Friday, January 2, 2009

I don’t wish to be a millionaire. All I want is to see the polar bear.

Some of you might have wondered what do I mean when I put the title of this post on my profile (if you happen to have read my profile). For the start of this new year, I thought perhaps I should share with you the meaning behind this.

About two years ago, I went to the La Palmyre Zoo in France. I came across two polar bears and fell in love with them. I’ve always liked them but it was mostly because they look so cute and cuddly as soft toys.

Now, I love them because they are so huge and yet they look so harmless (although they are not when threatened and desperate). I love them because they are so graceful in the water with their huge paws paddling gently and long white coat floating around them softly. It is just one of the most breathtaking living things to watch.

But most of all, I love them because they are such strong animals with great endurance and the mother bears often sacrifice a lot for their cubs. I even heard that they have their own quarks. Apparently all polar bears are left handed.

When I was at the zoo, I couldn’t take my eyes off them, contented with just watching them swimming and basking in the sun. I was obviously captivated by them as very often, I would walk around to see other animals but disappeared along the way only to find myself back with the polar bears again.

Then, something happened which upset me. One of the bears started displaying some sort of disturbing behaviour. It had swam very close to the glass enclosure and started bouncing up and down; each time higher and higher. Somehow, I sensed that the bear was in distress and was probably trying to bounce out of the enclosure. He went on for a long time and didn’t stop even after I left because I couldn’t bear to watch that anymore. It would never have succeeded because the glass was much too high.

What angered me more was when a couple started rushing towards the glass to have their photos taken with the bear bouncing helplessly behind them. I know that they probably didn’t feel anything was wrong but for some strange reasons, I felt an inexplicable ache in my heart that tears came to my eyes and I don’t cry easily.

Fourteen years ago, I cried when I watched the opening part of The Lion King and it wasn’t even sad. One of my friends still tease me about this. Perhaps, I am in the wrong profession.

Later on, I started questioning whether it is ethical to have zoos where wild animals are taken away from their natural habitats for the viewing pleasure of people like me, and that couple. It was obvious that the polar bear did not belong to the zoo; far away from its home at the arctic where it lives, hunts and mates. I resolutely told my husband that we are not allowed to take our children to the zoo in future and he argued that it’s a good way to sensitize children about wild animals. I think the National Geographic and Animal Planet channels will do.

Right now, polar bears are one of the most endangered species. With global warming, ice caps are melting faster and faster every year which makes it very difficult for them to hunt on land. They are often forced to swim for ages to look for preys and many ended up drowning to death due to fatigue.

As they can no longer rely on traditional method of hunting seals swimming beneath the ice caps, they turn to walrus out of desperation.  The walrus, much bigger in number and very often larger than them prove to be difficult preys due to their huge and sharp fangs. So, many of them perish from starvation. This is the fate of the polar bears as the climate of our earth starts to change dramatically.

After learning and understanding their condition more, I start to do my part in preserving our environment. Although it’s not much, I am slowly trying to remember to take bags with me when I shop, turn off the electricity when I don’t need it and stop using the air conditioning at home.

My dream is to be able to go to the arctic one day to see the polar bears in their natural habitat. I don’t know when I will be able to do so or whether it will ever happen, but I hope it is not too late if I come around to it.

So, “I don’t wish to be a millionaire. All I want is to see the polar bears” is sort of a personal philosophy of mine. It’s not just about seeing the bears. It means I don’t think having lots of money is the most important thing in life but at the same time, I need to have enough money, good health and the right opportunity to be able to pursue my dreams. At the end of the day, having the opportunity to do something rare and profound in my life is what matters.

I hope you will start to do your part in preserving our environment so that these innocent creatures can continue to live. We have been sharing this planet together and why should they suffer because of us?

Do try to develop at least one environmentally friendly practice. Perhaps for a start, try to limit the number of plastic bags at the supermarket. I’ve noticed how cashiers at the supermarkets at home are very eager to use as many plastic bags as possible; often putting only 2 items in one bag when there are still rooms for a couple more.

This may ultimately be the best new year’s resolution you ever have.

I took this video at the zoo, thinking that one day I’ll be able to share this as part of a public sensitization measure.

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