It was a shimmering morning, when the colors seemed to be turned up several shades brighter. We were in Hope Gardens.
We stood amidst the debris of a party (sorry – Festival) that took place two days earlier. As yet untouched, swathes of cloth, discarded rum containers and cups, plastic knives and forks, plastic bottles and other trash were strewn across the landscape. Two security guards sat in the shade, apparently in charge. A cluster of cattle egrets pecked around in what had presumably been a feeding area for the partying humans.
However, we were more interested in non-human species that morning. The National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) was celebrating World Wildlife Day, quietly setting up its own tent and awaiting the small groups of primary school students and teachers who were there to celebrate our wildlife, and learn. Clutching their bird ID cards and binoculars, they followed their guides (all BirdLife Jamaica members) and headed off in different directions. Yellow-billed parrots, emerald green in the morning sunlight, zoomed overhead and immediately captivated the children. Ricardo Miller carefully explained to one group the meaning of “endemic”: species that are specific to a certain area. We were off to a good start.
Under the knobbly, spiky red silk-cotton trees, the group led by Damany Calder hit the jackpot. Migratory warblers flitted among the branches, attracted to the waxy, scarlet flowers. A Jamaican Oriole announced its arrival with a snatch of melodious song, then dipped its beak into one of the flowers. A Loggerhead Kingbird amused everyone by perching on a branch close by, allowing the children to peer at him and observe his jerky head movements. He looked this way and that for passing insects, and often swooped down to the ground to pick up some tasty morsel, to their delight. A White-crowned Pigeon arrived, and we discussed its local name – “Baldpate.”
There was a moment of great excitement, later, when Ricardo spotted a resident Northern Potoo high on a branch. Pretending it actually was a branch, in fact. The students took turns peering at the motionless bird – nocturnal and therefore resting – through the scope. As always, the Potoo’s camouflage was immaculate.
As we ate breakfast, I talked to conservationist Damion Whyte about humans’ relationship with animals. Damion can be found on Twitter at @Roosters_World, and his videos are enlightening, entertaining and educational. We talked about the manatees that are occasionally seen around Goat Islands (seagrass is their favorite food). They are extremely shy. They have very good reason to be afraid of humans.
We also talked about the recent horrific attack on a crocodile by a group of young men on a beach. The crocodile had got caught in a fishing net (small fish flapped around it) and twisted and turned trying to get out. One man viciously bludgeoned it to death with a stick, while the others stood around laughing and cursing expletives, as if they had done something really great. I could go into more detail, but will spare you.
NEPA sent out an appeal after the video began to circulate on social media. It was also aired in full on television, after the appropriate warnings. In a way, Damion and I agreed, it was good that the video was so widely circulated. Even amongst those who are not particularly keen on crocodiles, it sparked revulsion and horror. Here is NEPA’s appeal. If you recognize the people in the video and photographs (or the place), do contact them urgently.
NEPA appealing for help to catch crocodile killers
There is much more to say about World Wildlife Day. This is just a Jamaican snapshot. Globally and in the region, the issues of wildlife crime (including trafficking) and the dogged, mindless determination of humans to reduce the numbers of wild creatures we share the planet with are very real.
Here is what UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said about World Wildlife Day, which really says it all:
Humanity is an inextricable part of the rich tapestry of life that makes up our world’s biological diversity. All human civilizations have been and continue to be built on the use of wild and cultivated species of flora and fauna, from the food we eat to the air we breathe.
However, it seems that humanity has forgotten just how much we need nature for our survival and well-being. As our population and our needs continue to grow, we keep exploiting natural resources – including wild plants and animals and their habitats – in an unsustainable manner.
In its 2019 Global Assessment, the Intergovernmental Panel for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) highlighted how the current global rate of species extinction is rampant and accelerating – tens to hundreds of times higher than before humans inhabited the planet.
By overexploiting wildlife, habitats and ecosystems, humanity is endangering both itself and the survival of countless species of wild plants and animals. Today, close to a quarter of all species on the planet are in danger of becoming extinct in the next decades.
On this World Wildlife Day, let us remind ourselves of our duty to preserve and sustainably use the vast variety of life on the planet. Let us push for a more caring, thoughtful and sustainable relationship with nature. A world of thriving biodiversity provides the foundation we need to achieve our Sustainable Development Goals of a world of dignity and opportunity for all people on a healthy planet.
Let’s face it. It’s the animals’ world. We just live in this world alongside them, for now. We are but one of the many species that live on Earth. They have their space, we should allow them theirs. Whatever happened to that simple phrase “Live and let live” ?
If our animals, birds, insects and plants aren’t around any more, we won’t be either. We owe it to them, and ourselves, to protect them. And as Mr. Guterres says, it is our duty.