The current threads about pet parrots and shell collections really speak to something I have been thinking about lately. On my recent visit to Polynesia, I noticed that coral reef material is often used as road fill, and this road fill therefore often contains interesting shells. I didn’t think anything of it when I extracted a weathered Tridacna shell from the road fill for a souvenir.
Upon my return to the States, the shell was detained for Fish and Wildlife – possible CITES was the reason given. How I had acquired it didn’t matter. My observation of a very similar shell was identified as Tridacna maxima, which, iNat tells me, is IUCN listed as “Near Threatened,” and the location is auto-obscured.
I am sad to lose my pretty shell. But on the other hand, it did make me reconsider the habit of picking up shells. Even if it came from road fill, isn’t it the same kind of acquisitiveness that creates a demand for wildlife trafficking? As has been mentioned in other threads, most “purchased” shells were taken alive and killed. Picking up already-dead shells may seem completely different; but it still comes from the desire to possess something, to hold onto its beauty and keep it for ourselves.
In Gorillas in the Mist, Diane Fossey wrote of a time when one of the gorillas had recently died. Shortly afterward, one of her interns was returning to his own country. Fossey discovered that he had kept the skin of the dead gorilla, intending to take it home with him; she had to confiscate it and burn it. Now, the gorilla’s death had not been at the intern’s behest; it had died or been killed for unrelated reasons. But Fossey knew what he hadn’t thought about: his desire to keep the gorilla’s skin came from the idea that a gorilla skin was a cool thing to have – and had he done so, it would have sent the message that a gorilla skin was an okay thing to have. Those two ideas would have been doom for the remaining gorillas.
One of the more interesting books I read some years ago was by a British policeman assigned to deal with wildlife-related violations. It was a collection of narratives about him catching egg collectors. Many of those egg collectors fancied themselves amateur scientists, imaging that their collections were somehow contributing to science.
In the parrot thread, I mentioned my childhood parakeet – that although I was never deliberately cruel, and I cared for her physical needs, I was completely unaware of her social and emotional needs. As if her life existed to decorate my life – just like the pretty shells that I collected back then, too. I had a menagerie of little pets come and go, and it was the same for all of them. I am ashamed to think of it now. What I thought was a love of animals was just acquisitiveness, the desire to decorate my life.
Not so very long ago, collecting assorted ecofacts was sort of taken for granted as something naturalists did. I still have my 1967 edition of the Golden Guide to Pond Life. Pages 27-29 are a chapter about collecting, with descriptions of various collecting equipment. But as I get older, I find that this no longer aligns with my values. Connecting with nature doesn’t have to mean possessing it; and I actually have begun to feel that picking up that shell was a lapse on my part, a regression to behavior that I have learned better than to do.
Who here has found your relationship with nature changing once you decided to stop trying to own it?