52. Cocktail Hour (02/2012)
All living beings on earth are indigenous to this planet, as far as we know. Despite the prevalence of simpler versions, a popular scientific theory maintains that plant and animal species evolved selectively, adapting to their environments and occupying niches within ecosystems. Most species are area specific, but over time some plants and animals were able to move from one part of the planet to another. Migrating birds, insects, fish, and mammals naturally established themselves elsewhere as either temporary or permanent residents. They inevitably brought plant seeds that grew. Plants also moved abroad by wind or water.
Over the past few centuries, however, humans greatly advanced our own mobility, and also redistributed many species sometimes actively promoting an international pervading presence that also thrives on foreign soil. Many introduced species have proliferated chaotically disrupting the balance of fragile ecosystems. Recently we have become aware of the ensuing havoc, spurring human counter measures to alleviate specific disasters. The backlash has unleashed a rather absurd intellectual obsession with ‘indigenous species’ and a reactive xenophobia. And this is a contentious point because many people voice specific and often irrational ideas about nurturing what is acceptable and what is not. The fact that we even consider this relevance is peculiar to our often specious species for our decisions emanate from extremely limited insight into life on earth.
Locally it is advocated that certain plant and animal species be exterminated when they flourish in already dysfunctional ecosystems even though it is virtually impossible to achieve this in many cases. So blue gums, pine, and oak become loathed and destroyed even in areas where they pose no danger of spreading naturally. And yet it is unquestionably accepted to destroy vast areas of virgin Karoo (including rare species) in order to plant olives, peaches, apricots, plums; grape vines; lucerne; grazing; oats; and vegetables, none of which originate in our country. Overpopulating and destroying the landscape with unsuitable domesticated animals like sheep, goats, cattle, and ostriches is also deemed necessary ostensibly for food security but in reality for profit and pleasure. While naturally occurring resident species such as baboon, jackal, leopard, lynx, otter, porcupine, tortoises, snakes, antelope, birds, and insects are mercilessly annihilated for the same reasons. Even native people who once lived lightly and happily have been lured into enduring a semblance of the destructive exotic model of existence.
Those who actively support the perpetuation of acceptable aliens often denounce other exotic trees, plants, and animals. Plants that may thrive in this environment significantly enhancing it by providing shade, beauty, food and home for wildlife, oxygen, and moisture are senselessly destroyed. Paradoxically it is the indigenous domestic animal varieties that are hardy, disease resistant, and adaptable such as damara sheep, Nguni cattle, and Africanis dogs that are bizarrely shunned.
Selective persecution of certain plants, animals, and indeed other human beings is not an uncommon occurrence in societies past and present and is often associated with conservatism, insecurity, misinformation, and lack of imagination.
Humans have irrevocably altered the harmony that existed on earth before we left the garden. This is part of the process of the growth and decline of earth as a living entity. Life on earth as we know it will disappear in a cloud of dust that will settle, and after a few millennia, new life may emerge as has happened so many times before. Or maybe the end will be an extinguished sun, a huge meteorite, or an all-consuming black hole. But until then lovers will continue to admire Italian cypresses, grow exquisite roses and tomatoes, keep pets, and actively conserve the myriad indigenous plant and animal life of the Karoo.