You know, I’ve tried real hard to sit on my hands on this, because I have literally zero tolerance for (online) drama, histrionics and related bullshit. But already the flames from this small trash fire have wafted into my yard. People are asking questions, and I’ve been asked to weigh in. Alright, I’ll give. But you’ve been warned.

I don’t mean to come off sounding trite, but this little saying does hold true, particularly in this case: Things aren’t always as they seem. A relic of an endangered animal that happens to be a family heirloom is not illegal. It’s illegal if you try to sell it across state or federal borders. YMMV, of course. There are various local laws, which is why it’s very important to educate yourself if you collect natural objects or use them in your spiritual practice. No one will do this for you.

If you happen upon a tiger head or a leopard skin coat or what have you in a local junk shop (and yes, this happens far more often than you may think), and it predates the founding of the Endangered Species Act, and you decide to take it home, guess what? Legal.

We start to navigate the very murky and treacherous legal and ethical waters when we ask the question: What do you DO with what you get, or what you have, that happens to be a relic of an endangered animal? Therein lies the rub.

Honestly, occultists and spiritual workers can be a right shitty bunch at times. I can’t begin to tell you how often I’ve been approached by folk requesting the relics of rare and endangered animals for their workings. Most especially the endangered big cats. It all seems to me like some giant dick-measuring contest. The drive for the biggest, the baddest, the hottest. The need to impress. Most, by far, are attributed to small men needing to look big and bad. But that’s a similar theme all across the world. The very desire for a bigger penis has literally wiped some animals almost entirely off the map. The human ape is like that. Humanity is by far the worst and most destructive invasive species. Therefore, our burden is that much harder.

And yet, occultists and spiritual workers can be some of the absolute best kinds of people as well. I’ve known folk who have done wondrous works with these truly sacred relics. They serve as speakers for the dead, engaging in environmental activism, dedicating precious time, resource and money not only to their spiritual community(ies), but the greater human community as a whole. People need to see these relics, hear the stories they have to tell, see the grim numbers and statistics. It is no small irony that taxidermy may be one of the major ways in which these lost species are preserved, enshrined not only in our museums and educational institutions, but also in the hands of those spiritual practitioners and educators who work hard to preserve their life remnants and stories. Marginalizing people, and consigning these precious remnants to the storage facilities and incinerators (where most byproducts and relics of endangered animals end up) is not only wasteful but may only add to the problem long term. Bear with me here.

The ultimate takeaway is this: We as a human species not only have a duty to honor those relics left, but by laying eyes upon those pieces and recognizing their profound sacredness, with the ultimate understanding that these animals are more valuable to us ALIVE than dead (rendered into consumable pieces and commodities). It is such a huge and important responsibility that their stories be told. No ego. No drama.

Attacking people for owning precious family heirlooms is not the answer.

Attacking, insulting and deriding practitioners of ancient spiritual systems, let alone the systems themselves, is not the answer, and is a symptom of a greater disconnect both spiritually as well as socially.

Though in death the stories of these endangered and extinct animals may be preserved, the only way new stories may form and grow is through the preservation of the even more sacred flame of life within each of these precious, sacred animals. The only way that can happen is through education and bridge-building, which will never happen if we allow ourselves to be controlled wholly by our emotions and the dissemination of misinformation.

This article was written by Joseph Atreides, who has years of experience in wildlife and habitat education, conservation, and volunteerism. He is a certified wildlife educator and for years has held presentations and educational programs on endangered species and wildlife, and has donated much time, resource and finances towards the preservation of the world’s big cats.