Saturday, 30 May 2009

Living like Lions in our own dying environment

As humans, we enjoy dominion over all animals on earth. We have conquered environments, climates and evaded animal attacks to develop places of rest and work. In doing so, we have by-passed the primal notions of basic survival and have developed cultures and societies alien from the natural world. We are the species that dominate almost all aspects on earth, and in our current position, we humans are quite happy to live the life of excess- throwing away what we don’t need, purchasing extravagantly wrapped goods and not thinking where tomorrows food may come from, because it’s always there. To us, the preservation of the human race is far less important than our daily business of living life.

A fascinating project I worked on involved lions and the prides they live in. It concerned itself around the fact that a single lion, living alone can have a greater hunting success than that of a pride. The question immediately begs then, why are lions the only sociable cats, living in large prides? What makes them assimilate into prides when they could all be out on their own, and conceivably feeding more successfully with less competition from other pride members? The immediate answer to this seems safety, and can be of great benefit. Lions on their own do have natural enemies, and the risk they run by being alone is far greater then the security of a pride to help defend them from potential dangers.

Before we get to an end result, though we need to delve more into the process of natural selection. Darwin suggested the theory of natural selection more than a century ago. He proposed that all animals are ultimately designed to “pass their genes through the system”. The theory uses examples of how animals require only food and a good living environment for the animal to become “sexually fit”. Each animal is designed to ultimately pass its genes through the system- and if this is done, then its time on earth is deemed a success.

Of course this is a simplified description and there are many different breeding strategies and dispersal methods that makes the process more complicated. However, the point is that all species are designed to pass their genes into the system- thus making them a success. Back to those large cats and why they live in prides and perhaps a bit more genetic foresight is needed here. It is well documented that lion cub mortality rates are quite high within the dynamics of a pride. Consider then what mortality rates would be if a lioness was alone for the whole duration of her cub’s upbringing? By living within the pride, a cub is guaranteed a greater amount of security from the protective instinct of other lionesses. Again we hear the word security resounding. However, the main consideration is the fact that the cubs will enjoy a greater chance of growing to adulthood and thus having a better opportunity of passing their own, and their mother’s genes, into the system. The lion cannot control the environment, but they can control how successful they are within the environment and they do this by forming prides: so that their genes aren’t just reproduced once only- they pass on into and through the system. They use the pride system to ensure that their genes stay alive and pass down the line into further generations of lions.

What is important here is that ecological success is not necessarily determined by reproduction and the numbers of offspring produced; but rather, it is a compromise of food intake in relation to the overall well being of the species, via its genes.
By living in a pride, a lion compromises on hunting success for the benefit of having security for her cubs and thus the increased chance of them living to adulthood and then passing her and their genes further into the system. That is real ecological success, which is effective over time.
As humans, we somehow tend not to see the simple logic of such a strategy. There is no denying that we, as humans are contributing negatively to our environment. Various combinations of pollutants, toxins, carbon emissions and over-population are just some of the negative causes that are causing serious detriment to the earth and our environment. Currently, most of us look at this and shrug; factoring that it won’t affect us. But what if we are degrading our own environment to the point that it cannot sustain the survival of our own species? Humans, unlike lions, do have control over our environment. We expel enough emissions and pollution to affect our environment negatively. That is fact.

The question thus begs: why are we not looking after our own species to ensure our ecological success? It should be a no-brainer. We have the power to determine the outcome of our species. Will we breed and forget about the future success of our species, potentially allowing future generations to die out due to an unfit living environment, or will we ensure that the environment our offspring are brought up in is one that is conducive to them living healthily, gaining sexual fitness and furthering our genes into the system? It may be a simple analogy to use natural selection, but the simple choices we make are going to affect the success of humans as a species on this planet.

We may not be able to affect the large-scale heavy metal pollutants and carbon emissions. But we can change our daily ways to consume less and output less. Simple recycling techniques, receiving bank statements online and using cotton bags for shopping are three quick and easy ways to make a difference. Humans per year consume 500 billion to a trillion plastic bags. By using a cloth bag, you will save 6 plastic bags a week. If 20% of all people use cloth bags, a whopping 1,3 trillion bags will be saved over the course of a lifetime (no that was not a typo). Likewise, if you have a few accounts and receive your mail in the post, you quickly realise how much paper is excess to what you file away. The marketing material and the envelope form 60% of your statement- totally useless material that results in direct emissions into the atmosphere. By cutting out such simple things like bank statements, you are having a direct positive affect on the environment. It’s as simple as that.

The governments, under pressure from media and large environmental organisations will be charged with solving the problems of mass, large-scale pollution. But we have the power to influence our environment with simple, yet very effective methods. The power of the individual cannot be underestimated. The consequence of our daily actions is in direct correlation to the ecological success of our species as a whole in future generations. If it takes a simple lesson from lions to push the point home, then so be it, because so far, we have been quite simple in our destruction of it.

Probably my longest post so far, but one that I needed to get off my mind. No images in this Blog- the words are more important this time.
Thanks to John Power for his comments on the lions- my brain isn't as sharp as what it used to be...
hope this entry made you think. Keen to hear your comments.

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