In that apparently simple statement, he sums up so much of the importance and tragedy of wildness (I say ‘wildness’ to emphasise the quality, the spirit, while not wishing to downplay the physical nature of the concept—rock, ice, rivers, seas, jungles, deserts, and so on). The snow leopard as an icon; as an embodiment and reminder of what we long for; an idea that articulates that longing and need far more eloquently than any words. Perhaps there are no words that adequately say this. For so many people—people like me and most of my friends—the knowledge that snow leopards still live, wild and unseen—and unknown—is hope.
That’s much of the importance: while it is still possible to believe the icon exists in our world we can hope, and we can believe wildness, or wilderness if you will, still exists.
And there’s the tragedy. There’s something almost heartbreaking in those words; that the snow leopard is “an almost mythical creature.” Mythical creatures exist, but not in the world we believe to be real; not in the world we believe we experience. For the snow leopard to become a mythical creature would require the loss of one of the world’s greatest icons of wilderness and wildness. We’re so close to that—yet, for a while, there’s hope. Hope that hinges on a single word: almost.
“The snow leopard is an almost mythical creature.” A simple statement expressing the power of symbol; the value of what we’re so close to losing; the proximity and enormity of the loss; and still—hope. Hope that, just maybe, we won’t have to survive that loss.
I wake from a dream of tigers, aware of something heavy on the bed. I reach out and feel the fur, hear the chirrup and how it changes to a purr. Moonlight, and wind around the house.
The quote by David Attenborough comes from the BBC's Planet Earth. I was lucky to catch the documentary, with its astonishing footage of wild snow leopards. I think I remembered the quote correctly.
Photo (click if you want a larger image):
1. Fence and moon, Petone wharf, Wellington harbour.
I didn't have a photo of a snow leopard, and would need to think hard about my reasons for taking one. I probably would, but I don't believe the issues are as simple as "drawing attention to the animal's plight". I do know that I hope one day to be faced with the dilemma.
Photo and words © 2006 Pete McGregor