It all started with a gruesome video: a baby gazelle being eaten alive by a baboon. When it comes to nature-at-its-most-vicious, the footage is hard to beat – it’s so difficult to watch that some of us here at Earth Touch couldn’t, er, stomach more than a few seconds. But many of you were not put off by the graphic content and the video has been racking up views on YouTube (it passed 100,000 in just a week).
So what’s the appeal? Perhaps it’s the fact that we’re showing events as they really happened: no veneer, no sugar-coating (we’ve now released an entire series of nature videos developed around this same idea). Of course, disturbing content is bound to stir up a little debate and controversy – and one question that keeps popping up is why our camera crew did not intervene to save the gazelle from such a horrible death. In the face of violence and suffering, the urge to ‘help’ can be overwhelming – but is it the right thing to do?
That’s a pretty complex question packed with ethical and ecological landmines. Should humans interfere in natural processes that have been playing out for millennia? And when we do intervene (even with the best intentions), do we somehow sway things away from their natural course or disrupt the balance in an ecosystem?
Perhaps there's no clear answer to that question. After all, intervention can take many forms. In the case of the baboon, helping the prey would have meant depriving the predator of a protein-rich meal. Impulsive intervention in a situation like that (one we don’t fully understand) can have unintended negative consequences. But what about other scenarios? Take this one: an Earth Touch cameraman recently came across this sloth sunning itself on the side of a road in Panama.
Since sloths are not known for their speedy reflexes, he gently relocated the animal away from the danger of oncoming traffic. Was he wrong? When it comes to natural events, is the hands-off approach always the right one? And does it matter that the sloth had found itself in danger on a road that humans had constructed in the midst of its natural environment?
That brings us to an interesting point. The sad truth is that humans have already intervened in nature for their own interests to such an extent that no part of the planet remains unaffected by our activities. Altering our environment is just what we do. That should make us all at least partly responsible for preserving what is left of the earth’s biodiversity. And conservation often involves intervention on a grand scale – like creating artificial animal habitats in the form of nature reserves, breeding endangered species, vaccinating rare animals against diseases or even culling some creatures to protect others. Of course, these efforts to manipulate ecosystems in order to 'save' them can sometimes backfire because we do not fully understand the very complicated ways in which they function.
So what's the verdict? Are we asking for trouble when we stick our noses into nature or are there some situations where our involvement is not only warranted but also necessary? Check out this list of tricky intervention scenarios and have your say!