” The ivory-bill is so iconic: big, beautiful, mysterious—a symbol of everything that’s gone wrong with our relationship to the environment. I thought if someone could just locate an ivory-bill, could prove that this remarkable species still exists, it would be the most hopeful event imaginable. We would have one final chance to save this bird and the bottomland swamp forests it needs to survive.” From Surfbirds.com – interview with Tim Gallagher, author of The Grail Bird.
“Earth’s population of wild vertebrates — all mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish — declined 58 percent from 1970 to 2012. (That’s up from 52 percent in the 2014 report, which spanned 1970 to 2010.) In other words, the total number of wild animals with backbones has fallen by more than half within one human lifetime.” Russell McClendon – Mother Nature Network (Oct 27/2016)
Mindo Ecuador – Something happened last month that had a profound effect on me. I’ve been trying to figure out how to approach it, how to share it with you – with those who might be interested – but even more for those who are not.
Attending the Mindo Bird Fair, I was quite pleased to be following almost all of the material presented in Spanish, and I really enjoyed listening to Rudy Gelis (Cornell Ebird) who talked about migratory birds. We learned why birds migrate, how their behavior changes – and even how a subtle change of daylight will trigger birds into ‘Oops! It’s time to go!” Rudy told us about dangers, some of them man-induced, like lights confusing their nocturnal migrations and even deaths from slamming into windows.
While many of us jotted down high points, he also shared stats about the top countries for bird species (Colombia, Peru, Brazil and Ecuador) and then he asked, “And what country has the most extinctions?”
(Many of you probably know the answer:)
The United States of America.
Those near me turned around and smiled, as I seemed to be the only ‘extranjero’ attending; as I shrugged my shoulders, I also released a few tears… Were they tears of grief? of shame? I’m still not sure, but it’s not a statistic one can be proud of. Later I checked and found this, The Top Five Countries with the most Extinct Animals, which links back to the IUCN Red List.
Break time: This quote recently had an equally-sobering effect on me. Humor me with this experiment: Read it, then like a favorite dessert. hold and savor it for ten or so seconds before moving forward:
We are living in a period of mass extinction. The numbers stand at 200 species a day. That’s 73,000 a year. This culture is oblivious to their passing, feels entitled to their every last niche, and there is no roll call on the nightly news.”
― Lierre Keith,
Thanks for giving those about-to-be-extinct species the respect they deserve. Now back to Ecuador and the Mindo Bird Fair:
I realized that most of the people in attendance might be proactive at trying to halt the deforestation of their unique Choco area, which extends into neighboring Colombia. Most of these birders know the stats, they know their poster birds, the endemic species, the species that are exceptionally rare or hard to find. They can identify by sound, cluck, rat-tat-tat on a tree, by silhouette, and of course by shape and color. They realize the treasures they have, and hopefully they will fight to protect those hardwoods and exquisite cloud forests from being cut for timber or cleared for pastures.
Unfortunately not everyone grasps the seriousness, and some illustrate with negative examples what NOT to do to the environment. This (below) happened last month, and like many others who drove by and scowled, I did nothing.
We – in certain cultures – boast about our fine-wood dining tables and chairs, of our richly-honed planks of hardwood floors and equally-lovely paneled walls. Trees are ground into pulp or sawdust to make the notebooks and print outs as well as the books and magazines I so love and prefer to hold in my hand and savor the printed word. I thought of the canopy of my own childhood that was lost, and the flora and fauna that once thrived in those diverse tree-top scapes. We are all guilty of being consumers of products that are destroying our planet.
At times I try to picture the original alluvial floodplain of the Mighty Mississippi River, and what it must have been like before the invading species of humans stepped into the story and quickly altered what took a zillion lifetimes to create. We’re now riding an out-of-control roller coaster; how do we slow it down?! Trees, rivers, mountains, rainforests are being desecrated to support our lifestyles: rock, gravel, marble, cement, oil, natural gas, lumber, and that oh-so-precious resource – water!
“Humans are only one species of millions. To kill millions of species for the benefit of one is insane, just as killing millions of people for the benefit of one person would be insane. And since unimpeded ecological collapse would kill off humans anyway, those species will ultimately have died for nothing, and the planet will take millions of years to recover. Rapid collapse is ultimately good for humans because at least some people survive. And remember, the people who need the system to come down the most are the rural poor in the majority of the world: … Regardless, without immediate action, everyone dies.”
― Aric McBay, Deep Green Resistance: Strategy to Save the Planet
We might not have desecrated the landscape, but we inherited the problems that were so close to our lives that we could not see what was happening. Those who awakened first were often mocked or ignored – like the person smoking the cigarette and feeling well and stating, ‘Yes, that might happen to some, but it’s not going to happen to me…” We can be quite arrogant; we can be quite close-minded; can apathy be a close cousin to the same sins against Nature if we witness the problems, know the consequences and stay silent?
Fortunately, many of the bird guides I have met here in Ecuador realized the value of their forests, and they switched from hunting with guns and felling the trees to becoming bird whisperers and stewards of the cloud forest! Brothers Angel and Rodrigo Paz set perfect examples to their neighbors and to the world! (RefugioPazde lasAves)
“We stand now where two roads diverge. But unlike the roads in Robert Frost’s familiar poem, they are not equally fair. The road we have long been traveling is deceptively easy, a smooth superhighway on which we progress with great speed, but at its end lies disaster. The other fork of the road — the one less traveled by — offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of the earth.”
― Rachel Carson, Silent Spring 1962
Open your hearts and try to find some small way to offset the damage we’ve done in the past hundred or so years. Can you imagine what it might be like to indeed hear that silent spring? How empty our world would be without the squirrels scampering across the canopy? Without the monarch? Without the sea turtles? Without a giant tree that proves soothing relief on a scorching hot day? Or will those scorching hot days take out the trees sooner than we think?
“Our philosophy is to rob everything as much as possible and forget about tomorrow…But it makes a certain sense if the sole human value is making as much wealth as you can tomorrow. You don’t care what happens down the road and you don’t care what happens to anybody else. It makes perfect sense. If it destroys the world, well, it’s not my problem.”
― Noam Chomsky, Class Warfare: Interviews with David Barsamian
From Hawksbill.org : “The hawksbill turtle is one of only two species of sea turtles listed as critically endangered globally by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, the result of an 80 percent population decline.”
OK; I’m worried. Here in Ecuador’s cloud forest, we enjoy sunny days, rainy days, mixed days, periods of rain and periods of perfect weather. I have not lived here long enough to know what is long-term normal and what is abnormal, but I’ve asked many locals, and they say that this ‘perfect’ weather is not normal. Marie was here for two weeks, and I don’t recall one day of true rain… It’s been absolutely beautiful, almost-hot at times , and it’s that almost-hot that worries me. The long-term native species must be thirsty…
This long period of sunny weather could not be the healthiest of environment for the reptiles, amphibians and other species that are sensitive to temperature and climate change. They too are the canaries of the world.
“A new report by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) offers some sobering details about this decline, which has already halved the planet’s known population of vertebrate wildlife in just 40 years. The 2016 Living Planet Report reveals the troubling extent of this and other environmental crises around the world, but it also sheds light on the ways we can still protect and rehabilitate what’s left.” (Wilderness resources 11 startling facts about earths disappearing wildlife.)
“For the first time since the demise of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, we face a global mass extinction of wildlife,” says Mike Barrett, director of science and policy at WWF-UK, in a statement. “We ignore the decline of other species at our peril — for they are the barometer that reveals our impact on the world that sustains us.” (World Wildlife Fund)
Sometimes we have to look inward with self-imposed retrospection then outward through fresh eyes. If you’ve stuck with me this far, please leave a comment about your weather – is it normal or abnormal, if you’re witnessing habitat destruction or reforestation, and if you think that the younger generations are more sensitive to what’s happening. They are the ones that are going to inherit what’s left, and hopefully they’ll give us a hiccup of credit for trying to divert the worst of this crisis.
Thank you so much for listening.
If you haven’t watched National Geographic’s movie, Before the Flood, try switching off the television the next time Trump makes another blunder and tune in to the movie.
(If you don’t have time, then start at minute 37 and listen to the next five minutes…)
and in Spanish: