Christmas. An uncertain ending to a bleak year. And, to those who pay attention to such things, signs of more bleakness to come. Hurricanes, cyclones. Droughts, forest fires. Dying oceans. Shrinking glaciers, melting polar ice caps. A climate emergency in the present, and a looming mass extinction in the future. Feckless leadership. Unquestioning followers. In the kingdom of the Blind, the one-eyed man is King.
Christmas is traditionally a time of hope and spiritual renewal, regardless of one’s social, political and religious affiliations, but this Christmas seems empty somehow — a throwback to Dickensian times, perhaps, this time with the added distraction of frenzied technology and the ever-present threat of Big Brother, looming over us, driven and enflamed by social media.
There are still good, kind people out there. Science and technology is still capable of producing surprises. And miracles. There have been scientific advances in the past year that take the breath away.
Earlier this month, a 15-year-old, Greta Thunberg of Sweden, and a 92-year-old, Sir David Attenborough, stood and delivered before an international conference on climate change, and the world listened.
NASA landed a space probe on a predetermined, precise spot on the red planet, Mars, after a journey that lasted seven months, over 300 million miles.
The true wonder, which would’ve been unthinkable just a few years ago, was that NASA’s InSight probe beamed pictures from a neighbouring planet, in real time, in such a way that you could watch them on a screen the size of your hand, on your phone.
And in an early Christmas present for anyone who cares about elephants and the health of the world’s remaining wild creatures, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) in the African country of Zambia, together with the conservation NGO Elephant Connection Research Project ( ECR), provided long-awaited proof of the viability of “wildlife corridors” that connect far-flung populations of wild animals across national, political boundaries. Wildlife corridors for animals such as elephants are essential for the revitalization of threatened and endangered species.
In the case of the Zambia elephant, the pleasure lies in the details. An elephant bull was fitted with a remote tracking collar in 2017. In the past year, he was shown to have walked a long, circuitous route from his original home in in Zambia’s Sioma Ngwezi National Park to neighbouring Kafue National Park, a distance of 390 kilometres, in 14 days, accompanied by six other elephants, through another country.
In moving to Kafue from Sioma Ngwezi through the broader Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA TFCA), this elephant and his companions demonstrated that restless tuskers wander in and out of neighbouring countries whenever the mood suits them.
Elephants have been known to wander back and forth between Namibia, Zambia, Angola, Botswana and even neighbouring Zimbabwe and South Africa. The regional transfrontier park system, as represented by the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area, recognizes the right of wild animals to travel across national boundaries in protected areas, regardless of any political tensions that may exist between countries. The transfrontier park system was originally proposed in part, co-developed, established and enforced by one of the region’s great elder statesmen. Perhaps you’ve heard of him. His name was Nelson Mandela.
Information and knowledge are vital not just to existing wildlife populations, but for future populations as well. WWF Zambia’s communications officer, Nchimunya Kasongo, noted in a press statement that this isn’t just about elephants. Information gleaned from the satellite-collaring of elephants in Zambia — 15 collared to date — is crucial to understanding the right and wrong way to use land in such a way that subsistence farmers won’t be terrorized by seven-ton elephants, and the elephants in turn won’t be shot by angry farmers. It’s all about lessening the chances for human-wildlife conflict.
The future of the world’s large endangered wild animals, not just elephants but also rhinos, lions, gorillas, jaguars and polar bears wildlife is not only tied to climate change and habitat loss but also making sure the animals who call the wilderness home and the people who live there don’t come into conflict.
Why does this matter? We’ve trashed the planet in recent decades, in thrall to the demands a miserable, insecure society, even as the language of environmental protest has changed. A new, younger generation is involved, and they are engaged in ways we never were. Many of them know, even if we have forgotten, that economics and the environment are inextricably interwoven, in the same way an elephant from Kafue, Zambia is connected to another elephant from Khaudom National Park in Namibia.
Here’s one final thought to leave you with, on this Christmas Day 2018, this one brought to you by Natalie Bennett, former leader of the Green party in Wales and England, writing in The Guardian:
“History is not pre-written, or destined to repeat itself. Offering the hope that with political, economic, social, educational and environmental transformation we can build a society that works for the common good, within the physical limits of this one fragile planet, is politically essential. The politics of the far right is built on fear and we must not feed that.
“Business as usual isn’t an option. But then that is one thing that certainly is not going to happen. That’s good news, for our planet and for its people.”
Merry Christmas, good people of Planet Earth.