Sermon Delivered to the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Gainesville
August 23, 2009
Rev. LoraKim Joyner, D.V.M.
Sermon Delivered to the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Gainesville
August 23, 2009
Rev. LoraKim Joyner, D.V.M.
1. Join or support an avian conservation team or project
Avian veterinary medical skills are not the only offering for avian conservation. If you have skills in fundraising, publicity, graphic design, translation, photography and video recording, editing and writing, website design, biology, climbing, or handling birds you may find a spot in the field, or working remotely as part of the support staff. If you do not have a lot of time, expertise, or mobility you can also participate in local bird counts such as the Great Backyard Bird Count or the Audubon Annual Christmas Bird Count.
2. Donate resources to avian conservation
There are a plethora of worthwhile avian conservation projects to which you can donate supplies, equipment, and funds. You can donate to a metaconservation group, such as Bird Life International, the National Audubon Society, or the American Bird Conservancy or familiarize yourself with smaller specialty groups such as Parrots International and World Parrot Trust. Whatever you decide to do, check the organization’s website for its mission, objectives, and financial reports.
3. Know the origin, ecology and behavior of any bird you work with or wish to acquire.
Use books, articles, videos, interviews, and the Internet. See the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) for their global list of endangered and threatened birds as well as the North American list of endangered and threatened birds published by the Cornell Ornithology Laboratory.
The well being of birds and the environments in which they live is directly related to the health of human communities. For instance, poverty and loss of biodiversity are intimately linked. Avian conservation efforts increasingly include human health in their research objectives. It is more difficult to procure information about human communities in relation to birds, but start with Bird Life International and RARE Conservation.
4. Promote education and awareness in others
Offer information about avian conservation in your clinic. Play videos from youtube.com or bird conservation sites. Provide brochures and handouts about avian conservation at home and abroad, and frame posters on conservation. Have a computer available to search for and display conservation projects. Sell books and other items that support avian conservation projects. Share with others what you know about the status of birds in the wild. Engage in social and informational networks like Twitter and Facebook, and offer presentations to local civic and community groups, including bird clubs and veterinary associations.
5. Care for birds in captivity while questioning their existence in captivity
One of the best ways to “conserve birds” is to care adequately for those already in our midst. To do so we need to understand their complex natures as best we can so we can provide them with an enriching and healthy environment. In reality, there is no way an artificially constructed environment can match the evolved adaptations of a bird to a complex ecological and social niche.
For this reason, one must consider carefully the moral obligations humans have whenever they consider having a wild animal in captivity. For many, the question is not how to provide the good life for a bird, but whether most bird species should be in captivity in the first place. Understanding how birds come into captivity or into your homes (often through conditions that cause suffering, death, extinction, and environmental and biodiversity degradation) deters many from keeping birds in captivity. If birds are to come into captivity, basically they should be fair trade, organic, sustainable, humanely reared, and experience rich lives as a companion in your life. This means that the people who work with the birds earn a living wage, that the environment and the bird is not harmed in the process, and that the bird and her or his parents have a wonderful life throughout their time spent with humans.
6. Strive for a low carbon footprint, making your home and work environments as “green” as possible
The more we consume of the earth’s resources, the less there is for other life forms. We may not see the devastation that our consumer choices cause, however, much of what we have comes from other peoples and birds losing their habitats if not their very lives. For instance, the habitat of the Yellow-billed parrot (Amazona collaria) in Jamaica is threatened by zinc mining, so the more we recycle, the less environmental impact there is for this species. There are many other small steps that can positively impact lives. To learn more, go to the New American Dream(www.newdream.org).
7. Support organizations that promote avian conservation
Visit or vacation at a sanctuary, park, or avitourist destination. Your dollars help sustain the viability of programs that seek to protect and nurture birds and people. Reducing consumption of natural resources near and far means there is more for the birds and the habitats in which they live. By targeting your spending for goods that support people and their efforts to live sustainably, you are helping birds. In turn, as we nurture humans, we nurture the environments in which they live. Learn more by visiting the International Ecotourism, Sustainable Travel International, and the agencies listed in “Ten Things Every Avian Veterinarian Should Know About Conservation Medicine” (www.LafeberVet.com)
8. Support an advocacy group
Though there is greater public awareness about choices that reflect compassionate care for life and environmental values, human societies need not just education, but public policy to provide in-depth, timely, and far reaching guidelines for change. There is always work to be done on the local and international level for legislation and policy. Find out more through the American Bird Conservancy, Avian Welfare Coalition, Environmental Protection Agency, and the National Audubon Society.
9. Support students wishing to study avian conservation at home and overseas
Individuals native to a particular region bring longevity, embodied understanding, and commitment to any avian conservation project. Therefore one of the best ways to support avian conservation is to provide educational support for students in conservation biology, wildlife management, and veterinary medicine. You can also support international student and veterinarian travel. For instance, the Association of Avian Veterinarians provides scholarships for student externships. You may also contact Dr. Dennis Guerro Centeno at the San Carlos School of Veterinary Medicine and Zoology in Guatemala who seeks scholarship support for graduate students studying psittacine conservation in Guatemala (firstname.lastname@example.org).
10. Grow your enjoyment of birds and encourage others to do the same
“The experience of beauty has a built-in consequence: fairness.
(It) refers both to loveliness and to the ethical requirement to be
fair, play fair, or distribute fairly. Beauty issues a call to symmetry
and equality, a call to be just.” --Elaine Scarry
Birds are beautiful and bring much pleasure and enjoyment. When watching them we grow in our sense of their beauty, which calls us to greater care and compassion of our natural world. Bird watching is avian conservation in the making, and estimates of American birdwatchers range from 46 million to over 60 million. Carry binoculars when you go walking or keep a pair in your car. Take time to slow down and observe birds. They’ll surprise you with their behavior and beauty. While at work and at home ask others if they had any interactions with birds and what they thought and felt. In their relationships with birds, were there aspects that brought them joy and peace, understanding and clarity, sadness and loss? If we can take time to celebrate, mourn, and express gratitude with others about our lives with birds we grow our capacity to care, and renew ourselves so that we may work diligently and consistently over the many years it will take to save even one species.
To find out more about bird watching go to birding.com and the National Audubon Society. Go to Wings of Compassion (www.lafeberwingsofcompassion.com) for information on avian loss.
You can celebrate birds on National Bird Day, January 5 (www.nationalbirdday.com)
For a copy of this handout and others on conservation, go to www.LafeberVet.com
I recently attended the Annual Meeting of the Association of Avian Veterinarians (AAV) in Milwaukee. Demonstrated there was much change in the air for the hopes of keeping more birds in the air and more human hearts focusing on avian welfare. To start off, the keynote speaker was Dr. Gail Golab, head of the Animal Welfare Division of the American Veterinary Medical Association. She spoke of human complexity and diversity in welfare issues that depend on science as well as people skills and understanding. She later attended the AAV Welfare Committee where a room full of bird veterinarians organized how to address the ethical dilemmas facing our world today regarding compassionate care for humans and birds alike. During the main conference, various presentations covered critical thinking, socioscience (how to hold competent and compassionate ethical discourse), avian welfare, avian conservation, and grief and bereavement in avian loss. Everywhere I turned it seems that this body of veterinarians increasing wishes to tackle difficult issues that tug at the heart, and impact our incomes and profession.
In particular I was struck by the admission during the “Cutting Edge Hot Topics” session from researchers who mourned the use of birds in terminal experiments. They named and thanked the birds, and reflected upon the angst caused by euthanizing birds to gain data to fight infectious disease. Later during the conference I heard from these same researchers and from others about the stress and moral dilemma involved in avian medicine and companionship that constantly raises the question, “Should we have these birds in captivity at all?” This kind of discourse was underground 15 years ago, whispered as it was a defect in veterinary professionalism to have confusion about the role of birds in captivity and for human use. Now it becomes front and center as more veterinarians wish to lead the change they wish to see in the world. For this I am deeply grateful for my fellow veterinarians.
On the way home from the conference I had a layover in Memphis. As I walked up to my gate, I noticed a somewhat weakened bat flying up and down the concourse. People scooted out of the way and some swatted at it. One man in particular tried to harm the bat, and I told him that we were trying to catch the bat and that we didn’t need to harm it. He asked me, “Why, it’s just a bat” and I responded, rather curtly as I was busily attempting to capture the bat with a spare t-shirt of mine, “Because bats have a right to live too.” I suppose I made quite a scene running around trying to catch the bat and a crowd gathered. Then suddenly the same man I had spoken too throws his shoe at the bat that ends this creatures flying, and perhaps also her or his life. I stare unbelievingly at the man who pursued his plan of death while I followed my plan for life. I gathered the still form in my t-shirt and approached the gate attendant asking if there was a way I could place the bat outside. She looked at me and asked, “What, are you a veterinarian?” as if that explained my absurd behavior. I answered yes and she led me outside through a door in the gateway ramp, where I pried the still breathing, but quite unmoving bat from my shirt and lowered her to an alcove in the stairway.
Returning to the gate waiting area, I sat in shock that there could be such opposing views on life and how in the public realm we can be at such odds with one another, disconnecting us in human relationships as well as harming other life. In this sorrowful and confusing musing, however, I felt a note of pride for the veterinary profession and a resulting symphony of hope. For others see veterinarians as the saviors of life, even on the leading edge of behavior that stands against the status quo of society that states “it’s only an animal” in action and in word. May we so live up to this understanding of who we are, in both action and world.
Common Tern (by Andreas Trepte)
Listen, maybe such devotion, in which one holds the world in the clasp of attention, isn’t the perfect prayer, but it must be close, for the sorrow, whose name is doubt, is thus subdued, and not through the weaponry of reason, but of pure submission. Tell me, what else could beauty be for? – Mary Oliver in poem, Terns (see below for entire poem)
The beauty of birds, what is it for? It is to add names to our life list? Is it to heal the ache in our hearts? Is it to find that we belong here on this earth, have a place in the family of things?
When I see a bird, hear her or his call, or hold it’s still form in my hands, I hear the invitation to give myself over to a better thing, and not a bitter thing. True, it is hard to be minister, conservationist, and veterinarian whose daily activities ask me to be present to what might seem hopeless in the tragic pain, loss, and death of all beings. Incessant questions hover around me: What is mine to do? How can I help? When will the suffering end?
Then I see a bird, a tern perhaps hovering over ocean swell. My heart fills, the world shifts, it turns. In this great turning I only know beauty and that is what I am for.
What are you for?
Don't think just now of the trudging forward of thought,
but of the wing-drive of unquestioning affirmation.
It's summer, you never saw such a blue sky,
and here they are, those white birds with quick wings,
sweeping over the waves,
chattering and plunging,
their thin beaks snapping, their hard eyes
happy as little nails.
The years to come -- this is a promise --
will grant you ample time
to try the difficult steps in the empire of thought
where you seek for the shining proofs you think you must have.
But nothing you ever understand will be sweeter, or more binding,
than this deep affinity between your eyes and the world.
The flock thickens
over the roiling, salt brightness. Listen,
maybe such devotion, in which one holds the world
in the clasp of attention, isn't the perfect prayer,
but it must be close, for the sorrow, whose name is doubt,
is thus subdued, and not through the weaponry of reason,
but of pure submission. Tell me, what else
could beauty be for? And now the tide
is at its very crown,
the white birds sprinkle down,
gathering up the loose silver, rising
as if weightless. It isn't instruction, or a parable.
It isn't for any vanity or ambition
except for the one allowed, to stay alive.
It's only a nimble frolic
over the waves. And you find, for hours,
you cannot even remember the questions
that weigh so in your mind.
~ Mary Oliver ~
(New and Selected Poems, Volume Two)