The Cost of Progress
It is the same all over the world - where selfishness and greed prevail, human developments clash directly with, and cause the destruction of, natural systems. The success of development is generally judged on the monetary profit of a few, at diverse cost to the majority - and the environment.
The spirit of challenge and hope is often sacrificed to expediency of short-term greed and convenience. Aesthetics are clouded by 'commercial makeup' and deception in total disregard for other species, resources and the health of surrounding habitats.
But all is not lost! - While some invaluable components will be lost, with devastating ripple effect on diversity, we are fortunate that the resilience of many other species enables them to adapt to - and even benefit from - human development. A brief mention of some adaptable species that make our lives more interesting and cheerful may help focus awareness on many others that suffer from our selfish activities and thoughtless constructions.
Apart from the excessive production of packaging, pollution is manifested in many different ways. The piles of industrial and domestic waste are most obvious but methods of recycling are well researched and the practice is becoming more common. There is increasing focus on clean-up campaigns. Industrial and agricultural toxins continue to be a threat to species and habitats, mainly due to carelessness, disregard and intentional, illegal use. Uneducated applications of pesticide kill untold numbers of useful, non-target species.
Light pollution is increasing exponentially with the excess wattage of un-shaded beams reaching far into our wilderness areas. Noise increases with the frustration and disillusionment of humanity that has lost direction and forgotten how to listen. Disregard for law and uncontrolled aggression results in misery, death and destruction. Party political and financial decisions often ignore environmental considerations, resulting in ecological chaos.
Due to financial costs, most construction projects are carefully planned and executed. However, where expertise is abandoned, constructions can be detrimental to natural systems in various ways. Some of the constructions to bear in mind are roads, railways, fences, power lines, telephone lines, buildings, airstrips, dams and canals.
Effects of Human Activity
In contact with disposed garbage, certain animals can ingest plastic and cords of various types. Insects and small mammals can be trapped in tins and bottles that are standing upright and larger animals can get their heads stuck trying to feed from unwashed and carelessly opened receptacles. They may cut themselves on sharp edges and broken glass.
Certain stray animals and scavengers may benefit from garbage disposal sites where waste food has not been excluded. The danger of toxins is self-explanatory and one should take care in the disposal and application of these substances. Keep all poisons locked away and apply only according to the instructions, making sure that baits are laid in places inaccessible to non-target species. Remove and destroy all ‘victims’ by burning or deep burying.
Apart from the disruption of wild areas, lights attract insects and some night-flying birds. Birds are quite often disorientated and crash blindly into objects. These creatures will attract predators such as frogs and scorpions, which in turn will attract snakes and other animals. Insects normally navigate at a certain angle to lights in the night sky.
When attracted by an artificial light they will alter their angle of approach until they fly in ever-decreasing circles round the light. Bright lights quite often disrupt migrating birds but bats will benefit from the gathering of insects. Nightjars often hawk insects which are silhouetted against flood lights - the same as they would do on moonlight nights. All bright lights should be fitted with shades that restrict the beam to a specific required distance.
These bright lights are visible, from elevated positions, for well over a hundred kilometres. There is no need for the light pollution of these beams to extend so far. If each landowner shaded his own lights we would solve our light pollution at minimal cost and restore some of the wilderness attraction of our area. Most animals have acute hearing and communicate using calls of a certain pitch. Loud, modern ‘music’, with a variety of pitches and sudden sounds, can be most disruptive to many mammals and birds which are likely to move away from the noise.
The ultra-loud 'boomers' used in many vehicles these days are particularly disturbing to animals - and human beings trying to get some peace and quiet in the game reserve - and should be turned off within the park area (or destroyed!). Animals pick up moods very easily and loud, aggressive or excited voices tend to scare off animals.
An ability to keep quiet and listen to animal sounds will assist in locating interesting species and also help calm the listener against any loud and aggressive tendencies. Think of others around you who have the same rights as yourself - and bear in mind that loud noise is prohibited within our game reserves. Nothing much one can do against official decisions apart from informing them of the decisions of the people.
Roads and Railways
Slow speed gravel roads have little effect on animal life, apart from the dust covering road-side vegetation. The roads are often used as a convenient walk way by large predators and elephants and as hunting areas by insectivorous birds. Tarred roads are a different matter although they keep down the dust. Higher speeds pose a disturbance and possible threat to mammals and birds.
Outside protected areas high speed traffic is a serious threat to many species especially at night when they are blinded by headlights. Many of our larger owls are killed by night traffic. Slow down and try and avoid animals on the road at night. In hot weather the dark road surface can become uncomfortable to non-hoofed animals. Where the road has vertical concrete edges it can become an oven-like trap for tortoises, beetles and other small creatures that cannot climb out of the steep edges.
They literally cook to death on a hot day. Railway lines pose a similar barrier to tortoises and other non-jumpers - and even large ungulates sometimes experience difficulty crossing on loose ballast. Road and rail cuttings provide welcome nest sites for burrowing birds such as bee-eaters and certain kingfishers but also form a barrier to animals that cannot climb the steep sides. Canals have the same effect on animals that cannot swim or jump over them.
The drainage pipes under roads are often used as refuges by warthogs, hyenas and other animals. The larger culverts also provide safe under-road crossing points for many species. It is hard to imagine where some mud-building swallows and swifts nested before there were culverts and bridges. Almost every such construction has one or more resident pairs of these birds nearby during breeding season.
In the next issue, Dave will discuss more of the pros and cons of other man-made constructions, such as power lines and fences.