An idea for humanity, from a considerate elephant
When traveling in a bus, plane, or train, we all loathe passengers who are rowdy and obnoxious, showing no consideration for their fellow passengers. As humans we are a group of passengers on this planet, travelling through time and space with many other passengers from many other species. Perhaps we should consider how rowdy and obnoxious we might seem to our fellow passengers.
The environmental lobby is increasingly active in urging people to change their lives to reduce damage to our ecosphere, which is obviously a very laudable goal. But individuals are resistant to change because they don’t see why they should make sacrifices or commitments when they don’t see other people doing the same. This talk suggests a different viewpoint.
For Johan du Toit, who researches large mammals from the African giraffe to the North American buffalo, it’s hard to conceive why anyone wouldn’t want to study large animals: “I just can’t get excited about little squeaky things.”
Johan’s origins are in southern Africa, having been born and raised in rural Zimbabwe where he developed an interest for his natural environment. In fact, at a young age he’d made up his mind to become an ecologist: “I’ve always been fascinated by nature. I love seeing and observing nature and using my scientific skills to understand it.” Directly after his PhD through Wits University in Johannesburg, he spent a postdoctoral stint at USU before returning to his roots to take up a faculty position at the University of Zimbabwe. After nine adventurous years there, he became Director of the Mammal Research Institute at the University of Pretoria in South Africa. He has also served for ten years as scientific advisor to the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research. In 2005, he was offered the opportunity to return to USU as the head of a new department of Wildland Resources, which he did for seven years. He has now returned to research and teaching as a member of the USU faculty, with his focus being the ecology and conservation of large mammals in terrestrial ecosystems.
For Johan, duality exists in the belief that humans are unique. “We’re actually not,” he says. “We destroy everything else around us . . . But at the same time there are all these other species out there that have social systems that are very complex. If we only look at it, we suddenly realize [that we are] not so special.”