Have you heard about Elizabeth Ann, the newest sensation to electrify the Internet, FaceBook, and Twitter? She’s absolutely adorable. She’s only a few months old and already has a major following that competes with Lady Gaga, Beyonce, and Taylor Swift. Check her out. You will immediately want to hug her and look into those big enchanting eyes shrouded by an ermine-like cap.
Elizabeth Ann is a clone of the black-footed ferret, an animal considered extinct since the 1970’s until seven remaining family members scampered out of their holes in prairie dog fashion on a ranch in Wyoming. Luckily, a perceptive worker found them and thus began the effort to save the species. Because the ferret group was so small, it was inbreeding and diminishing the gene pool contributing to its own decline. Thus, cloning was the best method to preserve the species and provide gender diversity. Amazingly, Elizabeth Ann was cloned from the cells of a ferret who had died thirty years ago!
Far away in Kenya, the story is not so upbeat. A New York Times magazine article of January 10, 2021, reports that two northern white rhinos are living out their days as the last members of their species on earth; Najin is the mother of her daughter, Fatu. There is no living male to continue the “rope of their existence stemming 500 million years,” says the author Sam Anderson. The father of Najin and the grandfather of Fatu, died in 2018 after many efforts of scientists, and private foundations to save him had failed. Sudan was elderly by rhino standards (45 years of age) and plagued with numerous health problems. But his caretakers were committed to making the last days comfortable. Tourists would visit the zoo just to touch the last northern white rhino male on earth and then flee to their cars in tears. Caretakers found him the complete rhino, with the personality of a golden retriever, who simply loved people and only wanted to eat plants and reproduce!
According to a United Nations report, which Anderson references, one million plant and animal species are at risk of mass extinction. This does not count the ones already lost. A few of the culprits are: climate change, along with profiteering by corporations destroying lands and habitats, poachers and thieves of even the most esoteric insects and animals providing elite food and extravagant oils for human consumption.
Najin and Fatu were brought to the Kenyan conservancy from the Czech Republic Zoo. A female white southern rhino, a cousin to the white northern rhino, was appointed to tutor the two new recruits on how to live in the wild. She taught them how to sharpen their horns, how to mark off territory, how to leave their dung in certain areas for insects. But sadly, tests proved that neither Najin nor Fatu could bear any offspring and to extract their eggs presented a challenge most likely to result in death. Scientists went ahead with the process, however, successfully harvesting five eggs from Najin and five from Fatu resulting in seven fertilizations and three embryos awaiting the next steps.
Every animal or insect or plant death that is the result of human carelessness demonstrates a lack of love, compassion and kindness for God’s creation. You may wonder what this has to do with a blog on kindness and spirituality but Anderson would differ. “At some point we have to talk about love,” he says. “We love what we can see, touch, hold dear. What loves us back.” This is a limitation he argues. Seventy-seven billion people are not loving what they do not see or touch. Most do not take into account how much every living being contributes to our own welfare, even a rhino in a conservancy in Kenya!
“We have to proceed as if our love extended to creatures and places it could extend to but does not. We need to fit humanity with some kind of prosthetic love extensions,” Anderson says. I would further encourage us to pray for the gift of empathy, the gift that would enlighten us to the perils our reckless life styles have imposed on a vulnerable planet. Then, evaluate our environmental practices. Are you really as attentive as you could be? Start looking into how you shop. Do you check ingredients or sources of products? If you are reading this you are savvy enough on the computer to find local environmental groups or animal rights groups you can volunteer to assist. A sister with whom I live started beekeeping at age 80, after her retirement, because she was concerned about the plight of bees and our reliance on them. All of this is just a start. But here is the key point:
Involving yourself, however limited for circumstances, will bring you closer to the God who loves all that He created. You will develop a greater sensitivity to the animal, plant, and insect worlds we wish to touch and love.
The psalmist is aware that God’s creation is the core of our spirituality. There are many prayers of praise from the Hebrew Scriptures celebrating our animal friends and their relation to God and us.
Why not meditate on a few I have selected: Psalm 8: 6-9; Psalm 104:21-24;Psalm 50; Psalm 65:9-13.