Monday, January 2, 2017

Conservation: Hero and Anti-Hero

"The World Wide Fund for Nature and the Zoological Society of London ... reported last year that between 1970 and 2012 there had been a 58% decline in the abundance of vertebrates worldwide." -- Article in the Guardian
Even an ordinary person can witness the decline in wildlife in recent years. Evelyn and Tom were in the Everglades last week, and noticed how birdlife was scant compared to Merritt Island, a refuge near Cape Canaveral. Yes, pelicans and cormorants are still present -- as we saw last year (photo right).

The noticeable attrition of Everglades wildlife is attributed to predation by the Burmese Python, an introduced snake. The Park Service explains:
"The population of Burmese pythons presently established in the park is the result of accidental and/or intentional releases by pet owners. These introductions can have devastating consequences to our ecosystem. Burmese pythons have been found to feed on a wide variety of mammals and birds in the Everglades -- even the occasional alligator! By preying on native wildlife and competing with other native predators, pythons are seriously impacting the natural order of south Florida's ecological communities." (source)
An 'Anianiau, endemic honeycreeper on Kauaii. Endangered!
There are so many examples of both rapid man-made disasters and slower more natural (or natural-seeming) disasters. Polar bears: losing their habitat to Arctic melting. Giraffes: 40% population decline in the past fifteen years. Elephants: losing habitat dangerously in Asia and Africa. Rhinoceroses: several species endangered or (in some cases) recently extinct. Hawaiian birds -- disappearing rapidly because a slight change in average temperature has allowed disease-bearing mosquitoes to penetrate their previously safe habitat. Many smaller and less-spectacular species are also in trouble.

In the cited Guardian article today, I read an interesting discussion about the media and how TV nature programs -- one in particular -- cover the news of threats to wildlife. It strikes me that there are no heroes here, but another example of how popular media sources handle a reality that's too unpleasant to accept.  But here's the essence:
"David Attenborough’s blockbuster nature series Planet Earth II is 'a disaster for the world’s wildlife' and a significant contributor to planet-wide extinctions, a rival natural history producer has claimed. 
"The BBC programme concluded in December and drew audiences of more than 12 million viewers but presents 'an escapist wildlife fantasy' that ignores the damage humans are doing to species everywhere, according to Martin Hughes-Games, a presenter of the BBC’s Springwatch."
Hughes-Games, a presenter of the BBC’s Springwatch, calls the Attenborough blockbuster "'an escapist wildlife fantasy' that ignores the damage humans are doing to species everywhere." Although Attenborough's presentations at least mentioned the need for conservation Hughes-Games "urged the BBC to commit to making more wildlife programmes that overtly address conservation."  He says:
"These programmes are still made as if this worldwide mass extinction is simply not happening... The producers continue to go to the rapidly shrinking parks and reserves to make their films – creating a beautiful, beguiling, fantasy world, a utopia where tigers still roam free and untroubled, where the natural world exists as if man had never been. [Attenborough and others] are lulling the huge worldwide audience into a false sense of security. ... No hint of the continuing disaster is allowed to shatter the illusion."
Do I need to make parallels to other coming disasters? Do I need to point out that many folks hold the media responsible for declining public intelligence and increasing rejection of unpalatable truth? What can I do? Not much.

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