"No obstacles are insurmountable when God commands and we obey"
- - Heber J. Grant
October 14, 2014
Where are all the Animals Gone?
by Imo Eshiet

On fast and testimony Sunday, a member in the bishopric spoke of how he survived two encounters with deer while driving home from work after teaching college.

In the first incident the deer had hit his car sideways, seriously denting the vehicle in the process. During the second encounter, the deer hit the fender, bounded back into the bush and vanished. When curious students saw the dent, the member narrated what happened and explained he had no chance to get the wounded deer to a vet.

At that point I took added interest because here the principle to conserve animal life actually works. But the speaker recalled how two unlucky young fellows he knew had been killed when a deer crashed through the windshield of a car they were driving.

Speaking somberly of that lethal encounter, he expressed gratitude that he escaped alive. He said, however, that being sixty-three years old and having had to deal with serious health issues, he knew death was not as far off as it was when he was young. He invited others members to join him and spare some thought on what they would be remembered when they passed.

Would they be thought of as kind, compassionate, Christ-like persons who made a difference in the world and lives around them?

In the Church, we love, honor, and sustain our leaders not because we are taught to do so, but because the men and women in leadership positions sacrifice so much of their time, talent, and resources for the uplift of others that it is difficult not to love them naturally.

They know that they will one day stand before God the Father and the Son to account for their love for God and humanity, for the way they strengthened the faith and testimony of members in the Savior. Knowing this, these selfless men and women focus on things of eternal consequence and therefore magnify their calling with an eye single to the glory of God.

Because they do so much without hope for any material reward, we feel sad when, like the rest of humanity, they fall ill or sad, or are hurt.

That Sunday, I felt pity for that priesthood leader in the sense that Aristotle used that word as undeserved misfortune.

The accident with the deer was bad enough, but for it to color his mood so sorrowfully for the trials and inequities of mortality made me feel to cheer him and the rest of the congregation up.

I do not know if my joke carried over with him, but it had other members laughing.

Getting to the pulpit I shook my head as if he had done something awfully wrong. How could he hit a deer and think of taking it to a veterinarian instead of seeing it as a windfall?

I told him that if he did a thing like that in Africa, the community could ostracize him — for if a man was so blessed he was expected to summon the tribe to a feast.

I recalled how once we were clearing a communal farmland in my village and suddenly a big antelope jumped from the marshes. That was the end of the work as everyone, children, men, and women went after the frightened animal.

But it had not always been like that. In the villages where I spent part of my childhood, colonies of birds including bush fowls, partridges, parrots and weaver birds, built their nests in the brushes and low-hanging boughs without fear of being preyed upon by humans.

Teeming shoals of fish blanketed our river and streams and swarmed about lazily. Sometimes they even pecked at our sores when we went swimming.

Congresses of baboons and troops of monkeys jumped from branch to branch in the canopies of our forest.

Those that frolicked by our river even had time to play games with us kids.

We would throw ripe bananas to them and were thrilled to see them peel the fruit like us humans and eat them.

Sometimes if we tricked them and sent a missile up, they would catch it and return the favor! It was not uncommon the see a child who fooled with them hit back so hard his forehead developed a lump or even bled.

Gazelles, giant squirrels, porcupines, and assorted edible rodents prowled our farms and ate cassava, yams and melon to their fill. When they got out of hand, folk trapped them and brought them back for barbecue.

As for hawks and kites, women and kids had a hard time raising a din to scare them away each time they swooped down to steal a chick.

In the five decades it took me to become an old man, we had become so poverty-wracked, the abundant wildlife has virtually vanished. The kites no one bothered to catch for food, now fly like eagles close to the sun to avoid being felled.

There was no law to protect them or if there was, it was so unenforced that folks thumbed their noses at it. Even elephants and some species of monkeys noisily protected by radio announcements are routinely shot and openly sold as meat.

Even snakes have been eaten up. A kinsman just a couple of years back caught a king cobra. He sneaked back home with it and, to avoid sharing with neighbors, hurriedly cooked the beast. Apparently he forgot to drain the poison sack for he died not long after.

I realized that the slash-and-burn type of farming in my village could not augur well for live communities in the land. I recall how charred the landscape used to look like each time we cut down the bush and burned it before planting. Even as a kid I wondered aloud why we roasted the land in order to bring forth new life.

Mother always said burning made it hard for weeds to grow in the farm after planting. But was burning the land into a black, scourged spectacle and overexploiting it the right way to dress and keep it as its Creator commanded?

Each time I see a family of deer prancing around and eating up my vegetable garden here, I get an added feel of the song, “America the Beautiful.”

While I wonder where all the animals back in my village have gone, I am also stumped and mystified as I reflect a humanity where pets inherit great fortune at the death of their owners while millions of miserable children live in haunting, damning poverty and scavenge refuse dumps for food.

The more I think about it, the more I feel my priesthood leader was not only merely talking about the damage deer do to people and cars but was using that story to comment on the need for us to get our priorities straight.

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About Imo Eshiet

Imo Ben Eshiet was born in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. Raised in his village, Uruk Enung, and at several cities in his country including Nsukka, Enugu, Umuahia, Eket and Calabar, Eshiet is a detribalized Nigerian. Although he was extensively exposed to Western education right from childhood in his country where he obtained a PhD in English and Literary Studies from the University of Calabar, he is well nurtured in African history, politics, culture and traditions.

Imo is currently a teacher in the high priests group in the Summit Ward of the Greensboro North Carolina Stake.

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