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Here on earth

March 12, 2018


BY now, pretty much most people are aware that the planet is not so slowly being killed off as a result of humankind’s activities and its unfettered expansion. Natural resources are being depleted, climate change and the associated planetary changes are a reality, increasing numbers of animal species are under critical threat, and the oceans are filling up with garbage, killing off marine life.

Last week, doing the rounds on the internet was a video shot by British diver Rich Horner of his own self swimming at a dive site called Manta Point off the island of Nusa Penida near Bali. Around him ought to have been sparkling blue water and a host of tropical fish, given that this is a diving tourism destination because it attracts manta rays all the year round. Instead, Horner’s footage captures nauseating filth strewn densely in the ocean, thousands of pieces of floating, yellowing and non-biodegradable plastic, some as big as his torso.

This was a two-minute video shot off the coast of Bali. But things are no better in the rest of the expanse that makes ours the distinctive blue-green planet when viewed from space. Witnesses have reported the existence of entire floating ‘islands’ comprised entirely of compacted trash brought together by the currents. In 2014, three separate scientific papers produced a tally of (back then) some five trillion pieces of plastic debris, of which about 269,000 tons floated on the surface, and another four billion plastic microfibres per square kilometre poisoned the deep sea.

Humanity’s apparent belief that the planet is indestructible, infinitely excavatable, and automatically self-renewing, is as evident as it is fallacious. So when we, as a collective and on the individual level, largely refuse to protect the very habitat that supports us, why be surprised at the lack of care regarding the other sentient beings that are our roommates?

The belief that the planet is self-renewing is fallacious.

Yet the truth, as thankfully is recognised and documented amongst (beleaguered) scientific and conservationist quarters, is that humanity’s doings are also fairly rapidly killing off the earth’s wildlife. The garbage in the seas that is poisoning and choking marine life is just one aspect of the matter. There are also more malignant human activities such as hunting, poaching, and the squeezing out of habitat space that is leaving no room for other living things.

On the list of watchdogs such as IUCN and WWF are critically endangered species including the mountain gorilla, the orangutan, the South China, Malayan and Sumatran tigers, and various species of elephant, amongst many, many other birds and beasts — even the monarch butterfly. By some estimates, a whole lot of the species that exist today will, within two human generations or even less, be relics from history books — a tragedy that perhaps would hit closer to home for the world’s children, who learn about them and dream of seeing them in the flesh one day.

It is heartening, then, that those who do care about this state of affairs are turning towards increasingly unconventional methods to achieve their aims. There are scientists working upon feasibilities for dredgers that might be able to filter oceanic water and clean (to some extent) the ocean floors. The activities of poachers have been drastically cut down in the wilds of Africa, South America and Australia, with some countries issuing shoot-on-sight orders and most (including Pakistan) increasing fines and jail terms.

And last year came the news that the world’s last male northern white rhinoceros, called Sudan, had been put on the dating app Tinder in the hope of raising enough money to pay for an in vitro fertilisation procedure (using a surrogate southern white rhino female) that comes with the price tag of $9 million. The 45-year-old, who lives at a conservancy near Nairobi along with two females of his own species, was in the news last week because he was recovering from a leg wound that had been serious enough to earlier raise fears that he might have to be put down.

Such concerns seem a far cry from Pakistan, where animal rights often, and for obvious reasons, take a back seat to human rights which are far from satisfactory. Even so, several organisations are playing their part, such as protecting the Himalayan brown bear and snow leopards. Underfunded and largely unappreciated, they are nevertheless providing interventions where possible. The Baltistan Wildlife Conservation and Development Organisation, for example, initiated an insurance and financial compensation scheme in over two dozen villages against livestock losses resulting from snow leopard attacks. The practice in these villages is to hunt down and kill the predator.

Children across the world learn routinely about the animal kingdom, species and habitats, etc. There would be much benefit in including accounts such as the above in school curricula, especially in developing countries such as Pakistan, to stoke awareness that although the earth is not ours alone, it is our responsibility.

The writer is a member of staff.

Published in Dawn, March 12th, 2018