Patterns of the Bush

Two weeks ago the sunbirds were starting to collect spider-webs with which to start building operations. At the moment they are well on their way to completing a secure, camouflaged and comfortable nest in which to lay their eggs. Mention was made of the necessary interaction between various creatures.

There are constructions more intricate than that of sunbirds and one wonders how each species learns the design and technique necessary for their own particular pattern. The physical shape, size and colour of each species is genetically controlled, as far as we are aware, - each designed to function in their particular role, or niche. What about their nest building techniques, calls and other behavioural characteristics that have nothing to do with physical genetics?


Despite all the research and experimentation on behaviour it remains a very 'open ended' subject. There are fairly obvious categories of behaviour such as - 'Instinctive' and 'Learned' - with sub-divisions of - 'Defensive' - 'Breeding' - 'Aggressive - 'Protective' - 'Displacement' - etc. 'Instinctive' - includes actions such as dogs turning around and scratching with feet before lying down; gun dog pups 'pointing' with foot raised; and the pattern and construction of nests and webs.

'Learned' - includes such activities as sitting up for 'tit-bits' and obeying certain other human commands; approaching vehicles and other sources of food for 'handouts'; avoiding locations of experienced danger, etc. 'Displacement' - includes things like 'ear scratching' when you are asked an awkward question; birds pecking the ground for no reason; elephants fiddling with their eyes or ears or rubbing their stomachs or dogs biting at an imaginary 'itch' - all most likely conducted during a moment of embarrassment.

You will notice that nest and web building belong in the 'Instinctive' category. Who tells birds and 'insects' how to shape and build their nests, webs and cocoons during their first attempt ? One often sees variations and mistakes and these would make a case for possible environmental selection.

Where an individual is persistently at fault it would be unable to reproduce successfully resulting in its genetic elimination. Amongst slow breeders this would be a very clumsy method of selection and it still doesn't answer the question of how a new born creature obtains 'instinct'.

Colour, pattern and sound recognition are all understandable, as is the learned behaviour of 'flight', 'evasion' and hunting techniques - but nest building, when you have never had lessons, is another story. We just know from experience that it works - and like most of nature, is a wonderful example and encouragement to an untrusting, human race.

Learning by Example

Certain breeds of dog show greater 'instinctive' traits than others and can be easily 'trained' within these instinctive parameters. Others show little obvious instinct, apart from the normal daily routines, but are more open to 'learning' and can be 'trained' to perform activities difficult for their 'instinctive' counterparts.

As a 'family', cats are not renowned for their learning behaviour but will learn from experience rather than example. More intensive observation of wild species will probably further demonstrate the necessity of example by successful adults and the value of 'family' or adult contact during the impressionable, schooling period.

Denied the caring protection, discipline and the example of adults, elephants and the young of other 'intelligent' species - including humans - lack the skills for compatible survival among their groups and in their communities. These individuals, given time and a lack of competition may occasionally succeed through personal experience.

They waste a lot of valuable time in the process and often perpetuate their bad traits. Appropriate behavioural example by adult to young is vital for the survival and social development of most species. Intra-species experience is passed from one generation to the next along the journey to successful adaptation. We don't yet have enough relevant, field observation on the subject but we can be sure that we destroy the design of 'family unit' to our peril.

Passing the Baton

Many folk run the race of life as they would the 100 metres - in short bursts, with a single, self-seeking objective, short term, isolated and unconnected. The result is sorrow, disillusionment and chaos. Others run the race as they would a long relay, with far sighted vision and endurance in unison with others - 'passing the baton' when their allocated portion is run, to the next person in the team, in order to attain the final result. Pass on the Vision of Hope for the benefit of future generations.

Success would not be possible without team work, coordination and training. The length of the race is only restricted by the number of participants - hence the ability to run right round the world with the Olympic torch ! For the survival of nature we need to ensure continuity of the past - wisdom and experience - to the present ability and enthusiasm.

Anyone interested in the design for survival will relinquish their selfish objectives and join the relay. What example are we passing on to our children in this relay ? Are they learning that life is fuelled by alcohol, drugs, divorce, anger, greed, hysteria and irresponsibility ?

Or are we, as parents, at the peak of creation, able to discipline ourselves enough to pull out when it is our time and pass on a baton of order, accountability and hope ? We need to observe and learn from examples in nature. The choice, for resulting happiness and contentment, is ours - each one of us !

Kruger National Park - South African Safari