Titles aside, turnout was its largest yet and the stellar success due in no small part to the hard work of the organizers, backed this year by Emerald City Pet Rescue. Fifth Avenue in downtown Seattle was blocked to traffic and, flanked by a police escort and led by Chaotic Noise Marching Corps, several hundred activists, conservationists, concerned citizens, children, lions, and dogs marched from Seattle Center to Westlake Plaza – singing, chanting, waving signs, and engaging the multitude of curious onlookers. One couldn’t ask for better weather on this early autumn day, nor a more jubilant and enthusiastic crowd.
A variety of speakers were featured this year, and where some failed in their delivery all are deserving in their respective causes. Highlights included Rick Swazey – the American hunter from Blood Lions who risked his life to expose the grim reality of the canned hunting trade in South Africa – who did not speak at the event but was still deserving of attention and thanks; Pit Track’s Carl Thornton, who traveled outside his homeland of South Africa for the first time ever to appear at the march in Seattle (“I hadn’t even slept in a hotel before this!”); and LionAid’s Chris MacSween, who gave a powerful and impassioned speech on the importance of agitating for both local and global change in support of conservation.
LionAid’s co-founder, Dr. Pieter Kat, was the final speaker on the day. While he talked eloquently about the state of conservation and what can be done and should be worked towards, he also seemed dismissive of other well-known and well-established conservation organizations; at one point using what was, hopefully, an unintentional but still racist quip in describing certain Asian celebrities in an attempt to denigrate the work of the groups they speak on behalf of. It was a disappointing moment, to say the least, and representative of a style of back-handed acknowledgment that is sometimes found among separate groups supporting similar causes who are fighting for every donor dollar they can get. Like different churches: all worshiping the same god; all claiming theirs is the one true voice of the cause.
It’s a similar form of dismissive politicking I’ve seen used by others in an attempt to negate the purpose and usefulness of marches like these and those who participate, and one I’ve long been tired of. Even if less-than-reputable people and orgs, such as zoos, latch onto GMFERL and like causes as a way of self-promotion, the events are still opportunities to reach out and connect with those who might not otherwise be familiar with the dire state of some of our most iconic wildlife, and shouldn’t be dismissed outright simply “because.” The purpose of the march isn’t, nor shouldn’t be, about those carrying the banners, but instead about striking a resonant chord of action with those looking on. We can’t pass up the good work organizations like WildAid do because, in Dr. Kat’s case, we seemingly don’t agree that their use of Asian celebrities in targeting Asian consumers to curb demand is the best approach to the problem of il/legally trafficked wildlife. And we can’t pass up the opportunity marches like these offer in highlighting and bringing attention to these types of important issues.
Every. Voice. Counts.
Earlier this week at the triennial CITES convention – being held this go-around in Johannesburg, South Africa – all 182 member countries unanimously agreed to a total ban on the international trade of pangolin by adding all eight species of these ridiculously cute, little scaly anteaters to their Appendix I listing. Pangolin: the most trafficked exotic wildlife in the world you’ve likely never heard of until recently – more in demand than rhinos, elephants, and lions. Pangolin: whose name doesn’t appear in the title of the march but is still an animal we should all give a shit about. While elephants, lions, and rhinos are absolutely in dire need of the same concern and attention CITES has given pangolins, we can’t ignore our responsibility to help everyone who can do what they’re able so we can save our iconic wildlife before they become dusty pages in history books, or sad and wholly unbefitting exhibits in zoos “because conservation.”
So here’s to the tiny pangolin and here’s to the mighty elephant! Here’s to LionAid, WildAid, Pit Track, Blood Lions, Tusk Task Force, Flying Elephant Project, those who labored tirelessly to put on GMFERL, those who turned out to march, and those who tuned in to hear the message! Thank you, sincerely, for doing your part in helping get the word out and, just as importantly, making a proactive effort to make a difference. We’ll see you down the front at next year’s Global March for Critically Endangered Animals (We Should All Give a Shit About).