There are a lot of reasons, obviously, but one of them is that my life is richer because of the current diversity of life. I’m not talking about medicines discovered in the disappearing Amazonian rainforests, or about the rolling landscapes in movies, or the joy of “just knowing they’re out there”, though those are all nice, I’m talking about my personal interactions with wildlife. As someone who has been obsessed with animals from a young age, I’ve sought them out, and so I’ve had a number of opportunities to see the diversity of life firsthand. In Tanzania, I got to watch lion cubs playing in the bushes, and I had a tiny bird basking on a rock a couple of feet from me in the frigid sunrise on Kilimanjaro. At Yellowstone I got to wake up in -10F weather to go out and watch wolves running across a snowbound field. There have been many, many other experiences, both exotic and commonplace, at home and abroad, but for now I’m going to talk about just one in particular.
In college, I had the opportunity to do some research under Dr. Iverson with Bahamian Rock Iguanas, and spent nine days living on a sailboat and catching and measuring iguanas of all sizes. When you work closely with animals for any amount of time, you tend to develop feelings for them. For some, you may just hate them all the more and want to never work with them again, and for others, you tend to develop a degree of affection. I generally tend towards the latter feeling, and the iguanas were no exception. I’m quite certain that they do not in any way return that affection (as far as they were concerned, I’m just a big predator that’s too stupid to eat them) but I like them. They’re curious, and tough, and some of them are quite clever; working with some of them makes you feel a little bit like they could grow to fifty feet long and breathe fire if only they had enough time and food to grow – there’s an epic quality about them, I guess is what I’m saying.
Currently, they’re not extinct, in large part, due to the persistent efforts of one Dr. Iverson over the last 25 years of so, and I was honored to be able to participate in such an important task. Now, however, they face a threat that is much harder to control than feral dogs and hungry fishermen. Rising seas and a warmer Caribbean mean that in the near future, it is likely that a hurricane or wave from one will wash over the tiny islands that are their only home, and the Bahamian Rock Iguana will be no more. This could have been prevented. If action had been taken 40, 30, 20, or even 10 years ago, it might not have gotten to the point where it was only a matter of time.
This didn’t have to happen, but for now, I’m happy they’re alive, and I’m glad I got a chance to work with them.