Category Archives: wildlife

What Makes Us Human, What Makes Us Good

moon-over-forest

Photo by Paul Mayer

 

BY KIMBERLY MAYER

I am walking in the woods alongside the sea pondering these questions: what makes us human, and what makes us good? And the answer, it seems to me, is the extent to which we are connected to, and value, wildlife.

Consider the whales in the sea and the trees in the forest. Consider the elephants if you please.

Strong mother-child bonds characterize the Orcas whale as well as the elephant. Offspring often stay with their mothers for life. And upon death, Orcas keep vigil, actively mourning the passing of one of their own.

“They’re not killer whales, they’re lovers,” writes reporter Hayley Day in “Wired for Orcas Love,” published online, The Journal of the San Juan Islands, 2/14/17.

Ken Balcomb, Founder of the Center for Whale Research in Friday Harbor, San Juan Island, suggests, “They may be a superior species actually. They’ve certainly been around longer than us. They may think ‘those monkeys’ on the beach have almost whale-like intelligence.”

Or not.

Turning now to the trees, I am realizing from the beautiful little book I am reading, The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben, that the forest is another remarkable social network. Trees too are social beings, and a solitary planted tree would be hard-pressed to enjoy the benefits of those in the forest. Growing near each other, like families, trees support each other, share nutrients, and care for their sick and elderly. They communicate through both roots and leaves, warn each other of dangers—such as insect infestations, and accommodate for one another’s growth rather than crowd each other out. Together in a forest, trees create a hospitable climate that one tree alone would be incapable of achieving.

My woods here is full of deer, but continents away from the Puget Sound elephants tell a remarkably similar story to the trees and the whales. Elephants also form close family bonds particularly between mother and offspring, and live in a complex, matriarchal, social structure. Elephants greet one another, work in teams, and exhibit emotions such as crying at birth and death. They grieve, bury their dead, and frequently return to revisit the body. Elephants care for each other’s orphaned offspring, sharing food when it is scarce. Capable of enormous empathy, elephants do not do well in isolation.

Whales, trees, or elephants, there is resistance in numbers. We must remember this.

Only four weeks into the Trump Administration and the future for wildlife—wild animals, fauna, flora, mammals, fish and birds–looks bleak. And with it, would go our humanity.

Climate change is locked in denial by the very man chosen now to lead The Environmental Protection Agency. As Attorney General of Oklahoma, Scott Pruitt fired off multiple lawsuits against the EPA on behalf of oil, gas, and coal industries. Long an adversary against regulation to control pollution, can’t you hear them all laughing in the fossil-fuel board rooms now?

What did the American people expect? A developer looks at a forest and sees a golf course, hotels, casinos. He sees trees for cutting down. To him, an ocean is for skimming his yacht across. His sons trophy hunt in Africa, like Colonialists out of the 19th century.

And we, the monkeys on the beach, are rendered less healthy, less humane, and less human for this.

 

 

 

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Walls vs. Coexistence

chinas-great-wallPhoto credit: Paul Mayer

 

BY KIMBERLY MAYER

A long time ago in a land far away, there once was an emperor who wanted a wall. It is always one grandiose scheme or another, and that one was defensive. The longest defensive barrier ever built to keep out invaders. Begun in the Qin Dynasty, and later rebuilt in the Ming Dynasty, the Great Wall of China covered much of the northern border of China.

We all know how well that worked out. For over 2,000 years the nomadic Mongol tribe of the north regularly invaded and conquered the Chinese Empire.

Extending through all types of terrain including mountainous regions, the Great Wall itself took its toll on the Chinese. Thousands of workers died in the construction, and many are thought to be buried under the very wall they were assembling.

And what of the wildlife? On that continent: wild boars, oryx gazelle, and the Chinese monal pheasant. Red fox, Siberian Roe Deer, Hog badger, and African Hoopoe in forests. Whatever became of the wildlife with the wall?

As in China, the U.S./Mexican border runs through a delicate ecosystem. Traversing mountains, rivers, desert, and scrub brush, various species have been crossing it for billions of years. On this continent: mountain lions, bobcats, cougars, desert bighorn sheep, the endangered N.A. jaguar, and ocelot. Roadrunners and low flying birds such as the pygmy owl, as well as annual  migrations of Monarch butterflies.

“Border infrastructure not only blocks the movement of wildlife, but… destroys the habitats, fragments the habitats and the connectivity that these animals use to move from one place to another,” notes Sergio Avila-Villegas, at the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum, in Tucson.

As it is, with approximately 40% of the U.S./ Mexico border presently fenced, desertification, erosion, pollution, groundwater depletion, and distressed animals are already evident. Construction of a wall would further disturb watersheds and waterways, resulting in possible flooding.

“For some species, the desert bighorn sheep, for example, you have decent populations on both sides of the border. But they depend on these movements for maintaining genetic diversity, for recolonizing habitat where they’ve suffered long extinctions,” states Dr. Clint Epps, a biologist at Oregon State University.

According to the World Wildlife Fund, world wildlife biodiversity is diminishing at an alarming rate. A complete divide along the US/Mexican border would isolate subpopulations of many animal species, hampering gene flow. Plants too are dependent on wind to spread their seeds. A wall would disrupt pollination and have effects on the ecosystem as a whole.

You have to remember, nature doesn’t know borders. A wall, any wall—one for defense, another to control immigration, can easily create more disorder than order.

In the words of Michael Crowther, CEO Indianapolis Zoological Society, we “… must recognize that we are a part of this world, and trying to become apart from the rest of it is not a viable solution in the long term. We must create a new focus on what our countries share in common—our biodiversity, our ecosystems and our planet—rather than what makes us different. Then, and only then, can we begin to have a meaningful dialogue around flexible solutions that benefit humans, ecosystems, and wildlife on both sides of the border.”

 

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