own pleasures is to accelerate our own solitude, and hasten a looming loneliness. Yet, we cannot seem to live with them, either because the herbivorous foragers are trespassing upon “our” farmland, the carnivorous hunters are encroaching upon and stalking “our” grazers, or the omnivorous scavengers are overrunning “our” neighborhoods, impeding “our” ability to expand economically–as if somehow proprietorship and fiscal wealth were integral to the natural law we feel so comfortable citing. For too long it has been too easy to cite reasons for culling “unwanted” species, until all the citing leads to no more sightings–of species which once thrived across our continent long before it was known to man.

Rather than accepting the term “idealist” with its quixotic connotations, I am one whose “ideals” compel him to action, believing that ideals remain such only until they are brought to fruition. I understand that with freedom comes responsibility, and I believe in the responsibility entrusted to the privileged masses, as in the maxim “from whom much has been given, much may be expected”. Accordingly, I believe in conscientious stewardship–whether based on Biblical principal, Seneca’s ideals, Zen-Buddhist philosophy, or secular ethics–and that doing the right thing, for the right reason, is reward in and of itself. As a realist, I know that fish and wildlife organizations have the most pervasive reach, the most potent capabilities, and the most comprehensive means and resources to induce and enforce sensible, society-wide conservation efforts.

There are certainly many ways one may support specific conservation efforts. Since leaving the active duty Navy in 1999, I myself have worked in a veterinary clinic, volunteered for an environmental law firm, volunteered in a birds of prey recovery center, and volunteered in the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s Miami offices. I now assess that the most effective way to contribute to species conservation efforts on grand scale is to preserve habitats and ecosystems, to protect them from poaching, and to educate populations. I want to be participate directly in a committed organization with a comprehensive approach to a tremendous challenge–a strategic policy encompassing an ethical foundation, an enthusiasm for education, and a dedication to law enforcement.

From a law enforcement perspective, just as U.S. special forces teams don’t simply instruct foreign militaries on tactical combat doctrine, asymmetric threats, urban conflict, jungle warfare, or explosive ordnance disposal, but also teach them respect for constitutional authority, the rule of law, a balance of power, and democratically-elected governments, I don’t just want to lock up poachers, simply halting their hunting. Edification is a vital element of the answer’s equation. I want to teach poachers about natural law, the importance of ecological balance, the rules of environmental protection, the criticality of species preservation—to impart an appreciation they can pass on to their children, rather than elephant ivory, trophy racks, and a few Rupees gleaned from tiger pelts. why_monkey
why_tiger That is not to say that indigenous peoples are uniquely responsible or solely to blame for the annihilation of species. In the same way that Colombia wouldn’t grow cocaine if it weren’t for America’s addiction, many species would not be hunted to extinction if it weren’t for humankind’s appetite for animal products. Thus, the education endeavor must be comprehensive and global in scope–embracing all players, providers, and consumers of the species conservation equation. Working as wildlife law enforcement officer will afford me the opportunity to play a crucial role in a critical aspect of an overarching environmental solution.

We’ve got to act fast, though, and I want to do my part. I think it’s a shame that we now have to collar and monitor some “wild” species to ensure their survival, after they had survived millions of years without us. I don’t want to live in a world where housecats are the only reminders of their big cat cousins on TV, or where aquariums are the only place we see “tropical” fish. When I went to Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands and saw the last living tortoise of its species left on Earth, I wondered what it would be like to know that you are the last human on Earth, and that when you pass on, you’ll take your species, its birthright, and all its rich heritage with you into history. But I’m not the last human on earth. World population doubled from 1950 to 2000, and there are now 6.2 billion people just like me, and 9 billion expected by 2050. We humans are in no danger of extinction. But many animals are. Nevertheless, I don’t see the future of wildlife and human life as antithetical; we can coexist, with proper planning. There will always be human heroes–people like teachers, policemen, firefighters, volunteer doctors, coaches, military servicemembers, et al–all altruistic professions noble and necessary for the sustenance of our health, welfare, and economy. But I consider animal companionship, healthy ecosystems, and habitat management as equally critical to our well being. I believe that when species die, part of us dies. I want successive generations to gasp at the great cats, at wild wolves, whales, birds of prey, and large land mammals of Africa, Asia, and the rest of the world. I don’t want them to know tigers, elephants, rhinos, and their large mammalian neighbors only in zoos, behind bars, and in pictures.

More specifically, I want to interdict the illegal trade in protected species. I’d like nothing more than to apply my Naval Intelligence background and DEA experience to deter and prosecute poachers and their associated trade rings. As an intelligence officer, I have tracked terrorists, drug traffickers, arms traders, weapons of mass destruction proliferators, and migrant smugglers. I’ve worked almost every angle of counter-illicit trafficking operations (CITO), from organized crime’s ties to international brokers who supply front companies with black market contraband which generates tremendous profits turned over to professional money launderers. I have supported counterdrug operations, counterinsurgency operations, counterterrorism operations, and partner nation Confidence Building Security Measures (CBSM). I have been exposed to traffickers’ methods and modus operandi, and want to apply such knowledge to interdict illicit trade in endangered species. I’ve worked with interrogator/translators, multi-service Special Forces teams, undercover agents, and US Government black programs. I have supervised national-technical means collection programs, interfaced with covert operatives within the National Intelligence Community, and written Mission Needs Statements for emerging technologies. As a Measurements and Signatures Intelligence (MASINT) Officer, I managed multi-spectral imagery platforms, examined LandSat images of the Earth, and worked with airborne and waterborne effluents detection technologies–becoming aware of the extent to which cocaine processing lab chemicals and aerial crop spraying programs are harming ecosystems in Colombia, Peru, Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, and the entire Amazon Basin. In working with commercial satellite imagery, I’ve become painfully cognizant of shrinking natural habitats, grasslands, forests, and jungles across our planet’s entire equatorial band.

These trends concern me. But while drugs constitute the highest-grossing, illegally-trafficked commodity in the world, they are man-made and ingested by willing consumers on their own volition. Animals have no choice. They are exploited throughout an appalling sequence of events beginning in their own natural habitats. Their dwellings invaded by pitiless poachers, the hapless animals then forwarded to callous brokers–often dying in transit–and wind up in the hands of unskilled pet owners. It actually offends me that the multi-billion dollar trade in innocent animals comprises the second or third largest illicit commerce industry in the world. Though it is widely agreed that we cannot win the drug war without a reduction in demand, I believe we can win the animal/species war through education, as people don’t develop a physical dependence on or become “addicted” to animals. why_alligators_skinned

As Time Magazine pointed out in 2000, Earth’s welfare does not depend on the experts, the specialists, the lobbyists, or an educated minority. “Mere spasms of enthusiasm like Earth Days and soup can collection drives are not enough to staunch the worst wave of mass extinctions since the dinosaur age.” Safeguarding the splendor of this sphere takes dedication, commitment, passion–an earnest, zealous devotion to its defense. Just as there will always be Hitlers and Husseins in this world, there will likewise be unprincipled, unethical hunters and poachers who value the pelt of an endangered species, or the currency it yields, more than they value the life itself. Perhaps the responsibilities of law enforcement were best summarized millennia ago in the Art of War by Sun Tzu, who said, “Those who use arms well keep the rules. They cultivate the Way, and govern in such manner as to prevail over the corrupt.” Some one, some people, some group of individuals must be willing to fight for the good, to use arms well, to sacrifice their own welfare, if necessary, to cultivate the way; to teach others, and enforce government law in such manner as to prevail over the corrupt. Wildlife special agents are already doing that, and I want to join their ranks.

I’ve already raised my hand and sworn to die for my country, to preserve and protect the Constitution of the United States, the oldest living constitution in the world–that which infuses America with a moral certainty and steers her quest to epitomize democratic truth throughout the world. Yes, supporting and defending the Constitution of the United States is exceedingly important; we must continue to protect it. But I have done so, and will continue to do so as a Naval Reservist. I am now ready to raise my hand and commit myself to the conservation principles espoused by fish and wildlife conservation agencies, for I believe in the ideals for which they stand, the preservation of Earth, and in conserving the natural wonders of our world.

Manatee scarred by boat propellers.
As Baba Dioum said, “In the end we will conserve only what we love. We will love only what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught.” Humankind’s actions are a product of humanity’s awareness. In essence, our efforts are a manifestation of our mores. Our endeavors are a reflection of what we deem necessary, what we understand, what we are taught, and what we learn to appreciate, admire, love, and protect. I’m willing to fight for the education of all people and the protection of endangered species–to teach people the importance of species preservation, of what “conservation” means, and why we should care; to do what it takes to ensure that our fellow creatures not only live, but thrive, so that my next of kin do not have to ask me what it was like to see manatees in the Florida Keys because they see them only in my home videos. I love this planet, its creatures, and the challenge of preserving its biological bounty. I believe that where there is life, there is hope, and that our wildlife treasures should be cherished and defended. Most importantly: we have to start somewhere, and wildlife officers are already fighting the good fight. I want to be a part of it, to make a difference. I want to contribute, to be part of the solution. These are the reasons why I want to be a wildlife agent, and I eagerly await the opportunity.
Written by Glenn Yeck | Comments Off on WHY I WANT TO BE A WILDLIFE AGENT