Heading to Year Zero

2026 has been designated Year Zero. It is the year, environmentalists say, that wild animals could disappear from their natural habitats around the world, if humans continue on the same path of causing damage to the earth and at the same rate. Year Zero is eight years away.

There are some who would say that it would not affect them if wild animals become extinct. They are wrong. Wild animals, in fact, wildlife in general – including all of the fauna, flora, the humblest fungi and microscopic organisms – have a role to play in keeping the ecosystem balanced. That benefits every organism on earth. Therefore, if one thing goes off-kilter, then the entire system suffers.

An example that has been in the news in recent years is that of the polar bear. Concerns for these animals were raised since the 1990s or perhaps earlier, when scientists discovered that seals, a staple in their diets, were not as plentiful as they used to be. It was found that climate change, which was causing the ice to melt in the Arctic, was triggering a domino effect. With ice algae disappearing because of the warming sea water, zooplankton, which feed on the algae, were also dwindling. Cod fish feed on zooplankton but as they diminished, so did the fish, leaving a scarce supply for seals who feed on cod. A shrinking in the numbers of seals then adversely affected the polar bears. This situation continues to date with the polar bear now listed as vulnerable, because of the decrease in their numbers in their natural habitat.

The same can happen with practically every animal on earth. The mere thought of it is frightening, more so because it is true and not a sci-fi film. The world truly is in danger and there is need for action. Now. The signs are all around us.

A case in point: On Saturday last, animal rights activist Syeada Manbodh posted on her Facebook feed that she had been informed of the sighting of an otter near Avenue of the Republic in Georgetown. As she is wont to do at such times, Ms Manbodh, who recently was awarded the Medal of Service for her contributions to society in this arena, hurried to the area along with another person. But by the time she got there, the otter seemed to have found a body of water, which it would be familiar with, and left the vicinity. Ms Manbodh said in her post that it might have found its way to the Demerara River, but if not, she was asking anyone who saw it to contact her or the relevant authorities.

What an otter was doing in Georgetown is anyone’s guess. That is not its natural habitat. There is a likelihood that it might have been illegally captured and transported to the city as has happened in the past with other creatures, such as sloths, snakes and some birds, among others. This is a distinctly horrible and unscrupulous habit humans have. What is sad is that these animals are taken for fun or profit with no thought to their well-being. These are the types of actions, coupled with others, that are contributing to the race to Year Zero.

Ms Manbodh’s unerring fight to prevent their exploitation is more than deserving of the award she received on Sunday night last. The country could do with another 50 like her.

Worth mentioning here too is wildlife photography hobbyist Kester Clarke, whose photographs — mostly of birds – appear weekly in this publication. Mr Clarke not only documents wildlife in its natural habitat, he also takes care not to disturb them while doing so. Furthermore, he researches the birds and animals he photographs and adds their descriptions to the captions along with a precise location of where they were photographed. While this is a hobby for Mr Clarke, it is a huge boost to conservation and preservation of the animals’ natural habitat.

If indeed the world is faced with Year Zero, Mr Clarke’s photo library would be a vastly valuable resource, not just to Guyana but the world at large. But we should hope it does not come to that. The means to prevent such a disaster are at our fingertips, and they do not include raising animals in captivity, cloning them, or conserving for the sake of science and study. The overzealous tendency to grow things in a laboratory needs to be checked. Just as we are born, live and die, animals and plants too should be allowed to do the same.

The truth is that human societies can function in harmony with animals and forests. One only needs to look at Japan, which is one of the most densely forested nations in the world that still has a large population. Japan’s forests cover about 67 percent of the country; the world average is 29 percent. Japan has a population of over 127 million people, which, though it is said to be dwindling, still proves the point made above.

Climate change is a real problem and the solution lies in moderation and responsibility.  There needs to be an end to trophy hunting. The clearing of land to build playgrounds for the rich as well as for plantation agriculture also needs to stop and this can be immensely lowered if there is reduction in the demand for animal produce for food. This will also mean less pollution which will redound to the benefit of the environment. Responsible living means that everyone wins — the earth as well.

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