By Kathy Martin…
Written October 2014
As some regular readers will know, I spent 21 of my “formative” years until I was 30, in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in Africa.
As such I was able to observe a great deal of wildlife in their natural habitats. By wildlife I don’t just mean “big game” such as elephants, hippos, crocodiles, giraffe as well as various types of antelope that could be seen not only in game reserves but also occasionally, by chance, while I was “in the bush”.
There were also, of course, smaller creatures.
When I was still at school we (the family) were alerted to an “alien” presence in our garden by the sound of our dog barking. The dog was barking at a bullfrog that had blown itself up to (almost) the size of a football and was gaping with a massive pink mouth and hissing at the courageous dog, which was actually too timid to attack it! After removing our dog from the immediate area I squatted down to watch the bullfrog. After a good few minutes it deflated itself to a creature approximately the size of my fist and hopped calmly away!
Some years later, when I was in the Rhodesian police (BSAP) stationed at Mount Darwin, a “bush” station, I was relaxing (on a day off!) in the shade on steps leading to the veranda of the police house when I noticed a flurry of “mini-beast” activity on a nearby bare patch of ground.
A wasp was attacking a spider that was probably twice the size of the wasp! After a while the wasp incapacitated the spider, and although it was (in comparison) huge, dragged it, by holding on to it with its hind legs and flying backwards, out of my sight. An “old –timer” Rhodesian farmer later told me that it would have been a spider wasp stunning its prey and then
taking it to its (the wasps) nest. There, the wasp would have inserted its larva into the living (and therefore, still fresh) spider, on which the larva could feed before maturing and flying away!
Where is this ramble going you ask, providing, of course that you are still with me?
OK, I am approximately half-way between 65 years and 70 years old, while my grandson Alex is rapidly approaching being 11 years old. The wildlife in Wales, where he lives, is probably not as exotic as that of Africa, but what “wild” animals will still exist in their “wild” habitats around the world in 60 or so years time?
Some time ago we watched a documentary series that mainly focussed on the wildlife in China. One of the lasting memories is that of a nature reserve/zoo that has had considerable success in breeding the iconic giant panda, symbol of the World Wildlife fund. However, because human beings are encroaching upon, and destroying so many hectares of China’s bamboo forests, there is now insufficient natural habitat in the country to return any of the zoo-bred pandas to the wild!
Before the latter half of the 20th century, when tourism throughout the world became a major industry and (comparatively) cheap air travel became available, the only way residents of a country could view “exotic” animal species would be at a zoo.
Throughout history, from the times of the pharaohs of ancient Egypt, records show that various kings, emperors, etc had owned private collections of animals for their personal “entertainment”, but the first scientific zoo was opened in Regents Park (London) in 1828. However, for nearly 30 years it was solely dedicated to scientific research, not opening its doors to the public until 1857.
Admittedly, that ubiquitous tool of the late 20th century, the television, has enabled the general public to observe wildlife throughout to world very inexpensively! In fact a well produced “nature” programme, with a commentary by an expert, like the splendid David Attenborough, is far superior to simply witnessing an event in the wild.
Getting back to the diminishing amount of wildlife on our planet, a report issued by the International Union to Conserve Nature (IUCN), stated that in 1998 (16 years ago) there were 1,102 animals and 1,197 plants “at risk”.
Don’t say “WOW, SHOCK, and HORROR” to those statistics, because now (in 2014) the figures have risen to 3,079 animals and 2,655 plants!
In the same timescale, there are seven animal, bird and reptile/amphibian species that have become extinct in the wild, but fortunately the species are “holding on” in zoos and animal clinics.
There are thirty-three animal species on the critically endangered list, including the Asian and African elephant, the magnificent blue whale and, (of course), the giant panda!
In 60 years time will my grandson be obliged to visit a zoo or watch “historic” nature documentaries to see “wildlife”?
Will he be reduced to say to his cronies, on seeing a (then) extinct African elephant on film that “my parents were able to touch and stroke a baby elephant and hold its trunk while they were in a game reserve, when they visited Zimbabwe in 1999”?
While on the topic or theme of extinction, readers may remember that during last week’s ramble I mentioned the American Scientist, Rachel Carson’s campaign against using DDT based insecticides.
Recently in the United States of America, 50% of the “managed” honey bee population has died, directly leading to a diminishment in honey production. Environmentalists have pointed the finger at a “big bucks” corporation, Syngenta, which produces an insecticide that contains “neonics”.
Neonic based insecticides have been banned in the European Union. The reason for the ban, in the EU, is that, although not proven, neonics are likely to kill bees. Bees, during their daily routine, pollinate not only pretty garden flowers, but also fruit and other trees!
Pretty garden plants and trees absorb carbon dioxide and produce oxygen; they are, in fact, the lungs of the planet and life at all levels is dependent on them!
It has been calculated, worldwide, bees are directly involved in the production of a third (33%) of the food that we eat!
However, Syngenta’s response to the possibility of its product being banned is somewhat ingenious. It has said (in effect) that, over a period of ten years some summers or winters will be hotter or colder than others, so it is likely that the total bee population will also fluctuate, prove us wrong, until then we will continue to make huge profits, despite possibly irretrievably endangering all life on the planet.