Exploring the Future...until we get there

Category: Bio-diversity

464 (Red Panda / Al-Jazari)

464 (Red Panda / Al Jazari)

To understand what in the world is going on here, please read my post A Remembrance of Personalities.

Red Panda

Red Panda

My youngest daughter, Gracie, drew this stylized version of the Red Panda, another of the unfortunates on the IUCN list of cute little cuddlies finding itself in trouble as it struggles to survive in the Anthropocene. I scanned in her mixed media, then enhanced its color a bit before adding my part to the composition. As we decided earlier between us, because it was a collaborative effort, we will both provide our signatures on the result.

If you look closely, you can see 464 separate one- or two-initial abbreviations (mostly just one now, since space is becoming a consideration) for the historical personalities I have memorized, each person separated from the next by a little dot. They start at the left ear, weave their way down the animal’s body, up the tree, then back down, up and around the bear’s body again, over to the other side of the tree, then repeating this trek going in the opposite direction before finally ending over by the uppermost leaf on the tree trunk.

We’ll be selling limited editions of these over on my Etsy art shop. Each one comes signed and numbered, along with a complete list of the personalities involved. We will be donating 10% of all profits gained in this manner to the World Wildlife Fund.


Red Panda


Views on Zoos

I went to the local zoo with my daughter and some family members a few days ago. It’s the same place we’ve been frequenting for years, and not much changes from one visit to the next, or so it seems to my rather distracted eye. I think I may be as guilty as the next person in not giving the zoo a second thought until, for whatever reason, a kid related activity, like a birthday party, results in thoughts of going to look at animals in enclosures while eating pizza and cake and drinking soda. Maybe that’s why the place doesn’t seem to change much. Lack of dollars results in lack of change. Lions eat a lot of raw meat.

On this particular visit, I admit that I did see a bunch of new lumber coming in, many areas that were roped off for expansion projects, and a man, promising big changes coming soon, was even part of the backdrop. He seemed excited, and I wanted to be excited too. But our particular zoo is hemmed in solidly on all four sides, with little room for any kind of growth that would feel like real change. For instance, on the backside, there is an RV park, with units backed in a foot and a half from the pen where they keep two young giraffes. My brother-in-law mused as to whether the campers had to pay extra for those spots. They could literally crawl up on top of their rigs and have a bird’s eye view of their necky neighbors for free.

Amusing, I suppose, but a little sad at the same time. Those giraffes are never going to know what it’s like to run at breakneck speed across a savannah. Two or three long strides here and it would be time to hit the brakes. That’s why I have mixed views on zoos. They may be the only places my dear daughter may ever get a chance to see some of these animals. And because a zoo is, well…a zoo, some of it takes a bit of blind eye turning to avoid the bittersweet tragedy of it all. Like seeing the lone bear doing an eternal dance in his bare dirt space, back and forth, each paw placed habitually in the exact same worn away spot, maybe several hundred times a day if the pace I witnessed was any indication of his daily routine.

I suppose the most difficult part of a trip to the zoo is the sight of so many placards. Placed everywhere, and a part of virtually every animal display, they are dim and dismal reminders of how imperiled our natural world truly is. You won’t read anything anywhere that says “Plentiful and Thriving,” or “Abundant and Happily Multiplying,” or “Copious and Copulating Capriciously.” No no…not in the zoo. You will see, however, over and over again, words like “threatened,” “endangered,” or “on the verge of extinction.”

It angers me that my sweet daughter’s favorite big cat, the magnificent Cheetah, is down to just over 5000 animals in the wild. That’s nothing. That’s a few ticks away from extinction. This number should be alarming to all of Humanity. It’s heartbreaking. It’s pitiful. It’s unforgiveable. It saddens me beyond words. But it’s the truth, and I doubt those numbers are going to climb north. No, it’s been a steady race to the bottom for the last forty plus years.

The animals are shot by herdsmen. The cubs are sold as pets. The very prey they rely on is even diminished to such small numbers in some cases that the cat’s next meal is becoming more of a question all the time, as well. The pelts are sold for their beauty.

A pelt on a wall or a floor is more beautiful than the animal itself? Streaking across the landscape as the world’s fastest of the fast? How? How could the dry, desiccated, lifeless skin mean more to anyone than the beautiful thing stretching its lovely, lanky body in a full out sprint for dinner?

There was this moment, however, that makes me second guess any conclusions I might draw about my “local zoo,” right, wrong, or indifferent. The giraffes, a boy and a girl, three years old (according to the lettuce distribution lady), were coming in close for their midday snacks. The same lady said they were about fifteen feet tall and could grow several more beyond that. The girl, the one with the beautiful long eyelashes, the remarkably sweet face, the long purple tongue she could use to clean out her own nostrils (how endearing), cast a shadow above me to let me know she was waiting.

I held out her lettuce and she leaned down slowly, gently, carefully, gingerly taking the offering from my outstretched hand. I looked at her intently, feeling her amazing presence just inches away from me. I felt lucky, honored, touched. The moment was so special and I got a hitch in my throat. I’m feeling one now as I write, since I know how deep the trouble runs for giraffes in the wild too.

I wonder what it takes for a species to hang its head down in humility. No, not the hungry giraffe…us. We should all weep for what we are throwing away. An ashtray made from a gorilla’s hand, and the gorilla is soon lost forever. Rhino tusks snorted like cocaine at parties for the rich and elite, and now the rhino disappears into the past. A pelt of a gorgeous, one-in-a-million cat slung up on a wall, and then the Cheetah runs away into the dust, and the dust is gone forever.

I don’t think my lovely little daughter will ever hear the news that her Cheetahs are happy and thriving. Which of your child’s favorite wild animals are losing precious ground, too? I grieve for them all.

Sincere thanks for stopping by!


The Marshes of Iraq

Donald Trump has nothing on Saddam Hussein. He talks about “draining the swamp.” (*Now I wonder and worry even more about the origin of Trump’s choice of phrase). Hussein did the exact same thing a few decades back, only in a much more literal sense. Of all the atrocities this horrible dictator committed against his own people, including the mass genocide of Iraqi Kurds and Shia, we can include one that is less well known, astounding in quite unexpected ways. It fits in nicely with this blog, too, since a key component of its success revolved around the systematic and willful destruction of what some experts have called one of the most important wetlands the world has ever known: the Mesopotamian Marshes.

But we must start at the beginning to tell the story properly. We must first introduce the peoples who inhabited the area, those known as the Marsh Arabs. Although there is some question as to who they are or where they came from, scientific studies suggest strong cultural and genetic ties to the ancient Sumerians, and possibly to Bedouin ethnicities, as well. The Marsh Arab people (the Madan, or plain dwellers) had adopted a lifestyle uniquely suited to the wetlands, intricately woven and beautifully tied to the ebb and flow of the marsh waters, themselves, centered around the abundant and versatile qasab reeds that grew there.

They lived humbly as farmers, growing rice and other suitable grain crops in small cleared plots within the marsh regions. They herded water buffalo, and other farm animals. There were also boat builders and fishermen among their numbers, and weavers who made good livings by crafting mats out of the plentiful reeds, growing in every direction, and used for every purpose. Houses were simple, too, also manufactured from the reeds that were as vital to the landscape as the social alliances forged between the tribal villages that crisscrossed these flooded plains.

In 1991, there was an uprising in Iraq, instigated by the Shia during Hussein’s diabolical reign, and also involving Kurdish nationalists and others. The uprising was not tolerated well or long. Hussein, no stranger to brutality, hit back hard, inflicting punishment to whatever degree necessary in order to maintain his grip on Baghdad. Tens of thousands of deaths resulted in a very short time. Many others, fearing reprisals, fled the country en masse.

In the end, Hussein held on to power, and was now primed for vengeance. The marshes had long served as a place of refuge for anti-government insurgents and sympathizers, and many were known to have retreated there after the failed uprisings. Hussein was intent on weeding them out, depriving them of a base camp, no matter what the cost.

There are many ways to smoke out one’s enemy, including those that divest the opponent of his sources for food, and his means for survival. In the case of the Marsh Arabs, all that was needed was the methodical drainage of the marsh waters, and Hussein’s enemies, considered by him as nothing more than unwelcome squatters and agitators, would flee away with nothing.

Before the uprisings, however, the effort to forcefully relocate the wetland dwellers had already been well underway. Now the government redoubled its efforts. Under the guise and propaganda of agricultural improvements (and let’s not forget oil exploration interests as part of the driving force), Iraqi engineers erected dams, dikes, and barriers, and even built completely new canals (with names like “Glory,” “Prosperity,” and “Loyalty to Leader”), all with the rerouting of the flow fully in mind, depriving the marshes and freshwater lakes of their Tigris and Euphrates tributaries. The reeds were burned, and the people were rooted out. It was an ecological and humanitarian disaster.

The massive engineering feat, watched by the whole world, only showed the lengths to which this abomination of a man would go to in order to stay in power. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. The destruction reeked on a once beautiful sanctuary, and the annihilation of a way of life that was many hundreds of years old, was despicable in every sense of the word. The inhabitants, both human and animal alike, were slowly starved out, the water poisoned, and vital food sources all but gone. Hussein’s war of attrition had worked.

Many dozens of Marsh Arab villages were destroyed by fire, with those who lived there either killed outright as a result of the steady military bombardment, or marched out under duress by the thousands, with most of the women and children now without their husbands and fathers. When it was all finished over the course of several years, the results were devastating. By 2003, the landscape was 90% collapsed. Where a thriving eco-system had once existed—a place where fish and fowl could flourish, where water buffalo could roam, and other wildlife, along with forests of reeds and water plants coexisting in unison—barren desert plain now replaced it. The soil was saline, dry and cracked. To bring the marshes back was considered by many simply impossible.

The lifestyle of the Marsh Arabs was over, too. Dwindling from numbers with estimates in the half million, only a handful would ultimately still practice the traditional reed-based farming lifestyle.

Little did Hussein know that in just a short while thereafter, his reign and his life would be over, as well.

But the story doesn’t end there. Efforts to restore the marshes to their previous glory are ongoing and proving successful, if not in whole, at least in large part. Some water has returned, and the reeds are attempting a comeback. Along with water buffalo, water fowl, and the water people—the Madan.

To learn more about the remarkable labors involved, and one of the amazing personalities behind it all, consider Dr. Azzam Alwash as the biography to read. Having left a successful engineering career in California in 2003 to jumpstart the restoration efforts in his native Iraq, Alwash has demonstrated what resilience and resolve can accomplish. His non-profit organization Nature Iraq continues to focus on the restoration and preservation of Iraq’s natural and cultural heritages.

Sincere thanks for stopping by!


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