Here’s to wonderful World Wildlife Day

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Today is World Wildlife Day, and while our small island nation is not teeming with wildlife as say, Costa Rica, we have been blessed with our fair share. They inhabit this rock (Or rather these rocks. See Maiden Island and Redonda) with us, and we ought to be mindful that their habitats are not destroyed, and that we do not end with a situation where generations to come will only be able to read about the extremely rare, Antiguan racer snake (endemic to Antigua), the Hawksbill turtle, or the West Indian whistling duck. In other words, we have to be good stewards of that with which Mother Nature has blessed us.

Thanks to the Environmental Awareness Group (EAG), and other caring and concerned citizens, many of the creatures that are part of our wildlife, once under severe threat from our thoughtless ways, and from dastardly predators like the mongoose and the rat, are rebounding in a big way. Indeed, they are not only surviving, but thriving. Talk about happy birds on the wing!

The EAG folks, and they are a wondrous credit to Antigua and Barbuda, have returned the barren volcanic rock called Redonda to a green, flourishing oasis in the ocean. It lies about 35 miles to the south-west of Antigua, and was once stripped of every green thing by ravenous rats and foraging long-horned goats. Mercifully, the EAG was able to round-up all the goats (many of them starving almost to death), and relocate them to greener pastures around the Antiguan mainland. Last that this writer saw some of this tribe, they were blissfully grazing on lands in Paynters, next to the Sunnyside School. The rats were all poisoned. Good riddance, we say.

Of course, the EAG folks have been assiduously preserving their hard-fought gains on Maiden Island and Redonda, insisting that visitors leave no garbage behind them, and ensuring that rats and other critters are not inadvertently brought to the islands in bags and other receptacles, in clothing, and on the soles of our footwear.

Anecdotally, the word is that a goodly portion of the ground doves and loggerheads that once inhabited Antigua, seem to have disappeared. We are not sure as to the reasons for this, but perhaps it has something to do with climate change, and shrinking bird sanctuaries and habitats, as a result of encroaching development. Even the much-reviled mongoose is not as ubiquitous as it once was. The bullfrog is also not as prevalent, neither are grasshoppers, hummingbirds, butterflies and fireflies. We suggest that human activity here in Antigua and Barbuda is one of the causes for a reduction in these numbers. It is not a good thing.

During the worldwide shutdown at the height of the pandemic, this writer was fortunate to be working late in the evenings, even as others had to be at home by six o’ clock. And what an amazing sight! Dogs, cows, and other animals literally took over the largely-deserted streets of St John’s, grazing and drinking from the gutters, and taking a load off their feet even in the middle of our thoroughfares. It was indeed a thing of beauty. Seems, it is a truism that “It is their world, and we only live in it.” It is also quite true that our four-legged friends would flourish, if left to their own devices, without the hassles and the threats posed by mankind. From Old Parham Road to Market Street, to Heritage Quay, to the Queen Elizabeth Highway, our animals reclaimed them as their domain.

Consider, if you will, how dolphins and other rarely-seen sea creatures were spotted frolicking in New York Harbour, for the first time in years, on account of the absence of vessels during the aforementioned worldwide coronavirus lockdown.  Here’s a lovely account of a world free from human activity as per ABC News, April 22, 2020: As billions of people across the planet have retreated indoors to combat the spread of the coronavirus, wildlife roams more freely. Empty streets and the absence of people have made animals bolder. . .Packs of jackals have taken over a park in the heart of Tel Aviv in Israel. Wild boars have been spotted in the Israeli city of Haifa. . .  With Chile under a nighttime curfew, a wild puma was captured wandering around the deserted capital of Santiago. . .  a red fox and her pups were spotted in the heart of Toronto . . . According to the Hindustan Times, the Bombay Natural History Society estimated that the number of flamingos are twenty-five percent more than in 2019 in the Talawe wetlands and other areas of Mumbai, India. The lockdown means a lack of human interference in their obtaining food and roosting. . . .” Hmmmm!

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) had the following headline on a great piece published during the lockdown: WILD ANIMALS ENJOY FREEDOM OF A QUIETER WORLD. The Science Insider ran the following: THE PANDEMIC STILLED HUMAN ACTIVITY. WHAT DID THIS ‘ANTHROPAUSE’ MEAN FOR WILDLIFE? Bloomberg News weighed in thusly: WITH HUMANS IN HIDING, ANIMALS TAKE BACK THE WORLD, and the Sierra Club exulted, NATURE IS RETURNING. YouTube shared, WILDLIFE COMES OUT TO PLAY WHILE HUMANS STAY LOCKED AWAY, and the WeForum trumpeted, THESE LOCK-DOWN CITIES ARE BEING RECLAIMED BY ANIMALS. It was really quite glorious, alas, but for a brief, shining moment.

Clearly, we need to be less intrusive in the way we treat Mother Nature, and by extension, our wildlife. The wilful and wanton destruction of mangroves – the habitat for countless species of critters – in the name of development, is a curse, and it ought not to be countenanced; it ought to be condemned! A pox on those who grant licences to those who engage in that sort of desecration.

May we a more considerate and gentler people be, from this World Wildlife Day onward. Of course, that will begin with us doing our bit to reduce our carbon footprint, never mind that it is quite small, and helping mitigate climate change. We must also stem pollution in our oceans, and the selfish disposal of garbage and other wastes in the woodlands of our fair State. Just ask the growing cadre of hikers about the ugly scenes of illegal dumping that dot the trails. Let us make the Louis Armstrong vision a reality, “I see trees of green, red roses too / I see them bloom for me and you / And I think to myself, what a wonderful world!” Here’s to a lovely and meaningful World Wildlife Day. With caring and resolute action, our bit of paradise can indeed be a wonderful world for us, and God’s beautiful creatures with whom we share it.

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