Saturday, January 31, 2015

Black rhino in the morning, white rhino in the afternoon...thoughtful foray into the Lowveld.

Diceros bicornis
If someone had told me just WEEKS ago (let along during my animal-addle-pated childhood) that one day I would see a BLACK rhino in the morning, and then a WHITE rhino in the afternoon*--that in fact I would see several of both on several days in South Africa--well, I frankly would have thought it unlikely.  But on Tuesday of this past week, I did just that: we saw two mud-encrusted black rhinos wallowing in mud and scraping mud off their nose-tusks at Mahlavetsi (a wildlife refuge associated with Kruger Park in South Africa) and later that day in the mellow light we saw two stately and elegant white rhinos...
Ceratotherium simum
The awesome opportunity to see both these majestic creatures (in a single day no less) couldn't hardly help but coax forth a few thoughts about ironies and paradoxes of Modern Life. Going on a wildlife Safari wasn't exactly a life goal of mine: thanks to the privilege of working at an extraordinarily successful public garden, I've had the opportunity to partake in two (the first almost twenty years ago at Mashatu in Botswana).Ex post facto, I realized this was a life ambition I'd just thought I'd never get around to. The things you never get around to may be just what lights your fire the most.

This sort of "safari" was the sort of thing only very wealthy people partook of decades ago, and it's still a stretch for most of us. Although I doubt that anyone who partakes of a wildlife trip like this regrets spending the cash. And obviously, having first world visitors spending lots of money to see these animals is part and parcel of the reason so many African countries have made an effort to set aside large tracts of land preserving the remnants of Africa's once vast herds of charismatic megafauna.

Driving practically up to a rhinoceros is a thrill--but there are a myriad attendant thrills: the wonderful pristine-seeming countryside, the literally dozens of other taxa of megafauna you see as well (and let's not even get around to the microfauna which sometimes steal the show--and flora and especially the fantastic variety of birds). And then there are the people: the South Africans in this case--over a dozen different ethic groups, each with a rich culture and history and wealth of cultural attributes.

But getting back to the rhinoceros--if you read my blog I suspect you are aware of the wanton destruction of thousands of rhinoceros a year for commerce in their horns: if you are miraculously ignorant about it, just Google "rhinoceros horn" and stand back for the shocking revelation that there were nearly 100,000 individuals mid last century and that they've dwindled to a few thousand, and possibly 1200 were killed in Kruger alone last year. The magnitude of the destruction of a creature so that small market of truly pin-headed East Asian plutocrats might ingest tiny portions of ceratin (It would be SO much more appropriate if we all just collected our collective toenail clippings and sent them those instead).

The plight of Indian and Indonesian rhinos is hardly any better: the last surviving species of rhinoceros have had the bad luck to be find themselves in tiny, fragile havens next to areas of colossal population growth (India, Indonesia and now Africa--whose population is still burgeoning at astounding rates).

Much of the area just west and south of Kruger and its surrounding "reserves" is heavily populated already, with huge fruit and cereal farms, mines and tree plantations carpeting every inch of ground. I can't speak for the north or east side--Zimbabwe and Mozambique can hardly bode better.

Of course, one (or possibly more) species of rhinoceros have already become extinct--likely with help from humankind already: the Wooly Rhinoceros ( Coelodonta antiquitatis and likely other taxa) succumbed by the end of the Pleistocene: depicted nearly100 times by Cro Magnon artists--although not nearly as often as they painted mammoths, bison and horses (which were subsequently also ushered into extinction at about the same time).

As one peers into the future dimly, one wonders which of the two bifurcating paths humanity might take: on the one hand, the seemingly ineluctable stampede towards greater extinction including perhaps our own: driven by our steppe-genes: the psychotic demand for control, domination and membership in the National Rifle Association (an organization I do not approve of, incidentally).

Or perhaps we shall come to our senses: wealthy Orientals will realize that ingesting toenail clippings does not in fact really enhance their sexuality. Desperate poachers (many of them likely knowing the ways of the rhinoceros by working on the very reserves by day where they poach by night) shall find better opportunities and eschew the now not so lucrative pursuit.

India and Indonesia will soon curb birthrates, and ultimately expand preserves so their modest rhinoceros populations shall continue flourish and expand.

And genetic wizards turn their talents from "enhancing" corn for Monsanto's bottom line to re-constituting the hypercharismatic megafauna we extinguished coincidentally about the time we invented horticulture (and all hell broke loose) to populate vast new Pleistocene Parks in Siberia, Alaska and Canada set aside for the burgeoning herds of renaissance mammoths, wooly rhinos, Steppe bison and the rest of the creatures we destroyed in our path to becoming Homo ubiquitus or perhaps better termed Homo smart-phonicus?

If you are reading this you are undoubtedly committed along with me in the second (and only) path. NRA be damned. Please don't try and defend them. I will certainly allow you to comment, but I think you will regret it if you do, I assure you. I wish every gun in the world turn to rust immediately.

Such are a few of the thoughts inspired by a magical foray into the Lowveld.

P.S. "Yes, there are two paths you can go by, but in the long run
There's still time to change the road you're on." Led Zeppelin

 *Black and white rhinos aren't really named for their color--although my specimens were nicely contrasting. Black rhinos are generally a tad smaller, have more beak-like mouths designed mostly for browsing shrubbery and white rhinos are larger, with flat-lipped mouths designed for grazing.

1 comment:

  1. Panayoti your wisdom warms my heart and gives me hope for the future generations that may experience the joys in you writings and in the gardens that benefit from your wanderings. Blessings for your continued travels.


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