Recently, I started volunteering to help study bats in New York State. They’re fascinating. They’re the only mammals that fly. They use their ears to hunt at night. Because of their tricky habitat and nocturnal nature, there is a whole lot we don’t know about their behavior. In fact, they are one of the world’s least-studied mammals. (Caveat: we’re talking living mammals and not counting the giant rat recently found in the crater of Mount Bosavi in Papua New Guinea.) My interest in bats has only increased as they’ve been hit with an unprecedented and alarmingly devastating disease: white nose syndrome.
The Wildlife Conservation Society was founded in 1895. Back then it was called the New York Zoological Society and its main project was to create a zoo in the Bronx, fittingly called The Bronx Zoo. Today the Wildlife Conservation Society is an NGO (non-governmental organization). We hear all manner of opinions about NGOs, some good, some bad. There have even been a few documentary film-style investigations on the subject. As the name would suggest, they are not technically affiliated with a government, but that is slightly misleading. Many NGOs work with governments on specific projects or policies, though they exclude government workers from membership. Of course, when you are a large organization like Amnesty International or the Wildlife Conservation Society, politics are an inevitable part of the game, and that turns off a lot of potential volunteers. Let’s remember though, many NGOs do real, responsible work, and volunteering with one presents many potential benefits.
While some people might think it silly, one of the people I admire most is the late, great Steve Irwin, The Crocodile Hunter. Yes, he was goofy and flamboyant. Sure, he hammed it up for the cameras. But when it came down to caring, generosity, and real work to make a difference, Irwin was a hero. While he wasn’t a volunteer himself—Irwin ran his family’s Australia Zoo—he welcomed volunteers from all over the world, encouraging them to learn about the Australian wildlife, and to spread his message of conservation.
After yesterday’s post I started to do some digging. I was looking for information about scam voluntour opportunities and unfortunately, I found a very long list. It makes a whole lot of sense. By definition, many of these opportunities are in impoverished areas. These areas are home to many desperate people who see foreign voluntourists walking through town and think, “hey, I’m starving and those people have money to burn.” A desperate person sees that as an opportunity for personal financial gain, which may truly mean the difference between life and death. It’s hard to get enraged by desperate people doing desperate things.
Sometimes I look in the mirror and I have this existential crisis moment. I think, “that’s me in there… behind those eyes.” It’s the kind of thing you can’t think about every day or you’d go crazy—that you’re whole self, everything you are, is totally contained inside your skull. But it’s true. Everyone must think about that sometimes, and to think about it is to realize how fragile we are, how strange it is to be self aware, and how important it is to protect that delicate shell that we reside within for the entirety of our existence. For that reason I suppose we are all motivated by a certain self-interest. We are all concerned about our own survival.