What does it mean to be human? We come across this question all too often but, in truth, just how often do we actually pause to really hammer out some kind of answer, to try to steal a glimpse into our own purpose.
I've recently had the chance to pick the mind of someone who's been all around the world, combing untouched pockets of wilderness in an ambition to uncover or rediscover about the earths innumerable species and biology that help us piece together a more vivid understanding of our world and, ultimately, ourselves.
Interestingly, it may be that the solution towards deciphering what it means for us to be human can be found in the enigmatic organisms that are found scattered throughout our biosphere, or perhaps in the untouched tribes that still roam certain corners of the earth - that maybe our own nature can be better understood from nature itself.
For this reason, who better to ask than Forrest Galante. An avid adventurer, wildlife biologist, and host of Animal Planet's Extinct or Alive, Forrest has traveled to and through over 60 countries, finding tremendous success in his expeditions to rediscover lost or extinct species.
Q: In your encounters with so many different peoples and cultures throughout the dozens of countries you've visited, what have you learned to be a fundamental baseline characteristic of the human species, something that we all have in common, whether you're an Amazonian tribal elder or a broker on Wall Street?
F.G.:That people are intrinsically willing to help. Everywhere I go and everything I do requires some local insight, knowledge and support and when you express that you could really need a hand, people are willing to step up and help you.
Q: Even in your encounters with wildlife - have you ever had an instance whereby you felt less human than a particular animal or where you had simply been blown away by either the sophistication or unimaginable intelligence of a certain species?
F.G.: Many many times. Humans are just animal, highly intelligent primates. But when you sit face to face with something wise like a whale, an elephant or a an orangutan, that has more physical strength but also possesses the compassion and love of a human being, you realize we are not necessarily as superior as we think we are. I had a moment this year, watching a mother orangutan teach her baby how to climb and forage, and when it was struggling and got upset, she comforted it and gave it extra confidence. It was beautiful.
Q: Why do you feel innately drawn to the wilderness and what feeds your intrinsic primal need to be in nature? Beyond the mere fact that you grew up in it - do you find that there's something buried in your psyche or mentality or consciousness that makes you venture into some of the world’s last untouched pockets of nature and, if so, what do you think pulls you there?
F.G.: I believe human beings have an intrinsic desire to explore. It goes against our basic evolution to be sedentary, live indoors and be removed from nature. When I am in remote wilderness, I feel far more comfortable and at ease, far less stressed and less worries on my mind and more where I belong. I think once people get beyond their discomfort and fears, this is how we all feel in nature.
Q: You're in a privileged position whereby you can view biological speciation (and adaptation) occurring from such a dynamic perspective given your vast experience with wildlife biology. You've visited countless ecological niches and observed innumerable roles taking place. What can humans learn from the adaptability of certain wildlife? Because, really, we're all organisms figuring out their roles - what lessons have you been taught from wilderness or wildlife in respect to our progress and role as a human species?
F.G.: What’s interesting is human beings as a species are the most incredible, adaptable and resilient species. We have figured out how to live everywhere from the Arctic to the Amazon, however most individuals (especially city-based Westerners) are so incredibly single use, narrowly minded and non-adaptable that they freeze when faced with a new obstacle. Learning from species like the coyote and their endless abilities to adapt is one of the most amazing things humans on an individual level can take away from wildlife.
Whether by contrast or comparison, we stand to learn a lot about ourselves through the examination of nature and all that it encompasses.
For it's well understand that nature abides by its own set of laws and that, try as we might, we can't escape certain universal truths and principles no matter how high we build or how technological we become.
No matter what, we're tied to the nature from which we emanate.
Season 2 of Extinct or Alive comes out October 16th on Animal Planet.