Skinned AliveMost of my previous volunteer placements had concentrated on individual species conservation. I always felt really interested by it and my love and passion for animals had naturally driven me to those experiences and projects. My empathy and commitment to others, which I think is one of my main characteristics, not always for the best, had pushed me on to the projects and programs that demanded me to take care of a specific animal. I worked with monkeys for a short time but preferred much more those projects that work with predators such as big cats or wolves. I was never that interested in the programs that work specifically on forest conservation, although I always deeply acknowledged the importance of ecosystem conservation, and those who work to protect them.
So when I got the email from WWF saying I could participate in a Program in Madagascar, that was not directly involved in species conservation but more on ecosystem preservation I was very interested in getting involved. But to be honest, not nearly as passionate as if someone had proposed me to take care of a tiger. I was keen when my program started to learn a lot and educate myself in general conservation. But my heart always dreamed of big animals to care for.
However I think that shifted a bit as soon as we traversed our first part of the program. With my fellow explorers we were on our second day of journey towards the South of the Island of “Madagasikara”, when we emerged out of a line of hills into grasslands landscape. And the sight was heartbreaking. The forest stopped abruptly, right next to the highway and then the earth was flesh red, with bits taken out of it were someone had made a huge fire. Across the hills we could see the reddish flesh color of the land that had been burned. And it truly looked like it had been skinned alive.
For the first time my compassion and empathy were aroused by something other than the pain of an animal. My heart felt for the entire land, since I could feel its suffering at the pain of having being burnt, the same suffering that I might feel if someone would burn my skin. My empathy for charismatic individual species dramatically spread to include the entire ecosystems that allow them to survive. The redness of the burned land truly felt anguishing. I don t really know how it came to have such a big impact on me, maybe it was the skin like appearance of the grass burned. Or maybe it was the dark black carbon color of the land after the fire ate it alive. Or maybe it was the contrast of the rich and dense forest right next to the desolated and now infertile burned land. But suddenly I was much more excited to be participating in a forests preservation project and my heart started feeling for it as it would have for a big tiger. After all, it´s all part of the same circle. My understanding of the importance of ecosystem conservation was already growing with each the Explore! Program experiences.
WWF Volunteer Camila Cosse Braslavsky, Madagascar 2012