By Jessica Kirby –

Canada’s National Wildlife Week has a terrific theme this year: Get Re-acquainted with the Awe #conservethewonder. Awe, of course, means “a feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear or wonder,” and “reverential” means “deep respect or worship”. In a recent article about humans’ relationship with nature, David Suzuki says he can’t help but feel like conversations about the “awe” one experiences in the face of nature’s limitless beauty should also include words like “humility” and “gratitude”.

A young killer whale breaches in the Strait of Georgia near Vancouver, BC.
Photo: Monika Wieland Shields.

In a global context, Canada has an admirable relationship with its natural wildlife. Because of its wide-open spaces, incredible species diversity, and the general hardiness of its citizens, wildlife and nature are parts of Canada’s global identity. We identify with images of animals and trees, lakes and rivers, rustic living and outdoor activities. Most Canadian stereotypes involve some elements of nature (superfluous beavers, raging elk, living in igloos, fashionable element-proof toques and beards) and because we protect what we love, we protect and revere our identity as a people having a strong relationship with nature.

Just this morning, I read the last male white rhinoceros has died in Kenya. There are two surviving females, neither of which can produce naturally, so the species is looking at almost-certain extinction, barring a reproductive miracle involving white rhino eggs, frozen white rhino sperm, and a surrogate of another species. Would this have happened on Canada’s watch? Would we have had the determination, the ferocity, the awe required to force resources in the direction of preserving one of our iconic species? Maybe.

A 2017 study by the World Wildlife Fund says as much as half of the wildlife in Canada could be dying off at alarming rates because of habitat loss, climate change, pollution, and overfishing.

A total of 451 species in decline – roughly half of the total mammals, birds, fish, reptiles, and amphibians studied as part of the World Wildlife Fund Canada’s Living Index – saw their population decline by an average of 83 per cent between 1970 and 2014.

On our watch, wolves are culled, and cougars are shot with no discretion to preserve human settlements. Bears can no longer be shot in BC, but there are still a huge number of people who think the ban is a bad idea because of the negative effect it has for tourism and tour guiding. Others call the ban a token gesture, noting nothing has been done to address other bear population threats like pollution and habitat destruction. The Kinder Morgan pipeline promises substantial economic revenue but potential harm to thousands and thousands of bird, fish, and animals in the event of a spill or even by way of increased tanker traffic.

Where is the awe in these scenarios?

The ever-pressing, absolutely essential task of reconciling natural resource use and natural preservation is as much at the heart of Canada’s identity as the maple leaf, and the answers aren’t yet clear, but might live in the laid-back, compromising attitude that also forms our national identity. This is where humility and gratitude enter the equation.

It is we who need nature, and not the other way around. If humanity were to die off, nature would overtake our human-made world and return to its natural state; if bees die off, humanity is doomed.

The psychological benefits of interacting with nature are proven and profound. Doing so relieves stress, clears the mind, promotes feelings of empathy and well-being, and combats fatigue while increasing energy levels. People with an emotional connection with nature have lower rates of heart disease, diabetes, depression, and chronic fatigue, and have healthier, more productive working and family relationships.

Canadians are, as a culture, more connected to nature through circumstance and national identity, but taking this for granted spells disaster. Can we find productive, economically sound ways to interact with nature and wildlife and make genuine our relationship with the natural world?

Canada has 170,000 tourism businesses contributing $84 billion or two per cent to the national GDP. Over 2,300 over these businesses are certified with Green Tourism Canada, which means they take meaningful action towards environmentally friendly and sustainable tourism activities and make business decisions that lower their carbon footprint. Bluewater Adventures in North Vancouver, for instance, has been carbon neutral since 2007, donates one per cent of its trip fees to environmental non-profits, and runs LEDs on its watercraft, among other initiatives.

Hundreds more are making these decisions without certification. Companies like Canadian Photography Adventures represent a new brand of wildlife tourism where participants hunt and shoot animals with their cameras, ensuring wildlife sustainability with a hefty return for the guide company. The solutions are out there, but until we practise humility and gratitude and do more than re-acquaint with awe –ignite it, consume it, shout it from the treetops – progress will evade us.

National Wildlife Week 2018 runs April 8–14. It is a time to get outside, get dirty, get wild, and invigorate your sense of awe in our natural world. It is time to remember our deep connection with wildlife and the awesome responsibility we must preserve this relationship forever.

Pause for Thought: Should BC’s Biodiversity Grant it a Louder Voice?
According to the Province of British Columbia, BC occupies 95 million hectares, with a diverse physiography, climate, flora, and fauna. It is home to one of the richest wildlife resources in North America. Three-quarters of Canada’s mammal species are found in BC–24 of those species are exclusive to our province.

There are 1,140 native species of vertebrates in BC, including 488 species of birds (360 of which breed in the province and 162 of which breed exclusively in BC), 480 species of fish, 136 species of mammals, 20 species of amphibians, and 16 species of reptiles. Invertebrate species probably number between 50,000 and 70,000, including 35,000 species of insects.

Should BC have a louder voice concerning legislation regarding wildlife governance? Perhaps with proportional representation for wildlife, the areas most affected would be better represented. Or, would BC’s high proportion of individuals relying on natural resource extraction drown the voices working in favour of wildlife? Email your thoughts to


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