Tag Archives: Biodiversity

Loss of Wonderment.


In a rainforest in Queensland, Australia, in about 1980 a small frog sat on a stone in a wet place. She had conspicuously protruding eyes. At a casual glance there was little beyond that that would catch the interest of a passer-by. Except for one thing. She had been given the extraordinary name of gastric-brooding frog. How could anyone conjure-up such a name! Come on!

This frog, with no notable colouration, however, had one little trick that said she was important.

Frog’s eggs, tadpoles and babies suffer from high predation. So what is a frog to do to protect her brood? This species evolved an astonishing process to give her youngsters their best chance of survival. She laid her eggs and the male fertilized them in the normal way of frogs. Then she did an unbelievable thing – she ate them all up – like Goldilocks eating the baby bear’s porridge.

So where’s the great plan in all of that? Eating your own eggs to prevent Great Diving Beetles from doing the same seems – well – a bit dumb. It’s as though mum hadn’t quite joined up all the dotted lines to come up with a workable solution. 

When food slips down into the stomach – acids break it up into nutrients – but in this frog’s case the eggs secrete a chemical that protects them from the corrosive digestive juices. The developing tadpoles and the resultant baby frogs, still in the mother’s stomach, also produce the same protective shield. And when mum frog judges the time to be right she regurgitates and spits out her brood of tiny children, one by one, to take their chances in the great world outside.

And there is another consideration here – usefulness – to us. In the USA alone up to 25 million Americans suffer from peptic ulcers; a painful condition. Could the chemical shield produced by the eggs of this frog lead to the discovery of a drug that would be a cure for this painful human condition? Scientists started to work on this possibility. Then all research stopped. Why? Because sometime in the early 1980s the gastric-brooding frog became extinct. It had taken millions of years of evolution to create this chemical – and now it had disappeared with the disappearance of this frog. 

There were two different species of gastric-brooding frog. Both have become extinct. the reason is not clear. Fungal infection and damage to the bits of rainforest they needed may have been part of the cause.

That a small frog managed to evolve such a process is far beyond our understanding. We can only drop down into silence at the mystery of it all. 

In her going we have lost one more wonder from our world.


Nature Conservation – a Global Event?


Is it just me? Or are there others out there with similar views?

We are not winning the battle to conserve species. Indeed was there ever a time when we could say we were?

Right now as you read this blog, across the world in dozens of countries there are thousands of committed people and groups and clubs doing their best to protect habitats and biodiversity. In addition thousands of articles in magazines and Sunday Supplements  raise concerns for the run-away effect of global warming that is now creating consequences for all of us. Yet it is extraordinary that in spite of unusual storms and other odd climatic events, that are now increasingly common, that there is not a unified global-wide outcry by citizens.

So we need to ask the hard question – is all of the effort made by park rangers and scientists and others in national parks, and other places, around the world to win affection for nature having any permanent change of minds? There is no evidence that this intended good work is starting to generate a global consensus to protect species and their varied habitats.

Undoubtedly many of these fine talks and nature walks are enjoyable. But do even the finest of them actually change attitudes in a meaningful and sustained way that benefits nature?

We hold wildlife international conferences where politicians spout out words of concern and intent – and indeed sometime agree on a plan of action to protect habitats – only to have these aspirations drain away as soon as they pack their bags to return home.    

Why should we be surprised? Politicians do not carry to such meetings a broad and angry demand from their own people that meaningful agreements be reached to protect nature – and with the clear understanding that if nothing of significance is agreed that there will be political consequences when they return home. Unless we get to that level of public demand of our politicians nothing will change. Politicians will continue to drone out their indignation and meaningless sentiments.  

All my life I have lived with stories of rhino and elephants being killed; rare tigers and leopards taken for their fur and bone and blood; swamps drained on which exquisite frogs and cranes depend; coral rotting from polluted water or destroyed by fishermen; butterflies quietly dying from poisoning. Yet we register no moral outrage at what is happening.

So clearly we need another approach. We need to engage in something that will stir our imagination – and do it at a planet-wide level. Something on a global scale where we all can feel we have taken part.So what might we do? 

We need to come together to organize a world event for nature. Something that will register as the first step towards a planet-wide ethic for nature. Something too that will be remembered as the pivotal moment when millions of people, together, around the world, took up the banner for the protection of nature. If we achieve that then politicians will know they have serious issues to address.  

In Planet Dancing I have argued that we need to create a Children of the World Nature Reserve. Such a reserve would be paid for from pennies and cents and dollars and euros and other small change, collected from millions of children around the world. Such a place, created  by the efforts of children, would be special to them and they would want to know what lives in such a place and how it is managed on their behalf. On growing up these children would carry into their adult lives an understanding of habitats and what is needed if species are to survive. They would carry this understanding into their business and political judgments. This would be the start of a global awakening of what needs to be done.

Anything less than a global reach like this will fall short of what is now needed if we are ever to change minds in a way that will be meaningful.

(Extract from Planet Dancing.) 



Let us pick a day. On that day let the children of the world dance together under the sun. Let them dance in their own countries but let them know that other children are dancing too. Let them know that English children, Japanese children, German children, children in Amsterdam, South African children, the children of Burma and the children of Adelaide are dancing. Let them know that American children in San Francisco and Amarillo and around the Little Belt Mountains are all a-dance.

Let them know that they are dancing for the joy of being children; that they are dancing in celebration of nature in all her wonder. They should dance for the starfish. They should dance for the snow worms. They should dance for the musk turtles. They should dance for the snake flies and for the symmetry of tuna. They should dance for the snipefish and for the magpie larks.

They should dance too a requiem. A requiem for all the species that tried and failed. They should dance for the Great Auk; they should dance for the Japanese wolf and for the Labrador duck; they should dance for the elephant bird and for the Portuguese ibex; they should dance for the quagga and for the giant Irish deer.

And when the dancing stops the children should cheer with the joy of knowing that for the first time all the children of the planet danced together for nature and that things will never be the same again.

(Extract from the book – Planet Dancing.)



The alligator in a Florida swamp.


The alligator turned like a compass needle. It pointed its barely-above-water eyes at the bow of the canoe. The canoe glided between the flooded trunks of cypress trees and into the lemon water of the main channel.The alligator was not a ‘big-un’ as alligators go, but it was big enough for a boy to tell his dad – ‘Saw a huge ‘gator today pop.’

Size did not bother the alligator. He did not know what size meant. He knew strength. He respected strength. Twice he had been defeated by the strength of the green alligator with the one eye. Yes, he respected strength but he never made a linkage between size and strength. You simply went at it as best you could, and if it came back at you worse than you could give – then you backed off.

The alligator eyed the canoe again. . . . 

(Extract from the book – Planet Dancing.)


Three cheers for the little guys!


At first I found it difficult to see them. Then … there they were. Like tiny garden snails rafting together in little groups of a dozen or more. I was down on my knees leaning out over a sulphur-rich spring in Banff National Park in Canada. 

According to the experts in the park there are only five known populations of these snails in existence.

A really big guy in the world of these snails would be no larger than a pea. But conservation is not just about protecting the big and the conspicuous. Little fellows too should have a place in our hearts!

(Extract from the book  – Planet Dancing.)



Ancient Eyes in the Surf


Some years ago I spent a wonderful ten days on an island nature reserve in the Gulf of Mexico. It was the first time that I saw horseshoe crabs. Everything about them spoke of ‘ancient’. Indeed they have been around for over three hundred and fifty million years.

But in the world of these horseshoe crabs there is now a problem; they are harvested for a property in their blood. Their blood is strange in that it is copper based. Scientists utilize this property to test for the presence of bacteria.

In the past these crabs were harvested in their millions for processing into animal feed and fertilizer.

Horseshoe crabs still come into the shallows of the waters of the Gulf of Mexico – but in far fewer numbers now. 

(Extract from the book – Planet Dancing.)

Extract from Planet Dancing



Should we not shed our concerns about extinctions? From the time of the green algae all species have fought for dominance. All are locked together – the winner taking all in the Olympic Games of the Genes. If what we do is no more than a process of nature – why hide it? Should we not shout out our success? Why don’t we stand up and roar our triumph into the faces of clouded leopards?

(An extract from the book – Planet Dancing.)