Tails From The Zoo

June’s Eco-Dates May 31, 2009

Filed under: Biodiversity,Eco-Dates — Scott Gray @ 4:56 pm
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Where has the time gone? It’s June tomorrow and it hardly feels like May was here! I hope you had a chance to take part in at least one green calendar day activity this past month – I know we got a great response to our World Turtle Day display.  Here is your list of eco-dates for June 2009. There are some big ones here and I hope you can participate in a few.

Leave the car at home for Clean Air Day on June 2. When you realise how easy that is, take your bike or walk to work as part of the Commuter Challenge, June 3 to 9. World Environment day is a great opportunity to get out to the Assiniboine Park and enjoy the zoo on June 5. Take a walk on the Canada Trail for International Trails Day on June 6 – and remember to visit the Assiniboine Park Zoo that night at 7 pm for our Smiling Bears presentation, with Else Poulsen.

Even though the lakes and rivers in Manitoba are still a bit chilly, we hope you will get wet from June 7 to 14. If your not from Manitoba and have access to warm water – jump in for Oceans and Rivers Days. If you’re not sure how to celebrate National Aboriginal Day, join the Zoo Education Centre and the Manitoba Geocaching Association as we launch 8 new caches specifically made for the zoo. The MGA will be on site all afternoon on the 21st to assist cachers (new and experienced) in finding our environmentally minded treasures. While you’re there, enjoy the Assiniboine Park Zoo’s North American animals, including our new bison calves.

New bison calves

June 2 – Clean Air Day

June 3-9 – Commuter Challenge

June 5 – World Environment Day (UN)

June 6 – International Trails Day

June 7-13 – World Rivers & Oceans Week

June 8 – World Oceans Day

June 14 – Canadian Rivers Day

June 17 – UN World Day to Combat Desertification & Drought

June 20 – Summer Solstice/Canada Parks Day

June 21 – National Aboriginal Day (US)

For information on Geocaching the Zoo II and our Smiling Bears Presentation: Click Here

 

World Oceans Day May 28, 2009

Filed under: Conservation Programs,Eco-Dates,World News — Scott Gray @ 11:40 am
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Hi everyone. I thought I would share an email we received from Bill Mott, the Director of The Ocean Project.  I hope you will get involved with us by wearing blue and telling two on June 8th.

For World Oceans Day…  Wear Blue, Tell Two!

With the newly official World Oceans Day coming up June 8th, The Ocean
Project encourages partners to launch a “Wear Blue and Tell Two”
campaign to celebrate. Participation is easy: wear blue in honor of the
ocean, and tell people two things they likely don’t know about the ocean
and ways they can take action.

Our recent public opinion research – to be released publicly on June 4 –
indicates that the public is looking to zoos, aquariums, and museums
(ZAMs) to learn more about ocean issues and how they can help; through
this campaign, we hope to help our Partners find new ways to meet this
need.

Wear Blue and Tell Two
We urge all Partners and others in the ocean conservation community to
promote association between the color blue and World Oceans Day:

Wear Blue
In honor of the ocean on this special day, we are asking individuals
everywhere – especially those working at ZAMs, as well as those at NGOs,
agencies, universities, schools, and businesses – to help spread the
blue. For instance, you might develop buttons and/or posters saying “Ask
me why I’m blue today” to help staff and docents stimulate a
“conservation conversation.”

Tell Two
Tell people two things they likely don’t know about the ocean combined
with an easy way for them to help. According to our public opinion
survey, most people don’t realize that our ocean is in trouble, but they
trust ZAMs and are looking to them to provide information on how to
help. Few people are aware of the close connection between climate
change and ocean health; for example, climate change is killing coral
reefs as water temperatures rise. And few know that destructive fishing
practices are causing huge declines in the many types of fish we depend
on for food. However, you can let your visitors know that there are
personal actions each person can take to help.

For example:

  • Calculating carbon footprints and finding ways to reduce household carbon emissions.
  • Choosing healthy and sustainable seafood: abundant in supply, and fished or farmed without harm to the ocean.

Find links to the best online carbon calculators, seafood guides, and
more here: http://www.theoceanproject.org/wod/wod_wearblue.php

“Wear Blue and Tell Two” on June 8: www.WorldOceansDay.org

 

Canadian Environment Week May 27, 2009

Filed under: Eco-Dates — Scott Gray @ 11:56 am
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Canadian Environment Week is held during the first week of June every year. This year’s dates are May 31 – June 6, 2009.

The week-long series of events was established to encourage and celebrate grassroots action to make our environment cleaner and healthier. You can visit the Environment Canada’s web site to learn more, to find an event near you, or to learn how to host your own event.

 

Understanding Bear Behaviour May 26, 2009

Filed under: Presentations,Special Events — Scott Gray @ 10:47 pm
Tags: , , ,

Canadian bear expert will be in Winnipeg to explain the emotional side of bears at the Assiniboine Park Zoo

Else Poulsen, author of Smiling Bears: A Zookeeper Explores the Behavior and Emotional Life of Bears, will be speaking about bear behavior at the Assiniboine Park Zoo on Saturday June 6, 2009 from 7 to 9 pm.

Join Else for some wonderful stories about her work with bears at the Animal Tracks Cafe. Please enter through the Zoo Gift Shop. Please note that Else will be available for questions and to sign books at the end of her talk.

The cost for this presentation is $10, with all proceeds going to support bear education programs right here at the zoo and to the Polar Bear Conservation Fund.

Assiniboine Park Zoo, Animal Tracks Cafe, 54 Zoo Drive, Winnipeg, MB R3P 2N8

Brought to you by the Zoological Society of Manitoba, Greystone Publishers, McNally Robinson Booksellers and the Assiniboine Park Zoo.

Smiling Bears

Smiling Bears

SMILING BEARS:  A Zookeeper Explores the Behavior and Emotional Life of Bears
Publication date: March 21, 2009
Hardcover · $29.95 CDN · 272 pages
ISBN: 978-1-55365-387-5

 

Zoos offer family bonding May 25, 2009

Filed under: The Zoo and You — Scott Gray @ 3:55 pm
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Zoos offer great location for family bonding

By: Bonnie C. Hallman and Mary Benbow / Learning Curve / Winnipeg Free Press

The following article was posted on the Winnipeg Free Press online site, http://www.winnipegfreepress.com on 19/05/2009, 1:00 AM. All rights reserved (by the Wpg. Free Press).

What is a zoo worth to a community and its people?

Zoos are cultural institutions which reflect the social and cultural values of that community, as much as other urban institutions such as libraries, museums, parks and schools do.

Zoos reflect our shared views of the natural world, of the animals which inhabit that world and of how we humans interact with nature. Accredited zoos across the globe place great emphasis on their role as environmental and biological science educators. Zoos are also important in the protection, conservation and breeding of rare and endangered species, often acting as animal “arks.”

Thus, zoos have great value as leaders in the shift to a culture of environmental and human sustainability and contribute to many aspects of our everyday lives.

However, zoos are not only nature-based cultural institutions. They are also public spaces and landscapes that, on closer inspection, are places where people spend time together. Drawing on our own research, zoos contribute significantly to social sustainability, especially in their central importance to meaningful personal and family time.

We have found in our research on families with young children that people engage in highly valued experiences and find meaning in the zoo visit overwhelmingly for personal fulfilment — satisfaction at being a ‘good’ parent — and facilitating a family experience.

Our research, conducted at Assiniboine Park Zoo as well as larger national studies in the United States, found that parents use zoos as unique opportunities for conversation, for focused yet unstructured child-centred interaction and to be active with their children. The zoo becomes a vehicle for meaningful and rich family time, thus helping to build and maintain family bonds.

As a father in one of our studies put it, “The kids think that’s why we go to the zoo, because the animals are there. It’s a good reason for them, for us it’s family time, burns off some energy. It gives us something to do.”

Parents also expressed the value of the zoo as a place for the growth and enrichment of their children and as a place where they had the opportunity to really observe and mark (often through family photographs) the growth and changes in their children.

As one mother, commenting on a photograph taken during a recent zoo visit, said, “This picture is special I guess, you know when she is standing in front of the pond. I’ll remember where it is in front of the pond with the ducks in a couple of years,” and see how much she has grown.

“That’s kind of special.”

We know zoos such as the Assiniboine Park Zoo are places of value because of their unique role as places which support the social fabric of our communities. They are one of the few public spaces to which parents bring their children to teach them, spend time with them and encourage them, all in an atmosphere that gives children greater freedom.

In a visit to the zoo, children often direct where the family group goes and what they look at, an opportunity rarely afforded elsewhere. Safety concerns often find parents unable to relax with their children, but zoos provide an environment where parents can step back and enjoy the experience. As one parent noted, “The big thing when we go to the zoo as a family is the kids are kind of clustered together and the adults are to the side watching them walk along.”

The Assiniboine Park Zoo is the oldest public zoo in Canada and an important resource for the City of Winnipeg. Many initiatives — new exhibit for the Steller’s Sea Eagles, renovation of the former Panda exhibit to accommodate Asian Lions and the Polar Bear Conservation Fund (in memory of the late Debby the Polar Bear) — demonstrate the energy and commitment of the zoo’s staff.

Additional research shows the zoo is a popular venue for healthy activity for seniors, and, analyzing its enclosures and environments, is also a healthy place itself. Recent events at the zoo reveal the great breadth of people interested in the zoo, such as the well-attended Night Tour of the Zoo in April. The real value and meaning of the zoo may well be not only what is in the zoo, but what is in the quality of the experiences it affords for families and for us all.

Dr. Bonnie C. Hallman and Dr. Mary Benbow are professors in the Department of Environment and Geography, Clayton H. Riddell Faculty of Environment, Earth, and Resources at the University of Manitoba.

 

Buzzword Biodiversity May 22, 2009

By Dr. Robert E. Wrigley, Curator, Assiniboine Park Zoo, Winnipeg

Biodiversity is a relatively new word in the conservation arena, and as broadly interpreted refers to the number of species in, or biological richness of, an area. In spite of biological inventories and diverse studies carried out over centuries over much of the planet, our knowledge of the natural world remains in its infancy, particular in distant and hazardous locations (e.g., sea floor). As biologists working in such facilities as museums, universities, provincial/territorial wildlife departments, zoos, aquariums, and conservation organizations, we tend to believe we have a reasonable grasp of the biodiversity in our area or province, but do we really? Could we list the taxa in our district, or even on the properties where we live and work?

We generally know what the larger and easily observed species of wildlife are, or the species in our areas of specialty, but this is just the tip of an enormous wealth of life forms of which we know literally nothing, with most species not yet even named and described. This is a serious omission in our knowledge base if we are truly to protect our local biodiversity, ecosystems, environment, and specific habitats. When we attempt to modify species’ populations, distributions (e.g., using exotics for biological control), habitats, and even genes, to support a species-at-risk or one of special interest (e.g., crops, commercial resource harvesting or recreational hunting/fishing), have we any idea what resulting waves (e.g., effects on numbers and gene frequencies of other biota) reverberate through the entire ecosystem? And yet at this time of greatest need for data, taxonomists and ecologists are declining in numbers due to lack of training and job opportunities (linked to funding priorities).

These dilemmas set me to thinking what I could contribute to the biodiversity knowledge of my home province – Manitoba. And so I have, with all naivety and modesty, attempted the impossible – a first crack at a biodiversity inventory of this province. I greatly appreciate the contributions to this effort of my colleagues, whom I placed in the uncomfortable and challenging position of coming up with their best estimates. Hopefully others will be encouraged to generate or update inventories in their districts, and to enlarge their concept of local biodiversity and conservation requirements.

Manitoba hosts five major life zones or biomes – Grassland, Boreal Coniferous Forest, Arctic Tundra, Freshwater, and Arctic Marine biomes, plus Aspen Parkland, Eastern Deciduous Forest, and Forest-Tundra transitions. Each of these major biological communities teems with countless numbers of diverse species, from huge whales, Lion’s Mane Jellyfish and the 7-metre Greenland Shark in Hudson Bay to bizarre microscopic life forms in the soil, water and air, and even in and on our bodies. Manitoba is truly buzzing with life during all seasons, even under the snow and ice.

Glaciers completely scoured the entire province of life about a dozen times in the last 1.5 million years – the Pleistocene Ice Age – which ended only 8,000 years ago. Yet Manitoba currently harbors all five kingdoms of life (plus Viruses) – Bacteria, Protoctista (microscopic protozoans and types of algae), Fungi, Plants and Animals. The larger types of animals and plants have received considerable attention and are more-readily studied, so their numbers are reasonably well known. However, species estimates for most other groups are only recently becoming available (see Table 1).

There are 635 vertebrate (back-boned) animals, over 31,000 invertebrates (“lower” animals), 2433 plants, 800 lichens (a symbiotic association of fungi and algae), 3000 fungi, and a staggering 36,000 algae in Manitoba; certain of these figures will continue to rise with new studies. There are no numerical estimates for other groups, such as protozoans, bacteria or viruses (The latter two are capable of rapid genetic change.), but they exist in Manitoba in the tens or hundreds of thousands of species or types. While mostly unknown, they form the supporting base of complex food webs, are integral to the cycling of matter and energy, and maintain conditions for life on our Earth.

The diversity of life in Manitoba is always changing over time, both in the short term and over the geological time frame. This occurs due to many factors in Nature, such as varying climate, sea level, species’ distribution, relationships with other species, and even bolide-impact events (i.e., meteorite, asteroid, comet). While earlier times (e.g., 10,000 years ago) witnessed the extinction of dozens of large mammals and birds in our region, only 10 species are officially (CDC Nature Serve) recognized as having been lost from Manitoba during historic times, either from extinction, like the Passenger Pigeon and Rocky Mountain Locust, or extirpation (i.e., survives elsewhere) such as the Swift Fox and Whooping Crane. An additional 25 species have not been detected for several decades and may be extirpated, while many other invertebrates have likely disappeared with the loss of native grassland.

To date, 1.75 million species have been named worldwide, and likely over 100 million species (mostly insects and microscopic forms) await discovery. Yet this is but a tiny fraction of the incredible biodiversity (countless billions) that has evolved over the last 3.6 billion years of life on Earth. So how many species are alive now in Manitoba? No one will ever be able to answer this question, but the number may exceed half-a-million. This rich biodiversity interacts within the various ecosystems of our province, generates our life-support systems, and supports our economy and standard of living. On the local level and worldwide, it is to our great advantage to support the conservation of all wildlife and to protect our environment.

Table 1. Recorded or Estimated Biodiversity of Manitoba

This table includes estimates of Manitoba’s current biodiversity (#’s of species) as well as historically extinct, extirpated, and exotic species (*). Estimates become less accurate with diminishing body size and lack of research. Species estimates for many other life forms remain unknown.

ANIMALS
Mammals 88
Birds 391
Reptiles 8 (Snakes 5, Lizard 1, Turtles 2)
Amphibians 16 (Frogs 8, Toads 4, Salamanders 4)
Fish 132 (freshwater 91, marine 41)
Arthropods 25,000 (A few groups of these joint-legged invertebrates are listed here.)
Ticks 15
Mites 5000
Lice 500
Pseudoscorpions 20
Centipedes 50
Millipedes 10
Crustaceans 200
Spiders 700
Insects 18,000
Springtails 200 Mayflies 80
Stoneflies 40 Caddisflies 200
Aphids 400 Midges 300
Thrips 60 Mosquitoes 50
Butterflies 111 Flies 6000
Skippers 33 Fleas 57
Moths 600 Leafhoppers 400
Beetles 2500 Treehoppers 41
Ants 81 Grasshoppers 68
Wasps 5000 Crickets 8
Bees 225 Dragonflies and Damselflies 100
Bugs 1400
Tunicates 18
Sea Squirts 16
Larvaceans 2
Molluscs 170
Snails 94
Clams and Scallops 72
Chitons 3
Tusk Shell 1
Rotifers 50
Water Bears (Tardigrades) 30
Roundworms 3000
Flatworms 3000 (land, freshwater and marine)
Annelid Worms
Earthworms 120 (including 100 freshwater and terrestrial ones & 20 marine)
Bristleworms 85
Leeches 24
Comb Jellies 3
Cnidarians (Jellyfish, Anemones, Soft Corals) 57
Sponges 5
Arrow Worms 3
PLANTS
Vascular Plants (Flowering Plants and Ferns) 1700 (native 1500, exotics 200)
Mosses 733
LICHENS 800
FUNGI 3000
PROTOCTISTANS (Unicellular protists) (Unknown, but in the hundreds of thousands)
Algae 36,000
BACTERIA and VIRUSES (Likely in the hundreds of thousands

*Species Estimates by:
Dr. Robert Wrigley (mammals, reptiles, amphibian, invertebrates), Rudolph Koes (birds), Dr. Ken Stewart and Dr. Bruce Stewart (fishes), Dr. Terry Galloway (arthropods), Dr. Eva Pip and Dr. Bruce Stewart (molluscs), Dr. Bruce Stewart (marine invertebrates), Dr. David Punter (fungi), Dr. Diana Bizecki-Rodson (vascular plants), Dr. Michele Piercey-Normore (mosses, lichens), Dr. Gordon Robinson (algae).

References

  • Hamel, Cary (pers. comm.) Nature Conservancy of Canada, Manitoba Region, and the Manitoba Conservation Data Centre.
  • Stewart, DB, and W.L. Lockhart, 2005, An overview of the Hudson Bay Marine Ecosystem, Can. Fish. Aquat. Sci. 2586. A remarkable inventory of the little-studied ecosystems of Hudson Bay.
  • Wrigley, R.E. 2007. Zoological Author and Editor, The Encyclopedia of Manitoba. Great Plains Publications, 814 pp. The most-current and comprehensive information on Manitoba biodiversity.
 

Human Overpopulation, Poverty, and Wildlife Extinction

Filed under: Biodiversity,Eco-Dates,New Animals/Births — Scott Gray @ 2:15 am
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By Dr. Robert E. Wrigley, Curator, Assiniboine Park Zoo.

This article is based on ones published in CAZA News (Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums, Jan-Feb 2000) and International Zoo News, June 2000;  47 (4): 210-214, and is reprinted here in support of International Biodiversity Day, 2009.

Abstract

Incessant human population growth is viewed as the leading cause of most of humanity’s scourges, such as poverty, war and starvation.  While the wildlife-conservation movement is valiantly attempting to save the world’s remaining diversity of life, this effort is overwhelmed by the demands of mounting numbers of people.  The obvious solution of birth control and family planning remains largely unknown or ignored — a heritage of our ancient customs and religious beliefs.

Under the onslaught of an ever-increasing human population, it has become clear that humanity and the world’s environments and ecosystems are under serious threat.  In their landmark books, Ehrlich and Ehrlich (1970) and Wilson (1992) demonstrated with overwhelming evidence that reducing the human population, and hence lessening demands on natural ecosystems, is the over-riding factor in the struggle to conserve the natural world.  The current frenzy for exploiting natural resources and the escalating environmental degradation by the world community are in stark contrast to traditional beliefs of Aboriginal Peoples about Mother Earth.  The spiritual inter-relatedness of earth, water, plants, animals and people demanded that great respect be shown to each part of this unity of life.  They appreciated (as few people do today) that their very survival depended on caring for the natural world.

However, in past times and present, when people are in desperate need, they have little choice but to exploit Nature to the fullest of their abilities and technologies.  Witness the rapid extinction of hundreds of species of large animals in North America, Europe, Madagascar, Australia and New Zealand, shortly after early people arrived and populated these land masses.  The American Great Plains region formerly supported a fauna of large animals as rich as that found today in Africa.  In the last 18,000 years, rapid climatic changes, ecosystem dislocations, and particularly over‑hunting by early people, have left a decimated assemblage of large animals.  Over 73% of large mammals and large birds in North America were wiped out (Martin and Klein 1984) before the arrival of Europeans, and the assault process has continued ever since — witness the almost-complete elimination of the Tall-grass Prairie Community, which formerly stretched from Manitoba to Texas.

Overpopulation and Conservation

Dedicated wildlife conservationists valiantly try to manage ecosystems and wildlife populations by conducting research projects, establishing large natural preserves, signing cooperative agreements with landowners, maintaining genetically diverse captive-breeding programs, developing education programs, and many other activities.  But increasingly, all these positive efforts are being overwhelmed by the demands of an ever-growing human population.  As a biologist and educator, I find it disheartening how infrequently the critical topic of birth control and family planning are stressed in society.  We feel justified and safe in discussing human overpopulation and the resulting habitat loss and environmental degradation, but fear to tread further to the logical conclusion.  True, family planning is a taboo subject fraught with public-relations risks, and it may challenge dearly held concepts about individual rights and family, however, it is ultimately the most important message our leaders and educational institutions can champion in saving the Earth’s ecosystems, their treasury of wondrous life forms, and for our very survival.

Perceiving the Problem

It is a daunting task to be heard and understood by people who do not wish to be confronted with lifestyle restrictions, or with depressing facts about human poverty and the demise of wildlife and the environment.  Pre-election platforms of political leaders often include promises to eliminate or alleviate the serious problem of child poverty and related tragedies of society.  While no one questions the desperate need to find solutions, debate, funding and programs all focus on treating symptoms and seldom on the over-riding cause of the dilemma — lack of family planning.

As long ago as 1798, a young British clegyman and economist Thomas Robert Malthus pointed out, in his “Essay on the Principle of Population,” that in favorable times food production increases in an arithmetic progression (2,3,4,5) while the human population (like all life forms) increases geometrically (2,4,8,16).  Unfortunately, this compounding of humanity means that the population will always outstrip food supply and social services, leaving an ever-increasing segment of people without adequate resources on which to survive or to lead a decent quality of life.

Unknown to most people, species are tuned by natural processes, over immense periods of time, for parents to produce (on average) only a sufficient number of surviving offspring to replace themselves — meaning two.  Ancestral females of our species evolved the ability to have over a dozen children in their short lives — a necessity under high levels of mortality.  Around 20,000 years ago, there was an estimated world population of three million people, which likely had a negligible effect on their surroundings.  To ensure tribal survival and integrity, customs and spiritual beliefs of our ancestors became ingrained with the concepts of large families and dominion over all other life.

The Population Explosion

The discovery of agriculture around 9,000 years ago changed everything, generating a giant leap in human birth rate and survival.  Starvation lessened as an ever-looming factor in limiting population numbers, as it had likely operated effectively over several million years of human evolution.  During the period of the Egyptian Pharaohs, the world’s population passed 100 million, 250 million at the time of Christ, 500 million by 1650, and 1 billion by 1850 (Ehrlich and Ehrlich 1970).  With improving technology for food production and distribution, medical care, and social programs, numbers climbed to 2.5 billion in 1950 and 6 billion in 1999.  Over 78 million people are currently added each year, and the population-doubling time continues to drop dramatically.  I find it appalling that the human race has more than tripled (2 to 6.7 billion) in just my life time, and may quadruple before the end of my life.  Obviously this rate of growth cannot continue indefinitely without severe repercussions, which are becoming more evident everyday (e.g., acidification and pollution of the oceans, global warming).

By the year 2050 (within our children’s lifetime), it is anticipated that the burgeoning human population will level off between 11 and 15 billion, driving over 25% of the Earth’s remaining wildlife into extinction (Wilson 1992).  The World Wildlife Fund believes one-third of all plant and animal species could be gone within 20 years.  We are now losing wildlife at the rate of 75-100 species per day (Wilson 1992), squandering through ignorance and greed a 3.6-billion-year heritage of life on the planet.  All these unique life forms are our kin; all of us traceable back over 3.6 billion years of evolutionary history to a common ancestral stock.

Humans now consume almost half the entire world’s photosynthetic capacity (Girardet 1999).  In terms of biomass, there is an estimated 250 million tonnes of humanity and over one-half billion tonnes of our livestock (Cincotta and Engelman 2000).  There are simply not enough room and resources for all us and wildlife to survive.  We surpassed a sustainable level, in balance with Nature, many centuries ago.  A recent study of global human numbers revealed that the existing population is already three times the planet’s carrying capacity to provide a reasonable lifestyle (Pimental 1994).

The Human Tragedy

Countless millions of children and adults die of starvation and neglect each year, and over half the world’s population is seriously malnourished and drinks contaminated water, in spite of massive humanitarian efforts by generous countries and charitable agencies.  Some organizations (including certain religious and political groups) and leaders continue to encourage large families, in an outdated effort to increase membership, and maintain institutional power and influence; but at what cost?  Few people appear to realize that all this human suffering, loss of wildlife, and environmental damage are needless, preventable through education and the practise of family planning in which couples produce no more than two children.  Ancient customs and religious beliefs die hard.

As we begin to fathom the molecular basis of life and to search remote solar systems throughout the infinity of space, we still cannot escape our animal instincts and ancient codes.  “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.”

These profound words from Genesis were written during a time when large families and mastery of local natural resources were absolutely essential to the survival of family and tribe.  Instincts and customs of procreation and exploitation of Nature, which served our ancestors so well for several million years, are now tearing apart the very fabric of our world.

To maintain the present course is madness and irresponsible.  Nature’s ecosystems and environments progressively curb plague species like ours through drastically increased rates of mortality — escalating famine, terrible wars over contested lands and beliefs, clashes over disappearing resources, devastating outbreaks of old and new diseases, massive loss of life from each major natural event of weather and earth movement, debilitating stress, and poisoning from thousands of  toxic and waste products (all negative-feedback loops in the jargon of biologists).

A Matter of Education

When will parents, educators, politicians, and clergy gain the knowledge, courage and dedication to speak out and support family planning?  When will leaders and the public recognize that overpopulation is the root of so many community problems, and stifles our most-earnest efforts to solve them.  When will women be granted their right to the reproductive control of their bodies and lives?  While the birth rate in Canada and a few other developed countries has finally dropped below two young per couple, there are still many parents exceeding this critical limit, and often without the resources to care for them.  Even if parents can afford to raise many children, each individual in a first-world country consumes and pollutes over 18 times that of a poor person in an under-developed country, thereby compounding the negative effects of overpopulation, and postponing the obvious solution.

As Malthus pointed out so long ago in harsh economic terms, ‘the surplus’ is destined for a life of poverty and misery.  Society’s caring social programs, technology, and natural resources can never keep pace with the incessant demands arising from exponential human-population growth.  The survival of life-support systems and wildlife, our civilization, and social justice depend ultimately on an ethic of family planning, communicated through the teaching of life skills at home, school and church, and supported by governments, concerned groups, industry and the media.  With a right to reproduction must come knowledge and responsibility.

Conserving Biodiversity

Wildlife species cannot be “saved” in the long term by protecting them solely in a cocoon of captivity in zoos or small reserves.  Without the existence of sustainable wild populations — free-ranging, interacting with their environment, and evolving — each species will end up hopelessly inbred, a mere genetic shell of its ancestral stock, and eventually doomed to extinction.  Humans and all other species were created within magnificently complex ecosystems, and without these nurturing wombs they will surely pass away before their time.  Maintaining natural ecosystems is absolutely dependant on a massive reduction in the current human population, which cannot occur without family planning, which in turn relies on a strong educational message backed by resources.

What Can We Do?

We may stagger under a feeling of hopelessness as we become conscious to what is happening to our only home — the Earth — and to the terrible plight of so many people and wildlife.  One often hears the question; “What can I do to help?”  Many of us respond by attempting to live in moderation, purchasing wisely, donating to worthy causes, recycling materials, and by supporting conservation legislation.  While these actions are positive steps, by far our most-significant individual contribution is to have two or fewer children.  In the long term, this is the only factor that really counts.

References:

  • Cincotta, Richard P, and Robert Engelman. 2000. Nature’s Place; human population and the future of biological diversity.  Population Action International, Washington DC. 80 pp.
  • Ehrlich, Paul R., and Anne H. 1970.  Population, resources, environment — issues in human ecology.  383 pp. W.H. Freeman and Company.
  • Girardet, Herbert, 1999. Workshop: Greening urban society. World Conservation 1:10.
  • Martin, Paul S., and Richard G. Klein, editors. 1984. Quaternary extinctions — a prehistoric revolution. University of Arizona Press.
  • Pimentel, David. 1994.  Quoted in; Mobilizing to combat global warming, by D. Hayes, 2000. World Watch, March/April 2000.
  • Wilson, Edward O. 1992. The diversity of life. W.W. Norton and Company, New York. 424 pp.