Giraffes, Bees, Sloth Bears and Space Probes

Posted: September 16, 2020 in nature
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Anne Dagg, a Canadian zoologist, was the first person to study giraffes in the wild. In 1956, as a young woman, she bravely traveled to South Africa alone to study giraffes. Returning home she got her PhD, but she found a stone wall of resistance from the good old boy network in the sciences. She was refused a job as a tenured professor, but tenaciously she still published over 60 scientific articles and 20 books an animal behavior. She also became a strong advocate for women. Anne is now getting her due through apologies, awards and a documentary on her life is available on Amazon Prime’s CuriosityStream.

The sloth bear is a species native to the Indian subcontinent. There’s nothing slothful about it. So much for names. It has a long snout to vacuum up insects and a shaggy back for its cubs to ride on. It was made famous as Baloo, a fictional character featured in the movie based on Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book. The species is now endangered.

Hayabusa2 is a Japanese spacecraft that successfully rendezvoused with a diamond shaped asteroid named Ryugu in 2018. In an amazing display of technology it landed on the asteroid and picked up subsurface “organic matter” that scientists hope will help clarify the origin of life. The probe is on its way back to Earth to deliver the samples to eager scientists. In December of 2020 it will deliver its asteroid material by launching a small capsule with the material it collected.

Honeybees are disappearing from the earth. Many believe that our increasing use of chemical pesticides and herbicides, which honeybees ingest during their daily pollination rounds, are largely to blame. Parasites, viruses, and fungi also take their toll, especially on commercial bee colonies. In the US, to help with the problem huge numbers of bees are now carried around on semi trucks from California to Washington to the Dakotas to pollinate almond trees and apple trees. In 2015 one of the trucks overturned in California. It held 448 hives and an estimated 14 million bees.

What do a Canadian zoologist, a sloth bear, a space craft and bees have in common?

Plenty.

“The lover can see, and the knowledgeable,” writes Annie Dillard.

We are capable of learning about our world and our universe and understanding it better at an astonishing level of sophistication. From vacuum-cleaner bears to teams that produce astroid landing spacecraft, we earth creatures love life and hoover in knowledge.

The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge, for the ears of the wise seek it out. Proverbs 18:15

Seeking! Seeing! That is the beginning. Seeing of loving and doing. Loving is understanding and continuing to vacuum up knowledge to better care for our world and ourselves.

Secondly, our learning and the application of it has dramatically altered the world. Some of this is good. We are figuring out the universe. We are keepers of the bees. We understand and preserve some bears and giraffes.

But some of our application of knowledge has resulted in a very harmful state of affairs. The proverbial “ears” of wisdom haven’t always been a wise. Bears and bees, giraffes and space — we are in the process of devastating them, our planet and space.

There are 1 million animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction. There are an estimated 28 million pieces of human made debris smaller than 1 cm (0.39 in) in space.

What to do?

Protect and nurture. Use wisely. That was the Genesis command. It is a misunderstanding to think that we are here to dominate and destroy. We are not commanded to do that. We are commanded to responsibly love and nurture the creation, all races and genders and classes, bees, our earth, it’s atmosphere — all creatures, all persons.

A huge garden spider is now connected to my patio umbrella. I’m leaving it alone. I’m watching it increase its web. I not so fond of spiders, but I am absolutely sure that messing with this beautiful creature is wrong. It will spoil my backyard ecosystem.

But not messing with creatures hasn’t always been the response.

Beginning in 1958, chairman Mao in China decreed that all the sparrow should be killed. The whole country attacked them furiously. It was a national grotesquery. The result was a huge ecological imbalance that was in part responsible for the great Chinese famine. It turned out that while sparrows eat grain, they also eat insects — and without sparrows to keep the insect population in check, China’s crops were fair game. Locusts, leafhoppers and other insects descended in droves. At least 30 million Chinese died in the great famine.

The birds matter. What happens when the birds and bees are gone? This morning I close watched a pair of brown towhees hopping in my lawn. They were right in a place where I used to apply weed killer. I’m not going use that anymore. My earth care friend Brenda Smith influenced me this way, as well as my wife. We have a rabbit living in our hedge, birds and butterflies galore in the yard. We planted flowering bushes and trees to attract them. It is senseless to poison the wonders, the ground hopping extravagances that we created home and food for. The world is full of billions of these. We live in world teaming with life.

“The universe has continued to deal exclusively in extravagances, flinging intricacies and colossi down aeons of emptiness, heaping profusions on profligacies with ever-fresh vigor,” writes Annie Dillard.

The Joy is in seeing it. For many years we bought passes to the San Diego Zoo. My wife and daughter have volunteered there. The zoo is a world leader in conservation and species preservation. And in part, as a result of this, my daughters are fascinated with nature, one even getting her PhD with an emphasis in ecofeminism.

There are simple things we can do to help. Several years ago, even before it became popular, my wife insisted that we stop getting plastic bags from the grocery store and that we stopped buying disposable water bottles.

I have to admit that despite my fascination with nature, it is the influence of others, very often women, that have led me to begin to change my behavior.

Wised-up ears listen to good counsel. We are so capable, even of Sisyphean labors to create refuges, conservation education, address poverty and preserve species. My intellectual hat is off to such as Anne Dagg and also to the Hayabusa2 space craft team, and to my wife, daughters and earth care friends.

If we can send a craft to an astroid can’t we turn from the destruction of our planet’s and nurture its profligate intricacies and natural extravagances?

We can.

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