Tag Archives: conservation

Alan Dean Foster: conservation may have to grow from the barrel of a gun

Predators I Have Known by Alan Dean FosterI was watching a nature documentary last night, and the cameraman made a point about conservation that I’d not heard before. To paraphrase, his point was – given we’re very aware that numerous species and habitats are on the brink of extinction, but that inaction is still commonplace – how will we answer our children’s children when they ask us why we let them go? Because they’ll know: that documentary, and many others, will b available on YouTube (or its equivalent); photos of amazing creatures and locations will persist long after the things they depict have departed.We won’t be able to feign ignorance to excuse inaction.

Perhaps being able to see these things, to have them become something more than words in a green group’s press release, is the key to getting people to care enough to act. It certainly seems that seeing nature up close and personal – even its most dangerous elements – has had that effect on Alan Dean Foster, whose memoir Predators I Have Known is launched next week, 22nd February 2011.

Take it away, Mister Foster:


The more I travel to the few remaining comparatively untouched corners of the globe, the more I incline to despair at their prospects for survival. No matter where I go: Asia, Africa, South or Central America, the oceans of the world, I am overwhelmed by the feeling that, good intentions notwithstanding, money trumps conservation every time.

And yet…and yet….

There are places humankind has not yet destroyed. Places untouched and virgin: in New Guinea, in central Africa, in South America, in Borneo, even in the desperately overfished and overexploited oceans. Invariably, these remaining outposts of the unspoiled natural world are protected by and owe their continuing survival to two factors: isolation, and laws that are actually enforced. Ideally, the two exist in combination.

In northern Borneo, a tract of untouched rainforest has been set aside in the Danum Valley. Here uncut diterocarps tower hundreds of feet high, providing food and shelter for a vast range of rare animals that have been exterminated elsewhere on the world’s third largest island. In the central Pacific, Henderson Island boasts some of the most unspoiled and healthy coral reef societies in the entire ocean, thanks to the island’s isolation and the fact that it is regularly patrolled by the U.S. military.

Gabon’s forests still exist because the country is one of the few in Africa that is actually underpopulated. Declared national parks by the nation’s recently deceased long-time leader, it remains to be seen if in the huge areas that have been set aside for conservation, promise will be followed by enforcement. For now, Gabon offers the rare visitor the chance to see an Africa long since obliterated on the rest of the continent.

In Peru a battle brews between those who recognize the value of preserving the country’s natural wonders and those who would (as in Ecuador) exploit them for the hydrocarbons that lie below the forests. In Brazil, a slowing of deforestation holds out the promise of preserving at least some of the original Amazon basin.

Hope for such regions remains, though I fear and expect such preservation may only be accomplished at the point of a gun, as is the case with the rhino in South Africa and the tiger in India. Having let our planet’s wilderness degenerate to its present state, that may be the only viable course that remains to us if we wish to retain even a fragment of the world and the beauty that once was.

Predator versus alien: this will surely not end well

Japanese knotweedWhile Alabama may have its congongrass, we here in the UK have our own invasive species of Far Eastern weed in the form of Fallopia japonica, better known as Japanese knotweed. In their great wisdom, our Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is planning to introduce another alien species – a form of plant lice – into the ecosystem to get rid of it. [image by dankogreen]

Laboratory tests were started on pests from Japan which control the knotweed by feeding on sap from its stems, causing the plant to die back.

The tests showed the chosen Aphalara itadori did not eat any other species, including closely related British plants and important crops.

Genius! I mean, the odds of a short-lifespanned insect evolving itself a wider diet when introduced to a totally new biosphere must be so small as to be negligible. Nothing could possibly go wrong with this plan!

Paging John Wyndham… would John Wyndham please report to the briefing rooms…

We have to eat them in order to save them

Sable antelopeNothing kick-starts my Monday like some over-the-top provocative contrarian thinking. So, how fortunate to come across this report on conservation scientist Paul Nabhan, who suggests that the best thing we could do to prevent rare species going extinct is to start eating them.

First thing to note is that he’s not talking about snow leopards or pandas or anything like that. He’s talking about what he calls “heritage foods” – animals and plants that were once staples of regional diets but which have fallen out of favour in the kitchen, and are near to extinction as a result. [image by Arno & Louise]

Second thing to note is that Nabhan has a new book on the market.

Now, while Nabhan’s point is interesting in its own right, I find myself more interested in the results of the rhetorical approach. Look at the MetaFilter comments thread about this article, and see how many of the commenters have simply extrapolated the worst possible scenario from the headline without bothering to read the article. Is it worth using contrarian tactics to stimulate debate, or is it just another way of making a noise about a new product?

Cloning technique could bring species back from extinction

This Northern White Rhino lives at San Diego ZooIt seems to be a week for biological-related stories here on Futurismic. Using skin cells from the nearly extinct Northern White Rhino, scientists can reprogram them back to an embryonic state, from which they can create sperm and eggs with the animal’s genes. An animal can then be created in vitro or through a surrogate mother from the Southern species of White Rhino. There are only 3 or 4 of the Northern variety left in the wild.

Professor Robert Millar, the director of the Medical Research Council’s Reproductive Sciences Unit at Edinburgh University, who is leading the study, said: “There are a lot of African animals under the threat of extinction. We want to protect their genomes, but you have to protect their habitats as well. This is one of the ways of dealing with the problem, especially when the animals get to such low numbers in the wild. It is a method we need to start to get into place as an insurance policy – it’s clearly do-able according to the laboratory work.”

This poses an extremely interesting moral dilemma. Is it worse to clone an animal or to let its species go extinct? And if the animal was cloned, does that make it a legal member of the species?

[via the Independent, Northern White Rhino in San Diego Zoo picture by Eliya]

Low-tech is the new high-tech for water purification

windmill Everyone knows the KISS principle, but too often it’s forgotten in an effort to build new gadgets. Typically, desalination requires large amounts of electricity, and operates at a low efficiency. Now, researchers from (where else) the Netherlands have skipped the electrical middleman and are using the mechanical energy created by a standard irrigation windmill to force water through a special reverse osmosis filter.

This will produce around 5-10 cubic meters of water, or roughly enough to satisfy 500 people, with a storage reservoir to save up for windless days. The prototype should be up and running soon on the Caribbean island of Curaçao. No word yet on when Los Angeles will get the 26,000 it needs to avert a crisis soon.

(via DailyTech) (image from press release)