God’s attentive presence found in the diversity of wildlife
BY MAJOR MELANIE-ANNE HOLLAND
I’m a birdwatcher, from a family of avid birdwatchers. For as long as I can remember, my family has travelled with a copy of The Readers Digest Complete Book of Australian Birds. Our eyes have been trained to observe the distant flutters of birds, noting their colour and form, in the perpetual hunt for new species. Parents, siblings, children, cousins, aunts and uncles have all been co-opted into our enthusiastic (perhaps competitive) quest. I love birds, and their diversity is a source of joy for me.
The World Wildlife Fund describes biodiversity as “all the different kinds of life you’ll find in one area – the variety of animals, plants, fungi, and even micro-organisms like bacteria, that make up our natural world. Each of these species and organisms works together in ecosystems, like an intricate web, to maintain balance and support life.”
The diversity of life all around us is spectacular and awe-inspiring, not just in terms of the variety of plants and animals but also the variety within each species. And from a faith perspective, this biodiversity is intentional and purposeful. Not only is God the source, or Creator, of all the diversity we observe, he is constantly engaged with the world around us.
Psalm 104 in the Bible is a song about God’s ongoing relationship with the world. It tells of God as the one who forms ecosystems and provides the different species of animals with all they need. God lovingly and attentively gives rhythms of life, rest, boundaries, homes, water, food and breath to the creatures around us. Each animal, with its unique needs and contribution, is valuable to God.
Can we do without a species? Is any species ‘disposable’ or less valuable? Can we live in a world without wild koalas or platypuses or black-throated finches? How about the species we find less endearing, like mice or mosquitoes? Apart from the profound loss of species, each extinction is like pulling at a thread in a jumper and waiting for the whole garment to unravel. Each loss can cascade into another.
In our Australian context, we are challenged by how much of our unique wildlife is under threat of extinction from habitat destruction, introduced species, pollution and climate change. Two hundred and seventy-seven species of birds, mammals, fish, frogs, reptiles and other animals have been identified as endangered or critically endangered. Any species lost would be a tragedy.
Yesterday was in fact 2023 World Wildlife Day, and this year’s theme is ‘Partnerships for Wildlife Conservation’. We are encouraged to work together in a concerted effort to create and sustain healthy ecosystems, wildlife populations and biodiversity. We each have a part to play.
Wherever you are as you read this reflection today, take a moment to see what animals you share the space with. From the tropics to the snowfields, from the mangroves and beaches to vast arid places, the diversity of wildlife around you is a precious testament to the caring, attentive presence of God. And the God who delights in them also cares for you.
What you can do • Buy only sustainably sourced products (seafood, timber products and the like). • Stop using pesticides in the garden. • Plant locally endemic plants that belong in the area, to increase habitat for birds, insects, frogs, reptiles and small mammals in your neighbourhood. • Join a bush regeneration group or host a tree-planting event in your community. • Keep plastic waste and other rubbish out of waterways and the ocean through local clean-up events.
Major Melanie-Anne Holland is a Salvation Army officer (pastor) in NSW. She also holds a Bachelor of Environmental Science (Hons).