Some people speak of compassion for animals and eco-systems as if it is a recent development in human cultures, but this could not be further from the truth. Throughout human history there have always been societies that rejected the exploitative model of human / non-human relations. One of my favorite examples are the Bishnoi people of India.
Around 540 years ago Guru Jambheshwar rejected his caste privilege and started a society in the desert where people of any background could live together in equality. He issued 29 commandments to the citizens of his new society, including many calling for the protection of plant and animal life, strict vegetarianism, and a rejection of intoxicants.
To this day the society he started persists, and it’s citizens have defended, sometimes with their very lives, the rights of non-humans. Two centuries ago a Bishnoi woman by the name of Amrita Devi sought to protect trees sacred to her tribe from being cut to build a palace for King Maharajah Abhay Singh. Soldiers were sent and demanded a bribe to leave the trees alone, but Amrita refused, saying that she would rather die than treat her beliefs and land as a commodity to be bought and sold. She was killed, along with 363 other Bishnoi- but in the end the trees were saved.
This should not be taken as a sign that the Bishnoi are always passive when it comes to earth and animal defense.Their tactics have a broad range and nuance, and adapt to new challenges. For example, in recent years the Bishnoi have come into conflict with hunters in their region, at times chasing them down and stoning them for shooting animals. In one famous incident a Bollywood actor by the name of Salman Khan was chased by Bishnoi villagers after he killed a black buck on tribal lands. When asked by the media what would have happened if Khan had been caught, one Bishnoi woman answered, “We would have killed him.”