Just about one year ago, I resigned from the North American Wood Ape Conservancy (NAWAC). It was a decision of conscience instigated by the ethical choices being made by the group’s leadership I found indefensible, not because I didn’t agree with the mission of the organization or had lost interest in the subject.
Collecting compelling, concrete evidence of the existence of the North American Wood Ape remains, in my opinion, one of the top natural conservation imperatives of our time. It will rewrite our understanding of and approach to the wild areas of our continent and our place in the family tree of life on Earth. While I’ve left that group, I’ve remained open to being part of or helping to found another group as long as those involved held certain ethical positions.
- They must renounce groundless and/or reckless conspiracy theories
- They must embrace and respect a scientific approach
- They must appreciate and seek out the strength that comes from diversity of human experience
- They must stand for and defend the rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights, illustrated by the Declaration of Independence, and codified in the Constitution.
The very nature of the subject of our shared interests (a mythical, monster-like figure lurking in the shadows of the deepest, darkest forests) suggests anyone willing to accept and promote groundless and fantastical conspiracies without basis in fact cannot and should not be taken seriously. By definition, defending their adherence to a scientific approach is a preposterous position. So those who allow the disease of conspiracy to pollute their logic simply have no place in any group I’d be part of. The need for “boots on the ground” will never outweigh the need to be believable and reliable and trustworthy.
Diversity in any organization or pursuit is a significant strength. I see that every day in the company I lead and the country I call home. I would need a commitment by a group to be inclusive and pursue and embrace all aspects of diversity: thought, experience, and identity.
The last issue is one that we shouldn’t need to talk about in the United States. But we live in dangerous times where people in powerful positions are using their platforms to erode public trust in our basic institutions and traditions and divide and incite us as we haven’t been in 150 years. I believe we are on the precipice of something I never though we’d see in this country. So while it should go without saying, it needs to be said now. Because if we don’t have basic freedoms of speech and assembly or live in a country where everyone isn’t provided an opportunity to a free and fair vote and the legitimate winners of elections aren’t allowed to exercise their mandate, then nothing else matters.
And clearly, the issues we have in our country today with regard to these concerns are intrinsically entwined with belief in dangerous conspiracies and a shocking lack of respect for the diversity our country has supposedly stood for for centuries.
Luckily, shortly after my departure from the NAWAC, a group of friends with similar ideals came together to found exactly that kind of organization. We call it the Wood Ape Research Group (WARG) and we’ve spent the past year doing the basics of building a new organization: establishing a research area, buying required equipment, and formalizing our shared commitment.
We would like to grow our numbers with similarly aligned individuals who value diversity, respect scientific methodology, and defend free and fair representative democracy and we will be sharing more news about that in the future.