In the 1990′s, visiting the Ngorongoro Crater and hearing about tales of lions and humans in other East African savannah-grassed national parks in the mid-1990′s, I am acutely aware of the vital importance of these very fine beasts. The possibility that the miss-called ‘kings of the jungle’ (only some live in rainforest) may be headed for extinction is tragic and must be acted against….
Humans can learn a lot from them say two noted conservationists – so we must preserve these noble beasts. By Anthea Gerrie in The Independent.
Forget The Lion King and its “Circle of Life” – Disney’s depiction of a brave Africa kept perfectly in balance by nature’s biggest predators may be no more than a fairy tale within a generation. This is the shocking prediction of Dereck and Beverly Joubert, the world’s most famous living big cat conservationists. They have been in London this week to launch a show of Beverly’s stunning wildlife photographs at the National Geographic, for which they are Explorers in Residence, but they are more anxious to get over an alarming message that has been falling on deaf ears.
For nearly 30 years living with lions, leopards and cheetahs in the bush, the impossibly glamorous but utterly dedicated couple has been watching the subjects of their life’s work disappearing before their eyes.
“There were 450,000 lions when we were born and now there are only 20,000 worldwide,” says Dereck, white-ponytailed and ramrod-straight at 55. “Leopards have declined from 700,000 to 50,000, cheetahs from 45,000 to 12,000 and tigers are down from 50,000 to just 3,000,” his elegant wife and collaborator adds.
The bleak prospect is that our grandchildren will never be able to see these animals – or even the elephants, buffalo, zebra and antelope who survive by fleeing their predators – in the wild.
“We’re expecting mass extinctions of big cats within 10 or 15 years unless something is done about it,” Dereck says. He’s looking to African governments to do this, without whose change of heart and legislation all efforts to save the beasts will be fruitless.
“Look at tigers – despite all the conservation efforts going on around them, there are less than 900 left in India, and whatever happens to tigers will happen to lions. We are in real trouble.”
“Every year, 600 male lions are taken legally in safari hunts in Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia – seven countries in total,” Beverly adds. “You can shoot leopards in all those countries too, and 2,000 a year become a legal hunting trophy.”
What does it mean? “If you take out the top predator, you remove the impetus for migrations to happen,” says Dereck, who with his wife has won five Emmys, a World Ecology Award and an induction into the American Academy of Achievement as well as an order of merit from Botswana. This is now their permanent home; they live there among the cats for nine months at a time before venturing back into civilisation for a quick blast of editing and urban life.
“Take the predator pressure away and elephants and buffalos will stay in one place, picking up diseases,” he explains. “They’ll work the same waterhole, defecate in the ground they’re feeding on and the parasite load will increase.
“The jackals and hyenas will multiply without lions preying on them, knock out the medium-sized prey like antelope, impala, zebra and wildebeest, and then start collapsing themselves.
“You’ll end up with big prey species like elephants growing in intense numbers and then imploding, with everything below them wiped out. If we were systematically trying to kill off the world’s top predators, we couldn’t do a better job of helping the ecosystem towards destruction.”
It’s a story the couple claim the world just doesn’t want to hear.
“No one’s talking about it because they don’t have any solutions. The story of Africa today is that the big cats are disappearing – and that’s something we could take action to prevent.”
With the National Geographic behind them to fund films such as The Last Lions, a cinematic release which this year gave them an opportunity to create some human empathy for the scary cats, the Jouberts pray the animals who have been their neighbours for more than a quarter of a century will still be around for them to study, film and learn from by the time they become pensioners.
“Lions – which are very social animals – and humans have so many parallels, we have been able to take many life lessons from them,” Dereck says.
The first is the power of companionship to aid survival as well as lend comfort: “If a lioness is sick, she can be a passenger for a day or two and feed with the pride, unlike leopards, who are solitary animals hunting in the forest,” he says. “The day she gets sick, that leopard is going to go hungry.”
“When we watched the lions hunting buffalo, it was so hard for a single lioness, but we knew when they worked together they would be successful,” Beverly adds. “At the same time, if the buffalo herd stayed strong, and kept all their horns facing out, they would be fine until one of them created fear and paranoia and they were disturbed – then we knew the lions would make a hit.”
The second lesson is that humanity must hold together because fear and paranoia lead to self-destruction. “Governments, politicians, religious leaders build on the fear embedded on us when we’re children – we need to understand the fear within ourselves and become more balanced.”
The value of teamwork is a third lesson to be learnt, they say. “Eight to 10, the size lion prides form themselves into, is also the most effective size for a human team. At that size you can get things done and have personal relationships with the others in the group. A group of 50 will start to create a common enemy and break back down into groups of eight to 10.”
While they are distinctly unsentimental – “we never intervene with what we see happening and make a conscious decision not to engage with the animals” – they have learnt that a little engagement is what may ultimately persuade humans to help to save threatened species.
“We had to deter the little leopard we followed for three years who astonished us by climbing into our vehicle, because we wanted to maintain her trust without compromising her integrity in the wild,” Dereck explains.
They did it by turning on the engine of their vehicle to mimic the growl of a disapproving mother, and Legadema, the subject of their film Eye of the Leopard, never jumped into the car again.
“She convinced us we had to do something for them because we understand so clearly that with poaching for bush meat, poisoning by cattle farmers, safari hunts for sport and the trade in medicinal plants, only by creating real empathy for the cats do we have a hope of arresting what will otherwise be an irreversible decline,” Beverly says.
The reason they allow themselves hope comes from a final life lesson they learnt from Legadema, who turned out not to be a very good hunter. “What we learnt from her is that with determination and perseverance, keeping on talking to more people, trying to put over the message even if no one appears to be listening, you can prevail,” Dereck says. Given that these Emmy winners have cultivated an audience of more than a billion wildlife enthusiasts, you can only hope there’s at least half a chance they might get heard.
‘Living with Big Cats‘ and ‘Big Cat Odyssey’ are out now on DVD.
Visions of Africa will show at the National Geographic Store in London’s Regent Street until 5 September
- NatGEo Experts Respond to “Lioness Tries to Eat Baby” (milkandcookies.com)
- Do some lions live in the desert (wiki.answers.com)
- The Fierce Cat, Lion (Panthera Leo) – Nairobi, Kenya (travelpod.com)
- Four Big Cats, Two Dogs, One Human (ourpeaceablekingdom.wordpress.com)
- 10 BIG CATS and Where to Spot them (tripbase.com)
The Pros and Cons of zoos are many and varied – here’s an example of an advantage which includes ‘Environmental education‘. Mark Kinver, Environment Reporter at BBC online explains
A UK zoo has launched a website that it hopes will help bridge a growing divide between young people and conservation.
It will allow users to find out more about the effort to save species, put questions to staff working around the globe and follow their fieldwork.
Organisers hope it will help establish a network of online conservationists.
The zoo commissioned a poll that showed that 66% of adults felt that 10-year-olds were more interested in technology than wildlife.
The survey of 2,094 adults, conducted by YouGov, also found that 94% of adults felt that biodiversity conservation was important, yet only 15% actively helped a cause.
“The survey is a somewhat depressing summary of the world today,” said Dr Mark Pilgrim, Chester Zoo’s director general.
“While we are playing with games or chatting to our friends online, somewhere in the world at the same time, a rhino is being poached for its horn or a species is facing a battle for survival in its own territory.”
Starting at home
As well as supporting work to protect species such as orangutans, Asian elephants and black rhinos, Act for Wildlife has also included a project called UK Wildlife.
“Although it is not the sort of work people would normally associated with a zoo, we are a UK-based organisation, and we must not forget that conservation also needs to start at home,” explained project manager Michelle Duma.
“It is no good us going out and working on projects in Africa or Asia and getting people to care about their wildlife, if we cannot do that here in the UK.”
Ms Duma told BBC News that a web-based resource was “absolutely the way to go”.
“Not only does it allow our zoo visitors to go online and see what is happening and keep up to date with our projects, but it also means that we can broaden our reach and talk to the whole of the UK and further afield,” she said.
“The projects that Act for Wildlife is supporting are sending us regular updates on what they have been up to, information about themselves. What we are trying to do is for project members to tell their story themselves.”
One example was project members in Assam, India, posting images of their work with local villages to reduce conflicts between people and elephants.
“Then people can ask questions and engage in a conversation,” Ms Duma added. “If they want to know more about a particular thing, they just have to ask.”
- Rhinos are on the rise after surviving war and poachers in Nepal (environmentaleducationuk.wordpress.com)
- Visit an Elephant, Support Conservation (prweb.com)
- Humanity the ‘destroyer’ … but we can fix things, too! (environmentaleducationuk.wordpress.com)
- Brazil’s wildlife and the UK’s response – we have a choice and cannot allow these species to disappear! (environmentaleducationuk.wordpress.com)
- Vietnam’s elephants to be extinct in ten years (lookatvietnam.com)
- Remembering New Zealand saviour of wildlife (environmentaleducationuk.wordpress.com)
- Green: How Sending a Letter Can Help Save Wildlife (green.blogs.nytimes.com)
- Why are Angry Mobs of People Killing Wildlife in India? (bushwarriors.wordpress.com)
- Collective conservation efforts boosted rhino population in Nepal (eurekalert.org)
- A Guide to the Endangered Animal Species (brighthub.com)
The vote by the Maryland board of education requires that students get a “comprehensive, multi-disciplinary environmental education” before receiving a diploma. Districts will have to develop plans for coursework that meets state standards in environmental literacy and have their plans approved by the state superintendent of schools. They will also have to develop ways to assess students’ mastery of the material in order to determine if they are eligible for graduation.
The action today follows a decision by the board last summer to require that students get a bigger dose of environmental literacy than they had been getting in typical science classes. There was some confusion, however, about whether that action actually made environmental literacy a graduation requirement. Today’s vote was intended to clear up that confusion and make the requirement official.
- Our Schools Can’t Teach The Basics But Now They Are Adding Environmentalist Whacko Propaganda To The Curriculum (rantsandrage.com)
- Rockefellers’ ICLEI Agenda 21 – Environmentalism Required for Graduation (fellowshipofminds.wordpress.com)
- Daily Benefactor News – Maryland Is First State To Require Students To Pass Green Junk Science Test Before Graduating (thedaleygator.wordpress.com)
- Your Guide to Environmental Education (distance-education.org)
- Common Core and the Common Good: The Need to Improve Secondary Literacy Skills (edadvocates.wordpress.com)
- Applied #Literacy as integrated and integrous (jasonrenshaw.typepad.com)
The Government’s vision for protecting England’s environment over the next 50 years was criticised by environmental groups and rural campaigners, who said the plans were too vague and over-reliant on volunteers to repair the damage previously done to nature. The Independent reports
The Department for the Environment’s first natural environment white paper for twenty years said that a dozen large-scale conservation zones across the country, new local nature ambassadors and voluntary biodiversity “offsets” for businesses are needed to protect England’s environment.
Ministers also promised to give communities more power to protect local green spaces, cut bureaucracy which stops children from being taught outside, phase out the use of peatlands for horticulture and promote conservation volunteering.
But the coalition pledged just £7.5m towards the 12 new “nature improvement areas,” which it is hoped will restore connected habitats for wildlife.
Paul Wilkinson, head of Living Landscape for The Wildlife Trusts – which manage more than 2,000 nature reserves across the UK – said he was concerned that the paper did not describe how the 92 commitments within it would be achieved. “Although we hugely welcome this vision within this White Paper, it is disappointing that a commitment to enshrining the aspirations in statute has not been made,” he said.
Conservation groups including the World Wildlife Fund, Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace were particularly concerned with the paper’s failure to address marine conservation, global food production and the impact of the government’s planning reforms on biodiversity issues.
Margaret Ounsley, head of public affairs at WWF, said: “The trouble is a lot of the report seems to be underpinned by the ideology of the Big Society, which is fine if we assume local communities will do the work. We have reservations about whether it will deliver in the end.”
Concern was voiced over the biodiversity “offsetting” mechanism recommended in the paper, in which developers will be encouraged to compensate for habitat destroyed in one area by improving it elsewhere. Greenpeace’s chief policy adviser, Ruth Davis, said: “How many badgers or hedgehogs do you save, to offset one dead otter? It’s madness.”
The government also announced they would set up an independent body that will report to the government’s economic affairs committee and advise ministers on environment issues. Paul de Zylva, head of Friends of the Earth England, said: “The economic valuation of nature has a role and it is certainly the new game in town, but the natural world is on the brink. It doesn’t need more clever accounting and arithmetic to know we need to do something about it – it needs the right regulation used in the right way.”
Environment Minister Caroline Spelman said: “What I’d really like to see happening as a result of this White Paper is more children enjoying nature and continuing that interest into adulthood, so that they pass that passion for the environment down through the generations. That would be a legacy well worth leaving.
What would life be like if we were as immersed in nature as we are in electronics? In Richard Louv’sworld, we’d be happier and healthier. We’d experience fewer cases of depression, anxiety and attention deficit disorder. And we’d build smarter, more sustainable communities.
Ultimately, Louv argues in his new book “The Nature Principle,” the future will belong to those who are “nature-smart”: People who reconnect with the outdoors and embrace the transformative power of the natural world. “Humans need to learn about the power of living in nature, not with it,” said Louv.
Still, establishing a mind-body-nature connection is no easy feat. Getting both children and adults out into nature is one thing, but having them enjoy it is quite another. My own kids complained of boredom while hiking a gorgeous mountain trail in Colorado. Though they were five and three years old at the time; we ended up carrying them after they melted down and refused to walk.
Meanwhile, not everyone is sold on nature therapy or what Louv calls “vitamin N.” In her Brain, Child essay, “Guilt Trip into the Woods” Martha Nichols questioned whether nature is the only solution — certainly people can thrive in urban environments — and cast Louv as a “nature evangelist” and alarmist who shuns all technology. It’s not a crime to enjoy a trip to New York City‘s asphalt jungle rather than the forest primeval, she argued.
“I just don’t believe that wonder can be reduced to one essential experience any more than motherhood can,” wrote Nichols.
But Louv is not calling for us to abandon technology. In his latest book, a follow-up to “Last Child in the Woods” he argues for a new balance. “The ultimate multitasking is to live simultaneously in both the digital and physical world,” he said. “The more high-tech our lives become, the more nature we need.”
Citing growing research, Louv says the medical community is increasingly supporting the idea that nature has restorative and healing properties. Across the country, physicians are starting to write park “prescriptions” for their patients, said Louv, who was recently the keynote speaker at the American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference. In an effort to fight the high rate of diabetes, the city of Sante Fe, N.M. launched its Prescription Trails program, which is partially funded by theCenters for Disease Control and Prevention.
And last year, a pilot program in Portland, Ore. began pairing physicians with park professionals who record whether outdoor” prescriptions are fulfilled, Louv said. “If we’re going to transform the health care system in the U.S., it will require more than institutional change,” Louv said. “It will demand philosophical evolution that goes beyond what we usually call preventive care.”
Louv, my next healthchat guest, will be appearing at 7 p.m. on Thursday May 19 at the Skokie School Auditorium, 520 Glendale Ave. in Winnetka.
- Nurturing Your Children’s Nature with Experiences in Nature! (workingwellresources.com)
- Children and nature : fresh advice for adults! New book…. (environmentaleducationuk.wordpress.com)
- June is Great Outdoors month in South Dakota (dakotablackhills.wordpress.com)
- Towards a Hybrid Mind (middlemusing.wordpress.com)
- What is Nature Deficit Disorder? (gr8outdrsclub.wordpress.com)
- Against Nature Deficit Disorder: Why All Roads Lead Us to Merge with Machines (singularityblog.singularitysymposium.com)
- The power of the outdoors : Richard Louv provides some hope (environmentaleducationuk.wordpress.com)
- >Biophilia Explained (acrobaticthoughts.wordpress.com)
- World-Saving, Self-Motivating quotes (growuniversalknowledge.wordpress.com)
- Birdbooker Report 171 (guardian.co.uk)
- Circus ban update : Coalition claim contradicts official advice (environmentaleducationuk.wordpress.com)
- Light Up Your Life: Outdoor Lighting Essentials For Summer (casasugar.com)
- Hadrian’s Wall: The value of our great outdoors… (outdoornation.org.uk)