Bella Lack has been fascinated by animals since she was a toddler, now as a teenager she shares with us her determination to preserve and protect both the individual and the species.
There is not one day that I can pinpoint when I suddenly decided to immerse myself in conservation. Like with many things, it was a gradual process, a layering of fascination, realisation, despair, and determination. But it all stemmed from my enchantment with the natural world, which grew into a desire to protect it.
Two years ago, I travelled to Borneo to fulfil a dream of mine – to see a wild orangutan. This was one of the most defining trips of my life. There, in the jungle forests, my lifelong desire to protect animals transformed into action. One afternoon on a trek, we encountered an orangutan mother with her juvenile son. For a fleeting moment, the mother turned from her son. As most babies do, he took his chance and began to descend from the branches. His movements were sanguine and smooth, but he had an evident destination: us. However, just when he was mere metres from where we stood, his anxious mother raced down. Her lips smacked together in an anguished ‘kiss-squeak’ and her son began to retreat. The moment passed swiftly, but for the first time I experienced implicit communication with another species. I stared into the depths of this young orangutan’s eyes and saw my own gaze reflected back at me. We were just two primates inhabiting the same planet, two children sharing a moment of understanding and mutuality. It was then that I fully understood how precious these creatures truly are. We cannot lose them.
This realisation was not restricted to orangutans. The biodiversity on earth is an interdependent web and by destroying any of the keystone species we are essentially breaking that web. This is why I see the importance in the individual. Although conservation is about the survival of the species, many conservationists disregard the importance of individual welfare.
In that forest two years ago, I made a personal commitment to support the preservation of this planet’s wildlife. I absolved myself from the fear I had accumulated that I would be deemed ‘weird’ to be a teenager involved in conservation. A female teenager involved in conservation. I came to the conclusion that it didn’t matter whether my friends supported me or not – it mattered that elephants were being killed for their enlarged teeth, that lions were being hunted as trophies, and that orangutans were losing their habitat because of our insatiable desire for palm oil. There is not one specific generation that can be blamed for our planet’s destruction, but my generation are being handed a decimated world that has been and still is being stripped of its magnificence; that’s being stripped of its life.
In Borneo, I felt beguiled. I still do. Now, I also ask myself the question, how can we allow such devastation to continue? However, this overwhelming feeling of frustration and despair is slowly being eroded. Not because I am losing interest, but because I am gaining an insight into just how many people really do care. When I joined Born Free, I became part of a community with a global reach and a giant influence. When I learnt more about their endeavours to protect wildlife, I felt that maybe, just maybe, the elephants may soon be able to keep their teeth, the lions may be liberated from fear, and the orangutans returned their rightful home. After all, every single creature on earth has a common goal – to live.
Bella Lack is an environmental campaigner and a youth ambassador for the Born Free Foundation and the Jane Goodall Foundation. She is a passionate advocate for wildlife conservation and has campaigned widely, delivering speeches at the Illegal Wildlife Trade conference and at the Climate Strike demonstrations. She recently featured in Good Housekeeping in a celebration of teenage activists to mark International Women’s Day. She has also interviewed Zac Goldsmith and written for The Ecologist.