People have become disconnected from nature- that’s a fact that is undisputable, it shows every day, everywhere, from the street corner to social media. The number of people in the world who remain connected to nature is fewer and fewer, and in general they live with very little monetary wealth. It’s what keeps them connected, they can’t simply buy it from the shop, or turn it on and off. Their resources come through a direct channel, they must collect water from the river and wood from the bush. Food sources like bushmeat, wild fruit and mopani worms are all collected directly from nature and whether these resources are available and can be found does not depend on how much money you have, but rather how in tune you are with nature. It’s obvious if the Mopani trees disappear, so do the Mopani worms. But this link has been lost to the person who presumes that food is not available at the shop only because the truck did not deliver it.
So for someone who has been disconnected from nature, and now steps into a natural environment, imposter syndrome is a likely feeling. A feeling that anything you do to disturb nature is not right or natural. A recent experience in nature illustrated this for me, and I found myself grappling with whether I had done the right or wrong thing…..
I was walking with a small group of trailists in a wide riverbed, it was approaching 4pm, but still very hot. A herd of impala had gathered in the shade of a Jackalberry on the other side of the riverbed, when they picked up on us they became a little edgy. Eventually one of them broke from the cover of the shade, and like a shoal of fish they all followed. Some ran, others jumped around a bit, a few stopped to look back, but none made any sound or alarmed. In a few seconds they were out of view and above the riverbank and that’s when they started alarm calling. They alarmed continuously and it was obvious that it wasn’t at us, my mind went back to the track and sign course I had done with Tracking Academy and how Renias Mhlongo and told us that if impala call/alarm continuously and frantically its likely a leopard. Curious and wanting to see what was going on we crossed the dry riverbed and up the other bank. The impala came into view and they were all looking ahead and to my right, I adjusted my angle slightly and suddenly up ahead was a leopard, about 50m away, it had seen us and darted off. A few more steps, we picked up drag marks, leading us to its kill. We had disturbed it while dragging off its quarry. A fascinating scene lay ahead with spoor, drag marks and a freshly killed impala. We walked up to the dead animal and got a strong sense we were being watched. It was standing there that several thoughts about our role in this, and whether we should be standing there or not passed through my head. That imposter feeling came to me, but I grappled with it, reminding myself that humans had been a part of this landscape on foot for a very long time. The leopard knew exactly what we were and that we represented a threat. Our presence had also played a big role in the kill, had the impala not left their shade in the riverbed the kill may not have happened. The spoor suggested that the leopard had not been stalking them, but walking above the riverbank, and that it had taken the opportunity when the impala moved in its direction. So in one way we had disturbed the leopard, but in another we had assisted. We were a part of it, and not in an unnatural way. This must have happened many times in human history both knowingly and unknowingly. The most natural thing to do from there would have perhaps been to take the meat, to anyone who has little access to meat, this is very likely what they would have done. But that wasn’t what we were going to do, which is obvious to most people reading this. The ethics of the scenario was what I was grappling with. If we were fully integrated into nature of course we would have claimed the kill. It was a resource and prize we had chanced upon. At first I was unsure how to see our group of people and my decision to approach up the river bank. Was I out of place and interfering? What was my place here out on foot as a person? The words of a number of other trails guides then came to me, reminding me that we need to see ourselves as belonging there, it is in fact where we are in our most natural state, deeply connected with the earth, understanding the mechanisms of the animals and ecological systems. Responding to sights and sounds and smells in the moment. Not thinking about tomorrow, but rather living right here and right now. Responding instinctively to what happening around us, very much like the people who don’t have the financial resource to buy their way away from such a situation.
Too often we point fingers at the poorer people, accusing them of “destroying” nature. And while I can’t advocate for poaching, the poacher is far more aware of how the natural world provides all our resources and is in tune with the impact humans have. This may not stop them from poaching, but they do know that if their resource will be less available each time, we build more houses and destroy more habitat.
So how do you see yourself as part, or not part of nature? Many people in the conservation world are saying that the solution to our environmental crisis lies in seeing ourselves as part of the system and recognising our impacts, adjusting our decision-making. In general we are very poorly positioned as the human race to walk this road. Our profit and media-driven society, which includes many people in touch with this issue, shows little sign of altering its course, despite the opening of these conversations. It might take the taps to run dry and trucks to stop delivering before we really seeing ourselves in nature differently.