Born Free announced on Facebook yesterday that Paws n Claws are running a writing competition for 5-11 years old to write about wild animals. The profits from the book that will be published with the winning stories will go to Born Free – so it’s a good money raising scheme for charity. No doubt, the brains behind this idea also had another, vitally important, goal in mind: getting children interested, committed, and aware of the natural world around them.
This reminded me of an experience, and a book that went along with it, that is imprinted heavily on my mind: one which probably had vast interest on the way I feel and think about things today. I was about 6 years old and we had accompanied my Dad (who was a pilot for BA at the time) to Kenya – and we visited the David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage. It was an experience that most people who love animals, adults and children alike, would crave and be insanely jealous of. The rusty reddish animals moved about among us and I was spell bound. They were about my height, and had been rescued, sunburnt, after their mothers had been killed by poachers. One wrapped its trunk gently around my arm and put it into its mouth. I think he was saying hello.
As memorable as that was, maybe it was the book that, I assume my parents purchased as we left, that turned the experience into a lesson. We might see things and claim to care about them, but as children we have to learn about our roles in the world – and our growing responsibility. I think the book was called The Children Will Save Us, and on the cover children of various ethnicities joined hands-to-trunk with elephants as they danced around a globe. The title probably tells you all you need to know about it. The elephants, who I think narrated it, said that if the children of the world were brought up to love them and not see them as walking ivory dollar, poaching would stop and they would be hauled back from extinction. How true.
Born Free and Paws n Claws, doubtless, are more than bearing this in mind as they launch their children’s competition. We all know, and it’s repeated often enough, that ‘children are the future’, but I’m afraid that, currently, we might still be fighting a loosing battle. While liking tigers and dolphins might be rather popular when you are little, ‘green’ is apparently far from ‘cool’ for teenagers – and, I would hazard a guess, especially inner-city teenagers. And why should it be, when technology is so popular, when public transport is seen as such a nuisance? But this is a battle that really, we have to win – and it’s about attitude change as well. Its about challenging ideas, and rocking complacency. And – about trying to reconnect children with nature. I am more than aware that most kids haven’t had the experiences I was lucky enough to have when I was little – but that doesn’t mean we can’t employ various different means to get children to have an idea of how important the world, its ecosystems and the atmosphere is. They have to know that there is a battle going on, like the battle to save the elephants. They have to be shown, and then they have to realise that, on most fronts it is a battle we are losing. We need a new generation that has been taught to care about the planet; then, and only then, will they be able to make the elephants’ prophecy come true.