Call to reset our relationship with nature, taking mankind out of the centre

06 May 2021 - 15:21
By Mila de Villiers

“When a pandemic arises it puts everything that's wrong with our approach to nature and wildlife conservation to the forefront.”

This statement à la award-winning local investigative wildlife journalist and author, Adam Cruise.

Cruise is speaking to me via Zoom from his home on the outskirts of the southern cape seaside town of George about his latest title, It's Not About the Bats: Conservation, the coronavirus and how we must re-set our relationship with nature.

“Well, no. Not really,” he answers in response to whether the writing of this book happened to be an unfortunate coincidence with regards to a global pandemic. 

The parasitic nature between pandemics and zoonotic diseases is something he's “explored for years and years as a journalist,” describing the advent of Covid-19 as “sharp relief” because it “shines a spotlight on problems”.

The problems being modern homo sapiens' destructive, greed-fuelled, and arrogant approach to the natural world. 

Cruise, who has a PhD in environmental and animal ethics from the University of Stellenbosch, strongly critiques anthropocentrism - the misguided notion that human beings are superior to all other living entities - throughout his book, introducing the reader to two subsets of anthropocentrism: strong anthropocentrism and weak anthropocentrism. 

As Cruise writes [a]nthropocentrism in its strong sense favours human existence and wellbeing at the expense of the survival or wellbeing of other animals.

“It's an unbridled desire to take as much as you can as quickly as you can,” he explains. 

In 'weak' anthropocentrism, wildlife and natural resource utilisation is still seen in purely instrumental or commercial terms (thus exclusively in terms of serving human interests), but instead of overexploitation, as in the case of the rhino, elephant, pangolin, and vaquita, species and nature are treated as sustainable resources in that wild animals are protected so as to provide continued benefit for humans into the foreseeable future.

Or, as he verbally summarises for me, weak anthropocentrism involves regulating the consumption of wildlife and nature to continue to use it for our benefits.

Sustainable use is a weak approach that everybody seems to be taking, Cruise continues, citing how it's enshrined in the UN and its numerous bodies, including UN Environment Program (UNEP), Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites), and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). 

Cruise maintains that our approach to nature and wildlife is parasitic: we exploit nature and her resources for our benefit, and our reasons behind preserving it stems from our chronic desire to exploit natural resources, as opposed to a symbiotic approach. 

He incredulously shakes his head. 

“We're messing it up.”

A modern-day environmental Nostradamus, Cruise warns that if we don't change our approach to wildlife conservation we'll be faced with other pandemics - and with increasing regularity. (Think Ebola and the Zika virus.)

“The title [of his book] suggests these deadly infectious viruses originates in animals,” Cruise continues, explaining that it is due to human interference - “us pushing animals into smaller and smaller areas” - which results in greater transition risks, as in the case of Wuhan's crowded “bush meat” markets.

Deforestation - particularly owing to cultivating the natural land for grazing - also results in the spreading of zoonotic diseases, he adds.

Trophy hunting: horns, lies, and exploitation

Cruise dedicates a number of pages to the perils of trophy hunting, vehemently decrying trophy hunters' antagonistic justification of hunting (often endangered) animals for the mere purpose of boasting with a pair of tusks, a pelt, or a horn.

Their reasoning - “oh, but the money goes back to conservation and the livelihood of rural, poor people” - is false; it doesn't happen, he says. 

“We've followed the money trail,” Cruise the investigative journalist continues, stating that the money spent by trophy hunters doesn't benefit rural communities or conservation bases.

The main perpetrators are often from the US or Europe and they're willing to pay up to $50,000 for the hunting outfit which arranges the hunt. The professional hunter gets the bulk of the money, says Cruise, with the government receiving a large profit for the permits.

The hunters' attempt at redemption in most cases is a mere “well, there you go” when they “gift” villagers the carcass of an elephant, he states.

“Trophy hunting isn't an economy, and a century-plus of trophy hunting hasn't benefited local, rural, or impoverished communities.”

The most-sought after animals are often the “biggest and the best”, described by Cruise as “charismatic megafauna” (elephants and big cats specifically).

Removing the genetically strongest animals - the biggest lions with the “best” manes, for example - has a detrimental ecological effect because the largest animals tend to be breeding males.

“From an ecological point of view it makes no sense,” says Cruise, describing the argument of hunting the largest polar bears - who are best adapted to climate change - as “a complete reversal” of sustainability.

“Trophy hunters will tell you otherwise,” Cruise continues. Lone bull elephants also play a role in ecology, as they contribute to the social herd hierarchy. “Nature wouldn't be doing that,” he gravely states.

“Trophy hunting has nothing to do with conservation. It's about satisfying their masculine blood lust. That's the core of the problem.”

Cruise quotes renowned Mexican economist Prof Alejandro Nadal, to whom he dedicates the book, in his section on the illegal trade in rhino horns: Nadal explicitly warned that legalising a rhino horn market could instead 'lead to a serious case of policy failure and the extinction of rhino populations could be the end result'.

Does Cruise share his sentiment? 

“Ja, I do agree with Nadal,” Cruise nods.

The reasoning that sending out rhino horns to Southeast Asia will satiate the demand, resulting in a decline in poaching, is scoffed at by Cruise, describing this approach as “basic Economics 101: there are various other aspects of the market”.

By introducing the legal trade, it increases the demand for horns, becomes a legal commodity, and results in a “great, rhino horns are on the market! Let's go!” attitude, he says.

“The demand will eventually outstrip the supply, and we'll go back to poaching.”

Competing with the illegal market increases the production of both legitimate and illicit trade, he continues.

Rhino horns become a product traders can undercut, and it's “very easy to undercut the illegal market”.

Cruise emphasises that it's “very, very, very expensive” to raise rhinos on a farm, with the maintenance thereof culminating to monumental costs. The illegal trade in animals, in contrast, is dirt cheap and outcompetes that of the legal trade. Cruise draws on the legalised sale of ivory, which resulted in losing a third of the continent's elephants to poaching. 

 Those of us who spent the first few weeks of lockdown binging on Tiger King - equally repulsed by Joe Exotic's crimes and misdemeanours and intrigued by his unusual lifestyle - are familiar with the farming of charismatic megafauna.

Cruise addresses the farming of tigers for canned hunting: it couldn't meet the demand, which resulted in wild tigers disappearing.

“Legal trade is going to accelerate the demise of wildlife,” Cruise soberly acknowledges.

The sixth extinction: yes, insects matter

Charismatic fauna aside, an oft-ignored class of animals play a pivotal role in ensuring ecological sustainability: insects.

Cruise writes in chapter three, 'The silent, unseen, unknown majority', that ...humans don't really care enough about the invisible or near-invisible lives of insects, which make up almost two thirds of life on earth, even though they have crucial ecological and instrumental functions such as pollinating plants, including crops. What we thus see is that many of these creatures are of important commercial value to humans, but are not recognised as such, and thus not protected, meaning that our weak anthropocentric approach fails on its own terms due to our lack of knowledge and interest.

This observation leads to me asking whether Cruise has read Elizabeth Kolbert's The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, which explores mass extinctions throughout millennia in the age of the anthropocene - the first time in the history of the origins of the world that extinctions are owing to a single species: humankind.

“Of course!” Cruise smiles, of his familiarity with Kolbert's 2015 winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Nonfiction.  

The first anthropogenic mass-extinction to be recorded in history is propelled by the rapid decrease of insects.

“Humans tend to favour animals that have an economic value for us, or connecting with animals that we recognise traits or characteristics of ourselves in,” he says of our reluctance to acknowledge the impact the loss of insects will have on the sustainability of the planet. 

The majority of insects, reptiles and fish - animals deemed “too other” (in the phenomenological sense) - are often ignored in favour of animals we deem “cuddly” or 'intelligent'.

This brings us to the question of conservation organisations employing the panda bear (the most recognisable flagship species adopted by conservation organisations), as opposed to mosquitoes or scorpions, as their visual emblems.

“C'mon!” Cruise scoffs at the thought of the WWF using vampiric invertebrates or pincered arachnids as their logo, rather than the undeniably cuddly and intelligent panda bear.

Anthropomorphism - attaching human qualities to non-human animals, objects or entities - results in the loss of “legions of species”, says Cruise, echoing the plight of insects and amphibians, owing to the lack of (ultimately sentimental) value we place on them.

Dismissing an anthropocentric approach to the natural world is at the core of It's Not About the Bats, with Cruise reiterating that we have to change our thinking about the natural world.

“Everything is interconnected,” Cruise says of our disregard towards, say, a dung beetle. As supposedly insignificant as these insects might seem to some, Cruise aptly concludes his chapter on the unseen majority with the following sombre reality: For if we lose the dung beetle, we lose everything.

Drawing on The Dance of the Dung Beetles - a local title written by Marcus Byrne and Helen Lunn (and a delightful read both of us heartily agree) - Cruise writes that [t]he problem - again - is weak anthropocentrism, with its adherence to placing commercial value on selected species, completely ignores this little engineer of the natural world ... Ultimately, we ignore them at our peril.

“The natural system is critical in keeping us alive,” he states.

Fragile masculinity: how 'failing' at 'manhood' equals megafauna loss

Why then, if our existence is dependent on all animals, do we continue to massacre species at an unprecedented rate? This question can be answered by French philosopher Jacques Derrida, whom Cruise quotes in the opening line of his chapter on carnophallogocentrism: 

“The animal's problem is the male. Evil comes to the animal through the male.”
- Jacques Derrida, The Animal That Therefore I Am.

And not just any male. The notorious Mediocre White Male, responsible for the majority of societal ills, including that of the loss of megafauna.

Cruise explains that, traditionally, societies don't think of the benefits of the individual, it's a western notion “driven by white western males” which resulted in this global paradigm.

The misconception that being the (white) owner of a penis makes one inherently more superior to all living beings manifests itself most visibly in - quelle surprise - trophy hunting. 

Enter carnophallogocentrism, as coined by Derrida. 

And yes, even Cruise admits that it's a tricky one, writing that It's quite a mouthful - carnophallogocentrism. 'Carno-' stands for 'carnivore', 'hunter', or 'killer'; 'phallus' as in 'penis'; and 'logos' is the ancient philosophic Greek term for the 'rational animal' (human) and a euphemism for 'intellectually superior'. In other words, carnophallogocentrism is the superiority, or rather perceived superiority, of the male hunter in society.

“He probably has a small one,” Cruise quips about the phalluses of said bloodthirsty, insecure, toxic white men. (Oh, how we chortled!)

Cruise recounts covering the largest trophy hunting convention in the world in Reno, Nevada: “It was a horror show!” he incredulously exclaims, as he narrates this nightmare of a memory.

Guns galore. Middle-aged, overweight white men galore. Incapacitated white men  - as in ballies, ambling along with zimmer frames - galore. 

“These are the guys that are driving this thing.”

Cruise further describes the chairman of the safari club as a small bespectacled man barely capable of walking without support.

The warped concept of being a “successful'” virile male, is epitomised by carrying a big gun and shooting big, dangerous animals from Africa. 

This paradox stems from a neocolonial perception of masculinity and Southern African countries have fully brought into this notion. 

“We have to get rid of the shackles of neocolonialism,” Cruise states. 

Here Cruise refers to countries like Kenya, where this thought process is unheard of; where animals aren't regarded as commodities; how trophy hunting is regarded as an abhorrent act.

Descartes: what a doos

If “anthropocentrism” were a tangible concept, 16th century philosopher René Descartes would be the embodiment thereof.

(With a slight chuckle Cruise echoes my sentiment that, yes, this Frenchman is a doos. And with reason).

Descartes is notorious for propagating the deceptive notion that animals are mere machines - or “automata”; and as supposedly non-sentient beings (owing to their “lack” of speech, rationality, and language) are immune to pain.

This, in part, led him to torture various animals, for if an animal has no concept of sentience, it cannot suffer. 

Cruise says that one cannot compare human sentience and suffering to that of animals', as “all animals are connected, and that's why we need to connect with all animals”.

Cartesian anthropocentrism is perpetuated by mankind. (Note the absence of “human”, for yes - 'tis man, particularly white men, who are the main perpetrators behind this misguided notion).

Take George Orwell's notable quote, as popularised by Napoleon the pig in Orwell's allegorical novella Animal Farm: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

Cruise describes Descartes as “a very lazy thinker, who didn't to try to work out the complexities of the world”, describing his infamous maxim “Cogito, ergo sum” (“I think, therefore I am”) as “stupid” and “reductionist”.

Nonetheless it is owing to Descartes' adage that the concept of animals as sentience-less commodities has manifested itself in the human subconscious. 

This thought process (of animals as “unthinking” and therefore devoid of sentience) “dominated our thinking towards nature and wildlife,” says Cruise, elaborating on the animal-as-automaton trope, which (falsely) perpetuates the assumption that humans are the only “animals” that truly exist, i.e. animals are mere machines, to be used and discarded as pleased.

“We see them as commodities,” Cruise furthers. “We're not morally superior,” he reiterates, adding that it's “very easy to transfer the notion of sentience to animals 'like' us - but what about a bat?” Cruise questions. “Do we know what a bat feels?”

This query in response to American philosopher Thomas Nagel's maxim of “do we know what it like to be a bat?”

In short: nay. “It's both unmeasurable and not all-inclusive,” Cruise states.

Cartesian anthropocentrism coincides with industrialisation, which saw a sudden change in how we treated nature, says Cruise, specifically referencing the plundering and exploitation of natural resources, and the advent of abattoirs.

Eating animals: slaughterhouses revised

“Animals suffer from our actions,” Cruise earnestly adds, which echoes the section of his book wherein he writes about the oft-interpreted-as-controversial comparison between consuming animals and that of the Holocaust, in relation to Derrida's observations about violence towards animals:

Derrida compares the culminating violence towards animals with the worst form of inter-human violence, with specific mention of the Nazi Holocaust. 

German philosopher Martin Heidegger made similar observations with regards to the comparison of the meat industry and that of the Nazi Holocaust, echoed by Derrida, as Cruise quotes:

As if, for example, instead of throwing people into ovens or gas chambers (let's say Nazi) doctors and geneticists had decided to organise the overpopulation and overgeneration of Jews, gypsies, and homosexuals by means of artificial insemination so that, being more numerous and better fed, they could be destined in always increasing numbers for the same hell, that for the imposition of genetic experimentation or extermination by gas or fire. In the same abbatoirs.

The persecution of the perceived Untermensch is “exactly the point” says Cruise, “we're committing genocide of many, many species”. 

Cruise acknowledges that the comparison between meat consumption and exploitation of biodiversity is “a bit sensitive”, rhetorically asking why the topic is only sensitive to humans and not animals. “The Nazi Holocaust is the worst thing that ever happened,” he candidly states.

Derrida and Heidegger aside, Cruise also mentions acclaimed local novelist (and a former lecturer of Cruise's) JM Coetzee's comparison of the Holocaust to our current treatment of animals. 

For those familiar with Coetzee's work mentioned alongside the Holocaust, the infamous lampshade scene in his 2003 novel Elizabeth Costello will come to mind. And it is exactly that which Cruise quotes:

If is as if I were to visit friends, and to make some polite remark about the lamp in their living room, and they were to say “Yes, it's nice, isn't it? Polish-Jewish skin it's made of, we find that's best, the skins of young Polish virgins.” And then I go to the bathroom and the soap wrapper says, 'Treblinka - 100% human stearate.” 

Cruise includes this extract to illustrate the indifferent approach we take to, say, zebra rugs, or cowhide sofas.

A proponent of calling a spade a spade, Cruise opines that replacing “eating pork” with “eating pig flesh” might make one think twice before indulging in a bacon breakfast.

Vetoing veganism myths 

Thought veganism was synonymous with preachy millennials and Instagram influencers? Not so. 

Cruise, a self-described braai-and-burger-befokte-boykie, went vegan seven years ago, asserting that a solution to preserving wildlife and biodiversity is by drastically reducing our consumption of meat. 

Cruise debunks a number of myths often associated with veganism, with his go-to response to the inevitable “but where do you get your protein from?” being “the same place cows get theirs” i.e. that of plants.

Monocrops are “terrible”, he continues, yet if we reduce monocrops we'll still have enough food to eat, reiterating that the reduction of meat consumption plays a significant - and sustainable - role in the preservation of biodiversity.

As a born-again pescatarian, I ask Cruise if it's OK to still eat fish if one consults the Southern African Sustainable Seafood Initiative's (Sassi) list before ordering or buying marine life. He responds in the affirmative. (Sassi compiled a list of the sustainability of seafood which categorises permissible seafood according to colour: “green” = good to go; “orange” = think twice; and “red” - don't buy, fish, or, consume. Ever.)

As for his thoughts on Beyond Burgers? “They're wonderful, they're great!” comes the enthusiastic response. 

The issue isn't to try to replicate meat, the issue is to reduce the consumption of meat, Cruise continues, lauding local-is-lekker (that is, locally sourced) and free range meat and animal by-products, as opposed to big commercial farms.

Thinking with nature

No book which advocates the rethinking of our relationship with the natural environment - and how to write about it - is complete without mentioning Aldo Leopold. 

This American ecologist, whose magnum opus A Sand County Almanac was published posthumously in 1949, employed non-scientific language to show how all living organisms are critical to the overall health of ecosystems.

Cruise draws on Leopold's employment of poetic science - as opposed to precise facts - in chapter 8, “Thinking like a mountain”, opening said chapter with the following quote from A Sand County Almanac, in which Leopold reflects on the predator control of wolves:

I thought that because fewer wolves meant more deer, that no wolves would mean hunters' paradise. But after seeing the great fire die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a view ...

Cruise is as strong an advocate of thinking with nature as Leopold, writing that:

In those days, the prevailing consensus among conservationists (and which sadly remains the thinking among many private game ranchers and conservationists to this day) was that 'fewer wolves meant more deer, that no wolves would mean hunters' paradise'. We have not learnt to think like a mountain, he wrote. What he meant was that the conservation policy of humans meddling in nature in this way was wrong, and that we had to start looking at not only the way we perceive, but also at the way we think nature itself perceives our interferences. 

The Leopold-phile refers back to a Cartesian approach to nature - where “nature gets treated like a scientific machine type of thing.

“It doesn't work that way,” he vehemently states. “We're not separate entities, it's all interconnected.”

Preserving biodiversity comes down to the interconnectedness of species, the whole system in its entirety, says Cruise.

By changing our language, the symbiosis of the greater ecology will be accepted and secured: the mountain doesn't agree with the fallacy that too many wolves are “bad” or “evil” - these apex predators play an integral part in the essence and existence of the natural world, Cruise echoes.

He furthermore denounces rhinos on a farm or elephants in a zoo as “reduced to mere objects and phenotypes”.

Cruise is conscious of the undeniable fact that conservation efforts often come at the expense of humans.

“This is the problem: the focus is on animals only.” 

He clarifies that the establishment of national parks often results in kicking people off the land, condemning “fortress conservation” - a conservation model which evicts indigenous people from land as means to preserve natural habitat.

Cruise contextualises fortress conservation in relation to apartheid-era South Africa (where animals received preference over people deemed 'non-white' by the NP regime), and the Kruger National Park, “where you find two million people living in fairly bad conditions. You go across the fence and find fancy tourists and well-fed animals”.

“There's a disconnect in the conservation movement,” he continues, specifying that we should include people and animals in the same light, describing human/wildlife coexistence as “a big challenge”. 

Villages should be included in natural spaces, custodians should be employed, and SAN Parks should receive funding for that.

“We need to include the humans into the protection of the animals.”

The semantics of writing about animals

A linguist, as much as he is a conservationist, Cruise dedicates a number of chapters to the way we write and talk about animals. 

“By changing our language, we change our thinking.”

“The very word 'animal' is problematic,” says Cruise, as it denotes that “anything but ourselves are animals”. 

The “Cartesian thing”, which postulates that we transcend animals is a reactionary approach, adding that replacing “it” with “he” or “she” when referring to animals will already contribute to a more beneficial way in thinking about animals. Ultimately “animals are treated like things”.

Here's to hoping that trophy hunters might have another think coming if they were to replace “killing animals” with “blasting the brain out of an animal”, says Cruise.

“We're also animals, and the use of 'non-human' animals also reinforces that divide”: personalising animals will establish that we're fellow beings.

The conversation veers towards anthropomorphism - attributing human qualities to animals, deities or objects - specifically that of local filmmaker Craig Foster's documentary My Octopus Teacher.

In the film, Foster forms a relationship of sorts with a cephalopod, detailing a year in her life in a kelp forest near Simon's Town.

Cruise concedes that Foster “attached a sentimentality to the octopus,” adding that there's not anything wrong with it.

Portraying the notions of how animals think sells, says Cruise. “They personalise the animals, which tugs at our heartstrings.”

One of the world's most endangered animals, the elusive Cape wild dog, is referenced by Cruise, yet described as a “painted wolf” - a moniker which recently entered the modern lexicon. 

Why not just refer to it by its initial designation?

“Even 'dog' is a questionable thing,” Cruise responds on account of the negative connotations attached to “a dog that is wild”, which perpetuates the belief that it's a species that must be eradicated.

“Cape” is also a misnomer, says Cruise comparing the designation of “Cape” wild dog to that of the Cape (now African) buffalo.

The “Cape” buffalo was classified as such because it was named for where it was first encountered - the Cape colony, which (in a postcolonial context) is both a defunct term and nonexistent sociographical space.

“Painted wolf” or “painted dog” is an apt description because wolves are also dogs, with “painted” (an “exotic term”, according to Cruise) taking the perceived aggression away from the endangered canines.

(This debate concludes with us unanimously agreeing that we're not sommer going to start referring to these hounds by their scientific names. Lycaon pictus, FYI.)

Anthropomorphism: yea or nay?

Writing about animals without overtly sentimentalising is a bifold challenge, says Cruise.

“You don't want to objectify them, and you want to give them more than that.”

Cruise recounts the case of Cecil the lion, tracked and killed by an American big-game hunter in 2015:

Late one evening in July 2015, I got a call from a contact in Zimbabwe to say that a well-known male lion (whom I had seen on several occasions) had been killed by a trophy hunter, supposedly by mistake since the lion had a radio collar ... At that stage, I was publishing regularly for National Geographic and immediately sent in a pitch to have the story published. The editor in Washington, DC responded in the negative, saying they would pass on the story since nobody had heard of this lion. 'Who is Cecil?' came the blunt response. He did have a point. Neither he, nor I, could have known that this particular lion's death would become so legendary.

“Sentimentalising Cecil had its advantages and disadvantages,” says Cruise, because personalising him “added so much to the story”.

“I see it happen on a daily basis and that's the good thing about writing with sentimentality: it puts the spotlight on trophy hunting and the two lions became ambassadors for their species.” 

(The other lion, being Skye - a breeding male in his prime who had been 'mistakenly' shot by a trophy hunter in 2018).

“It's a difficult process to achieve,” Cruise says in relation to writing about animals without anthropomorphising them, “and one should not overdo it”.

Cruise opines that we shouldn't remove the emotion when writing about animals, yet warns against the “emotional side of things running away with the story. We have to keep it sterile”.

Biodiversity loss = language loss

Cruise writes extensively about deforestation and its detrimental impact on not only ecology, but that of entire communities.

As for whether he's read any novels by the doyenne of human-elephant relationships in the Knysna forest, the one and only Dalene Matthee?

“Of course,” he grins, adding that Kringe in 'n Bos (yebo, the Engelsman referred to Circles in the Forest by its original, Afrikaans title) is one of his favourite books.

The parasitic relationship between a loss of culture and tradition goes back to the notion of the western way of thinking, in which nature is treated as a commodity.

Indigenous people are pushed out by colonisers, which includes both a loss of “beautiful languages that includes the knowledge of nature”.

Biodiversity loss ultimately results in language loss, including knowledge of nature, he furthers.

Botswana's San communities and the Baka people of Central Africa's rainforests are two examples of peoples forcefully removed from their land, and who have ultimately unlearned what they've been doing for millennia - to live with nature.

Cruise reiterates that their symbiotic relationship with nature is not one of rampant commercialisation, as seen in deforesting and veterinary fences which ultimately destroys nature. 

Unlike these communities, “we don't have a clue how to coexist with nature”.

Why exclude humans? Cruise asks on account of indigenous knowledge playing a crucial role in the preservation of nature and biodiversity.

Of emoticons and extinction

The conversation ends on a millennial note, with me asking Cruise what phone he has (“an iPhone”), and whether he's recently updated it (“I have”).

Excellent. What are your thoughts on the dodo emoji?

Not any, it turns out, because he hasn't come across it yet.

Cruise reaches for his phone and after a quick perusal finds said the emoticon depicting the fearless, flightless bird, once endemic to Mauritius, and driven to extinction at the hands of Dutch sailors, and the influx of introduction of alien species to the island in the 17th century. 

“That's great!” he laughs. “Very relevant!” 

Oh, and rest assured to all amateur wildlife connoisseurs - Cruise has never seen a pangolin in its natural habitat. Yet.