Monday, January 26, 2009
In an article for Wildlife Extra, Chris Packham has suggested, somewhat apologetically, that it's time to give up on trying to save the panda.
His article can be found HERE
He summarises the panda situation as follows:
"An ex-carnivore bamboo muncher unfortunately ends up in the most populated place on earth. Its food predictably all dies with disastrous regularity and its digestive system is poorly adapted to its diet. It's slow to reproduce, tastes good, but in a blind strike of evolutionary luck it is plump, cute and cuddly."
- and he suggests we "save our relatively paltry funds for cases where we can make a real difference."
There is, one might say, food for thought in this proposal. I'm inclined to go somewhat further, and ask whether it would actually be be a good idea to let them die.
Of course, emotion is involved, it's not just economics involved. There's few animals more iconic to the conservation movement than the panda; and in the case of the WWF it's literally iconic - they've has had the panda as their logo for many years.
Doubtless some people would feel uneasy about account-book-driven prioritising, feeling that such a cold-blooded approach has resonances with eugenics. Nazi Germany, and all that. Unfortunately, funding is finite, and budgeting is a reality whether we like it or not. We can't remedy everything simultaneously, so it follows that choices have to be made.
On the other hand, grand causes can generate public interest and thus potentially generate a harvest of funding.
One hears of cats rescued from burning buildings that then need extensive - and thus expensive - surgery to restore ears or other anatomical features. Since domestic cats are so abundant, one could argue the money would be better spent in neutering programs or caring for the thousands of strays.
However, one should never underestimate the media "awww" factor (as in, "awww, ain't that sweet.") A single "feel-good" restorative surgery story in the media, especially on a day when news is in short supply, can generate huge interest in animal care. The resultant boost to fund-raising and volunteering could well more than repay the initial expenditure.
There are pro's and con's in any financial reckoning, but I do sometimes ponder one very drastic and perhaps controversial consideration:
Maybe the world would benefit from a high-profile failure.
If the pandas were allowed to die out, this undoubtedly would be a big news story. The resulting recriminations could well kickstart a serious campaign to address habitat loss in general and related issues such as illegal logging and corporate pollution.
The panda's evolution may well have dead-ended itself. But possibly this cuddly freeloader might yet justify its existence.
As part of the CFZ Bloggo that we are really going to have to remember to call CFZ ONLINE:ON THE TRACK we have given Timothy his own little soapbox, and boy does he know how to utilise it! As this bloggo entry shows, he is capable of being quite surprisingly sweet :)
Ever since my daughter Alexandra was born she and I have been regular visitors to the nearby Windmill Animal Farm at Mere Brow just a few miles from Southport off the main A565. Over the last nine years I had half expected that she would become bored with this lovely working farm or our perhaps our visits to the Formby Woods Nature Reserve to the south. Happily, I am surprised and delighted that she and her younger sister Freya love nothing more than playing with a myriad of pigs, sheep, cows and chickens at the Windmill Farm.
Sadly, their joy is not shared by that many of their friends. When speaking to parents one finds a certain negativity about such places. Some parents tell you that farms are “dirty” and they’d “much rather take the kids to Spain” or that “animals are boring” and that they’d rather their children spent their time playing computer games. Each to their own I say, but having been brought up in the countryside, and having enjoyed the natural history of the Oxfordshire countryside and numerous walks along the Ridgeway near Newbury as a youngster I can’t help thinking that many of today’s Modern Parents are missing a trip and condemning their children to a future devoid of animals and lacking in a genuine understanding of their environment. And this against the background of a general need for much greater ecological knowledge.
Back at the Formby Nature Reserve, where the National Trust does its best to protect and defend rare species found in the sand dunes and also to maintain a thriving colony of Red squirrels within some stunning pine woods, children are rarely seen. I was speaking recently to a local ranger whose job it is to maintain a close eye on the area and he said, “we do get some families but the place is mainly used by dog walkers.” Why weren’t school parties visiting in greater numbers, I asked. “Well,” he said, “teachers either can’t bring them because of red tape or schools go to other places instead like Alton Towers.” Very educational!
As if to back up the ranger’s claims, many stories have appeared in the news over the years suggesting that the form filling bureaucrats who bedevil this country - and want refuse operatives engaged in recycling activities to wear ear muffs for their aural safety - have really started to put a stranglehold on school field trips as a result of a few accidents that have taken place nationwide. Some teachers are reluctant to engage in masses of paperwork - and they do enough already it seems - and others would probably have more fun at Alton Towers!
The other thing that happens less and less is the good, old fashioned and ever so educational nature walk. I went to school in a lovely place called Wantage and my parents and I lived in a small village nearby called Letcombe Regis. Our primary school was not unusual in its insistence that part of a good education (things like learning to spell and to add up….very rare these days) was to walk around the paths and fields nearby. I remember that we used to go for quite long walks and the teachers would show us all manner of amazing things from bugs to birds, from cows to catkins. You could go to a nearby pond and see frogs and newts and tadpoles and all sorts. We knew which bird was which and our school had bird tables and all manner of what would now be called “green projects” except this was in the mind 1970s.
It was against this background that I found yesterday a remarkable book entitled “Out of Doors” by the Revd J G Wood. This fascinating volume, dated 1891 (and originally published by Longman Green in 1874) includes a chapter called, “A Summer Walk Through An English Lane” where he says, “…the real, dear, genuine, old-fashioned English Lane, with its banks of flowers, its little ripping streamlets, its shady hedgerows; its feathered trees, with their gnarled roots thrusting themselves out of the bank in strange knotty contortions, and occasionally making their appearance in the centre of the footpath, as if for the express purpose of flinging the heedless passenger on his nose; its charming freedom from any kind of regularity, its pleasant him of busy insect wings and its cheerful twitter of little birds. The woodbine flings its graceful masses of twining foliage and fragrant flowers over the hedgerows and the odorous white blossoms of the wild clematis add their bright petals to vivify the scene.”
He goes on in similar vein but the picture he develops over the pages and it is a picture that we should always recognise, embrace and seek to introduce to our children and the younger generation in general. The CFZ finds itself in a place where it could indeed lead some sort of “kids and nature” type movement. It is loosely called “CFZ Outreach” and it is so much bigger than stories of rare beasties in the Third World and all about what is available to us here, in our own country, here and now. It is, of course, also a voyage into a world of wonder and mystery in which we can all engage. As the guy on the bug stall told me at last year’s Weird Weekend, “you don’t always have to look far for new species. It is the case that you and I could organise a simple effort in a field and find new species of beatles within three months”.
This, I venture, is the sort of thing that our children could and should be involved with and the CFZ could promote this almost straight away. Forget the third world and voyages into the distant wastes. What about doing something locally, here and now. Not only would be do something for the environment but also for our children’s education, future and for science in general.
However, I was allowed to come home for weekends, and every Friday afternoon an ambulance would drive from Queen Mary Hospital down in Pokfulam, up the Peak, until I was carried into our ground floor flat at Peak Mansions by two burly young ambulancemen. Somehow, I can surmise with the benefit of hindsight, that my father had pulled rank, because I had even been provided with a hospital bed on wheels, (something which I doubt was a service available to all and sundry) and on very sunny days Ah Tim and Ah Tam (the Chinese couple who looked after us) would wheel me out into the conservatory, and open the french windows so I could haul myself up in bed using the support bars, and look out onto the world outside.
Peak Mansions was (I use the past tense because it was apparently demolished in 1989) a six story squat building with an impressively mock Georgian façade, and two seemingly pointless green domes on the roof. It had originally been built, either late in the 19th or early in the 20th Century as accomodation for expat Civil Servants, but during WW2 it was the home of the Hong Kong Volunteer Force and was badly damaged by shelling. However it was seriously rebuilt after the war, and carried on with its original purpose. Running along the front of the building was Peak Road, and on the other side of the road was a heavily forested hillside which tumbled down for miles to the town (now city) of Pokfulam. This forest was the haunt of leopard cats, pangolins, civets, and porcupines, and within living history had been home to tigers and possibly even leopards. It was a magnificent place, and I spent much of my childhood exploring it, and much of my adulthood dreaming about it, and after a week of surgery (they botched the operation the first time and had to do it again) and physiotherapy, just to lie in my bed looking through the open french windows at the jungle below was bliss.
Outside the windows, a shallow sloping stretch of lawn led down to the road, and my mother was wont to recline on a sun lounger there and sunbathe. Occasionally she would be joined by her friends, and on this particular occasion a lady called Sheila Muirhead, with an irritating young son aged four had come to visit. I was annoyed. Now my mother would not be willing to tell me stories, or make too much of a fuss of me, and what was worse, her son was too young for me to be able to talk to on any meaningful level, and as both my legs were in plaster, and I was wracked with agony every time I moved, I couldn’t do anything more boisterous in terms of play.
Then I had an idea.
For my birthday, the day before I went into hospital I had received a copy of Hong Kong Butterflies by Major J.C.S Marsh, and I was desperate to put my newfound book to use. I was at the age when I had just begun to realise that some creatures were more closely related than others, and I wanted to identify the myriad animals that surrounded me. Fluttering along a few inches above the closely mown grass were dozens of small, blue butterflies. Major Marsh listed several dozen members of this family, quite a few of which looked very similar.
So I called to the toddler who was earnestly chuffing up and down the sloping lawn pretending to be a goods train.
“Hello” I said. “I’m Jonathan. What’s your name”.
“Richard”. He said. “What are you doing in bed?”
So I told him, and despite the seven year gap in our ages, he not only seemed to sympathise with me, but – after I explained my predicament re. Major Marsh and the blue butterflies - he expressed - as well as a four-year-old can express anything – a willingness to help me in my investigations. So I told him where my bedroom was, and where I kept my butterfly net, and where my precious copy of Hong Kong Butterflies was, and he trotted off inside. About ten minutes later, after a few false starts, I was sitting up in bed with Major Marsh’s magnum opus on my knee, and a Robinson’s marmalade jar in one hand, as my young assistant – still making enthusiastic train noises – rushed up and down in search of butterflies.
We have been friends ever since. Richard has what Charlie Fort would have no doubt described as a "Wild Talent". He is the best researcher I have ever met, and invariably has something interesting on the go. I asked him if he wanted to write for Cryptozoology Online (I really must stop calling it the CFZ bloggothing) and he immediately asked me if I knew anything about mysterious freshwater seahorses in South America...
Seahorses are a genus(Hippocampus)of fish belonging to the family Synguathidae,which also include pipefish and leafy sea dragons.
There are over 32 species of seahorse, mainly found in shallow tropical and temperate waters throughout the world. They prefer to live in sheltered areas such as sea grass beds,coral reefs,or mangroves….The male sea horse can give birth to as few as 1 and as many as 2000 “fry” at a time and pregnancies last anywhere from two to four weeks,depending on the species.” (1)
They must be amongst the most interesting of sea creatures. There are many different species all over the world. Whilst reading William Corliss`s seminal work Anomalies in Geology,on pages 53-54,in the chapter ESB6 `Living Organisms and Recent Fossils Found At High Altitudes` I was very surprised to discover reports of living seahorses in Lake Titicaca.
Lake Titicaca,which straddles the Bolivia-Peru border at a height of 12,530feet/3820m above sea level is an unusual place. Not only do the local inhabitants use reed boats to traverse the lake,similar to the ones used in ancient Egypt[“In fact,the type of reed plant is reportedly the same as the reed plant used in ancient Egypt…”(2) ] but up to at least the end of World War 2 and may be later, a species of sea horse,Hippocampus titicacensis was said to inhabit the Lake,proving to some that the Lake was once attached to the Pacific Ocean.Corliss refers to beliefs that the Andes may be very “young” geologically and that the putative Lake Titicaca seahorse,very high beaches with recent marine shells and recent plant fossils at very high altitudes are a sign of this.
There is a photo of a degenerate(because of in-breeding?) seahorse from the Lake on the website of Jim Forshey and Bruce Watts,two American experts on seahorses.
(1)Project Seahorse. The Biology of Seahorses. Reproduction. In http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seahorse
(2)Donald E.Chittick The Puzzle of Ancient Man (Newberg,Oregon), p193
(3) See: http://www.seahorses.com/AquariumAndFishItemsForSale/BibliographySeahorses2005Edition.pdf
One of these aforementioned young people is Max Blake who has an excellent blog on the CFZ bloggo networkything. I was talking to him a few days ago, saying that I was appalled at the latest excesses of that abominable woman in Alaska, and telling him how I had commissioned a diatribe against her. "But who", I asked, "do you think I commissioned to write the nastiest and most unpleasant stream of verbeage they could muster?" Max mentioned a few names of people known for their psycho tendencies - all men by the way. No, it wasn't the twisted middle aged goth with the nasty tember, nor the ex-football hooligan, nor the ex squaddie with a history of ABH.
"Nope", I said. "Think back to when you were at school". There was a pregnant silence. "I'm still at school" he said. I continued: "All the better. The boys my rough each other up occasionally, but for the most vicious schoolyard terror campaigns you can look no further than a pretty girl.."
There was a few seconds silence, and then the penny dropped. "You have asked Fleur to do it!"
"Damn right" I said.
The Wicked Witch of Alaska, not content with gunning down delightful packs of wolves from a helicopter (personally I’d like to see her take them on unarmed, alone, on the ground) has now got larger, whiter and more smiley prey in her sights (almost literally), the beluga whales of the Cook Inlet bay. In recent years the numbers of these whales have fallen from around 1300 to only 350, but she is trying to block attempts to have them protected.