Rick Wilson

NAME: Rick Wilson





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Respect a Basic Law of Life

This diary entry took place at Africa


“Books are the treasured wealth of the world and the fit inheritance of generations and nations.”   -  Henry David Thoreau,

As a young boy I was hungrily devouring books on nature, early hunters and explorers; authors like Ernest Thomas Seton shaped my thinking to a large degree and deepened my appreciation for the heritage we have in our earth’s natural systems. By reading books penned by persons living in earlier generations, it is easy to compare how the way life, the world, and places have changed over a relatively short period of time, also to measure the impact humans have had in every part inhabited by us.. Some books told of carnage caused by human greed that went hand in hand with slavery and the ivory trade followed by sport and hide hunting, devastating the once vast animal populations; any animal species surviving were mostly protected in pockets of land too hostile to allow humans to occupy them.

Many years later, I was rummaging in some old trunks and had discovered some valued treasures of my youth.  I found myself sitting under my favourite fig tree along the river and in a mellow mood I flipped through the yellowed tattered pages of my old childhood book, nostalgia flooded over me along with thoughts of how simple life ways then. The book I was reading told a story of an early adventurer and an African interior long ago. Such facts logically impart an understanding of events then and how it impacts us now, and with the benefit of this hind sight we are able to weigh up the consequences of actions thus documented and establish a guide-line of what has proved good or evil.  The other most important reward of reading such factual accounts is that we, living in the future, can rectify or change things to the good of all, humans, wildlife, plants and the environment.

As I turned to the next page the stab of a red hot searing pain between my shoulder blades had me slapping at the burning agony. A tsetse fly had pushed its mouth parts through my heavy Khaki shirt to fill its need for blood. I gripped the insect and crushed with more force than necessary, threw it down and then continued with the heel of my boot to twist it into non-existence.

Feeling a bit guilty about my reaction, I reflected on how this insect, the tsetse fly, was definitely a factor resulting in saving the animals from certain extinction but also the direct or indirect cause of their destruction in other areas. Some of the more well know conservation areas, like parts of Gold Coast, the DRC, Serengeti, Ghona-Re-Zhou, Okavango Delta, Kruger National Park and Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve, were the habitat of Tsetse fly (and to a  degree the malaria mosquito) :the main reason that these hostile pockets of land remained sanctuaries for wildlife. Therefore, it is a fact that the more hostile and difficult an environment was, whether it was due to climate, parasites or disease the less likely it was to be subject to human interference. At least this was the case until a couple centuries or so ago went ‘civilization’ arrived in Africa.

The tsetse fly, with its extremely painful bite, is not merely a nuisance in Africa. Some, not all, carry a parasite that enters the bloodstream of its victim, causing a terrible and potentially fatal disease called sleeping sickness in humans and Nagana in animals (trypanosomiasis). If left untreated, the parasite invades the blood stream and finally central nervous system and often its victims will fall into a coma and die.

The book continued with tales of some of the ivory hunters that claimed responsibility for bagging a thousand elephant, and other hunters shooting thirty lions and dozens of rhino on a single safari. Another account related the shooting of fifty lions in a three month period. Leopard, cheetah, African wild dog, and buffalo were killed for sport, meat and trophies. A lump formed in my throat to read about the thoughtless massacre of thousands of wildebeest, tens of thousands of springbok during their migration and even more recently about entire herds of forest elephants mowed down with machine guns from Sudanese military choppers, fuelled by support nations like the United States.

But as heart wrenching and terrible as this slaughter was, it was the insatiable hunger for agricultural land that added a further nail to the coffin for many of the great herds of the past era. These farmers used politics to embark on the most ill-conceived schemes to attempt to eradicate things termed pests; locust plagues, the tsetse fly and the mosquito. Thousands of tons of insecticide were sprayed over the land still harbouring some wild life and of course the residual harmful effects of DDT are well documented. While in some countries including Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) and South Africa, in addition to the DDT, drastic measures of shooting out all animals in ‘fly’ areas were carried out, resulting in the collapse of many viable populations of animal. Veterinary fences were erected cutting off ancient migratory routes of the herds, yet the fly and mosquito continued to occur despite these draconian measures.

In the past, for thousands of years, people and nature lived a harmony that caused little harm and even though traditional hunter-gathers used the resources available to them there was a code of traditional ethics that governed the use so that it was renewable and sustainable. 

As time is measured, a century is but a blink of an eye compared to time in a universal scale, yet more damage has been done to our earth in the short space of two hundred years than in all the millenniums, maybe eons that preceded this. Archaeologist R. Smith stated that we are on the brink of the next mass extinction, one of many; and noted that in all previous extinctions the marginalised species have survived. For example, if there is a severe drought the desert dwelling creatures continue to survive, whereas the species more dependent on (freely available) human manipulated resources and influences of modern technology will suffer.  Surely then humans are the most dependent on technology, therefore logic tells us the greatest impact of this mass extinction will be on us as a species.

So what have we learned from books, ‘…the treasured wealth of the world and the fit inheritance of generations and nations’?   

The current status as I write this is that in South Africa one Rhino is poached every nineteen hours. Using helicopters and machine guns terrorists are mowing down elephant herds in DRC and Sudan. In Tanzania ten thousand elephants are killed each year, the ivory sales like blood diamonds used to buy weapons and supplies for terror groups. Mountain gorillas have fallen under control of terrorist armies after driving off and killing rangers. The bush meat and charcoal trades are decimating the forest, to provide protein and fuel for the growing hordes of people, while productive agricultural land is expropriated and falls fallow. The use of DDT continues. The bleak record goes on……..

Showing respect is a basic law of life.

The Zulu, Nguni speaking tribes, use the word Hlonipha, meaning respect, whereas the early Native Americans explained its application with regards to our earth in this way…..

” …..Respect means to feel or show honour or esteem for someone or something; to consider the well being of, or to treat someone or something with deference or courtesy. …. Treat the earth and all of her aspects as your mother. Show deep respect for the mineral world, the plant world, and the animal world. Do nothing to pollute our Mother, rise up with wisdom to defend her”.

Who will rise up to defend her? Who will champion ending this assault upon our Mother?

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