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Wildlife Whys With James Cromwell

In this captivating series, "Wildlife Whys," we will ask influencers, activists, and experts to answer our burning questions about their passion for wildlife. Join us as renowned actors, scientists, and public figures share their interests and experiences with the animal kingdom.

This week, actor and activist James Cromwell explores the 'whys' behind his love for the wild and wildlife.

Photo credit: Jeffrey Ross Photography

I wish humans would come to their senses before they destroy all life on the planet.

Q. Please describe an experience you’ve had in the wilderness and what it meant to you.

In Virunga, Rwanda, I met a 600-pound Silverback gorilla. I sat not ten feet from him while his offspring tried to unlace my boots. He was in his forties and had lived in the park all his life. He’d learned the strange creatures who smelled bad were somehow responsible for keeping his family from being killed by poachers for bush meat or ashtrays. The anti-poaching trackers, paid for by our fees, were made up of men who had once been poachers themselves. This was their recompense. We’d been told not to look the gorillas in the eye, as it represented a threat, but I could feel him looking at me and raised my head to meet his gaze. He had the most extraordinary, piercing yellow eyes, and in that moment, at least in my head, he seemed to be speaking to me. “So, you’ve seen us; now, what will you do?” He was talking to me, but it was a question for all of us. As I lowered my head, the only answer I could think to give him was, “Not enough. Sorry.”

Q. What particular issues affecting animals are you most interested in and why?

Habitat. As we despoil and destroy more and more of the forests and savannas on which they depend, we offer our fellow creatures no alternative, only death; death if they leave and death if they stay. As a species, humans have lost contact with the Spirit, the balance and interconnectedness of all life. After the flood, we set out to conquer Nature and forgot that we, too, are animals. We cannot leave, and we are making it impossible to stay. The natural world is the mirror that reflects our dysfunction.

Q. Is there a defining moment when you realized you could do something to help animals? Do you have any experiences helping animals that you would like to share?

In 1975, I rode across the country on my motorcycle and went through the stockyards of Texas for what seemed like the whole day. There were animals in pens on both sides of the road, as far as the eye could see. Way off in the distance, the smoke from the slaughterhouse blackened my heart. The stench, the cries of despair, the horror were inescapable. I didn’t know what to do. I knew I wanted no part of a system that treated sentient creatures like objects, commodities to be bought and sold. Without souls, without hope. Abandoned. Over the next ten years, I worked hard to become a vegetarian. Then I met a very sweet pig who exhorted me to become a vegan. It was a piece of cake. I owe my life to that pig. So, if you truly love animals, don’t eat them. It’s such a simple choice. And it’s the first step to saving our dysfunctional, god-forsaken species. Go Vegan!

Q. Which of the following Asian species would you most like to help: Rhinos, elephants, tigers, pangolins, or any others?

We mustn’t pick and choose. It’s not a popularity contest. No matter how we may feel about them, whichever species tickles our fancy, at the moment, they all deserve respite for the long usurpation of their innate divinity.

Q. Do you have a wish for all animals?

I wish humans would come to their senses before they destroy all life on the planet.

James Oliver Cromwell (born January 27, 1940) is an American actor and activist. Known for his extensive work as a character actor, he has received a Primetime Emmy Award and a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for Babe (1995). Other notable roles include in Star Trek: First Contact (1996), L.A. Confidential (1997), The Green Mile (1999), The Queen (2006), W. (2008), Secretariat (2010), The Artist (2011), Still Mine (2013), Marshall (2017), Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018). He has also voiced roles in Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron (2002) and Big Hero 6 (2014).

Cromwell is also well known for his roles in television, including Angels in America (2003), Six Feet Under (2003–2005), American Horror Story: Asylum (2012–2013), Boardwalk Empire (2012-2013), The Young Pope (2016), Succession (2018–2023), and Counterpart (2018–2019). He won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or Movie for his role in American Horror Story: Asylum (2012).

Cromwell has long advocated for progressive causes, particularly regarding animal rights.

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