This is my first article for the Hive. I have to say that quite some time has passed before I got down to writing. If you want to write something, you first need to have a subject to write about that is at least somewhat interesting for the readers. And to be able to do that, something has to encourage you to write. In my case, because I'm a biologist by profession and even more so at heart, something has to happen outside in nature, which is not highly likely in these short and gloomy autumn days.
Therefore, the inspiration for my writing came from the National Geographic photographic exhibition that recently opened at Ljubljana Castle. The photographs were taken by a wildlife photographer Joel Sartore. However, these photographs weren't taken in the natural environment but in various zoos, the last resorts of too many species of animals that have already become extinct in the wild or will soon face this sad destiny. Sartore actually gave himself a Sisyphean task to photograph them and place them in a sort of a time capsule before they vanish from our planet for good. This unique Photo Ark of the contemporary Noah is a laudable project and, at the same time, a testament to human stupidity, greed and indifference to the world we live in. One of the main victims of the chaos caused by anthropogenic global warming is biodiversity. The number of wildlife species is declining at a speed unprecedented in the history of the planet. The numbers are breath-taking. One single number says it all: only 4% of big species of mammals live in the wild, the rest are humans, our cows, sheep, goats and pigs.
The world is becoming increasingly poor in terms of biodiversity and it seems that this is in a way related and proportional to the ever-greater human spiritual poverty as well as actual material poverty on one hand and boundless wealth on the other hand. We don't need to go far to realise that; you don't have to go to Africa, where you can consider yourself lucky if you see a representative of the big five because these animals have been largely affected by poaching. You don't have to travel to Borneo, where tropical rainforest is more or less just a memory as it has been replaced by endless oil palm plantations. There, just in the last 10 years, about 150,000 orangutans have died because of human intervention in nature, and they now live in a few reserves, surrounded by modest patches of the once magnificent forest. There's no need to go to Greenland to see the melting ice and lost bears that don't know what to do on dry land. It's enough to take a look at your garden. How many species of butterflies have disappeared, how the number of bird species has decreased, how many autochthonous plants have been replaced by non-indigenous species. If you have some knack for observing what is happening in nature, you will notice this easily. But instead of 20 species of butterflies in your garden, 30 species of birds that used to visit your birdhouse and 50 species of flowers blossoming in the nearby meadow not that long ago, you now have the option to choose from 30 types of yoghurt, 20 different toothpastes and 50 sorts of salamis packed in plastic at your favourite supermarket or hypermarket.
Biodiversity has obviously been replaced by the diversity of neoliberal and global capitalistic supply that increases demand, which in turn boosts the profits of a few and worsens the poverty of many. Of course, it's the growth that counts, without it everything would stop, as economists keep teaching us. Growth powers the capitalistic machine, feeds financial markets and leads the planet and most of its inhabitants to doom. Just now, Katowice is hosting one out of many climate change conferences that are supposed to reduce global warming and save the planet but that have produced no effect. And again, as so many times before, we’ll hear the same nice-sounding words followed by so-called decisions, adopted time and time again. The delegates will jointly declare that now it’s really high time to prevent climate cataclysm before it’s too late. And then some people will start to have second thoughts in the sense: “But you know, 50 new coal thermal power stations have just started operating and fracking in Alaska has just started yielding first results and people need something to do.” And then they’ll conclude: “It’s best to wait about 10 years more and by then we’ll have even more solid evidence about our planet heating up and we will really be able to take action.”
In the meantime, you can think about what is more beautiful: to look out the window in the morning and see a woodpecker at the feeder or to look at your computer screen and fix your eyes on the image of the newest smart phone. The choice is yours.
Tropical rainforest in the Piedras Blancas national park
Costa Rica is one of the countries that actually takes care of its environment and natural heritage. It’s one of the world’s richest countries biodiversity-wise and its economy is based on ecotourism. Tropical rainforest in the Piedras Blancas national park together with the coast of Golfo Dulce, where mighty forests stretch all the way down to sea level, is one of the most biodiverse areas of Costa Rica. Here, botanists have described as many as 179 tree species on only one hectare of forest. This is the only larger remnant of the low-lying tropical rainforest on the Pacific coast of the Americas. The following photographs show only a couple of representatives of this rich ecosystem.
The red-eyed tree frog is one of the most well-known representatives of Costa Rican fauna.
It’s a nocturnal tree frog that descends from the canopy at night and towards the ground, where it lays a clutch of eggs on the underside of leaves near smaller ponds.
The La Palma glass frog is one of the numerous species of glass frogs in Costa Rica. These frogs can be found on larger leaves of plants growing near forest streams and are especially numerous when it’s raining. They are very small and rarely bigger than 3 cm. They were given the name “glass frog” because the internal organs are easily visible through the ventral skin of most species.
The granular poison frog is one of the six species of poison frogs in Costa Rica. These small, up to 4 cm big, frogs are known for their unusual way of caring for offspring and of course for their poisonous secretions from skin glands. The typical habitat of the granular poison frogare the banks of smaller forest creeks, like the one in the photograph.
The parrot snake is a fast-moving slender non-venomous snake with a long tail. When excited, it opens its mouth wide and can also bite. If this doesn’t chase away the intruder, it emits a foul-smelling secretion from its cloacal glands.
The lineated woodpeckeris, apart from the very similar pale-billed woodpecker, the largest woodpecker in Costa Rica. It is a typical representative of the tropical rainforest that can often be seen climbing on dead trees. Its drumming on the wood is easily recognisable and gives away its location.
The black-throated trogon is a smaller species of trogon that can measure up to around 20 cm. The photograph depicts a male with the typical greenish head, black mask and bright yellow belly. The tail has distinctive black and white stripes. Among the trogons of Costa Rica, it is the only one with a blue-grey eye ring. The female is similar but its head and back are brown.
The mantled howler is one of the four species of monkeys living in Costa Rica. They are about a metre tall and have a long prehensile tail. They live in smaller groups in the tree tops of big trees where they feed exclusively on plants. Males’ calls are deep roars, one of the most characteristic sounds of the tropical rainforest.
Dr. Tom Turk
Dr Tom Turk is a professor of biochemistry at the Biotechnical Faculty, University of Ljubljana. He is a biologist and an author of books about life in the Adriatic Sea and Mediterranean Sea, traveller and nature photographer who, every now and then, still dives below the sea surface and takes an underwater photograph or two. He is especially interested in nature protection and conservation of biodiversity. He’s also a member of the editorial board of the Slovenian edition of National Geographic.