Friday, June 01, 2007

Old man of the forests

It's a proposition I will defend: 'the future of humanity depends on how we value the rest of life and on our learning to be more humane. An important dimension will be whether we can protect our closest relatives, the great apes, in the habitats of which they are a part'.

There are few better advocates for this position than Richard Leakey, who spoke for GRASP, the Orangutan Foundation and Wildlife Direct and others at the RGS last night. His key points (including a sharp dig at eco-tourism) are well summarised in this article from David Adam. But one of the things I most enjoyed in his presentation was as a humorous aside regarding the origin of orangs.

The evidence suggested orangs migrated from East Africa all the way to South East Asia something like 12 to 8 million (?) years ago. Orangs do not walk on the ground (although as an aside see this) so that means, said Leakey, that there was once gallery forest all the way from Africa to Indonesia. The thought of orangs gradually crossing it keeps him 'endlessly amused', he said, as he sometimes lies awake late at night

It is indeed a very pleasant thought, though of course informed by pain given what we know of current rates of destruction, with hundreds (out about 50,000 remaining individuals said Leakey; I think I've read fewer than 30,000) burning to death every year.

And it is an imaginative thought, capable of informing humanity grounded in the reality of this world (as distinct from metaphysical musings), where -- for example -- wildlife rangers protecting mountain gorillas in the Congo have seen some 150 of their colleagues murdered by poachers and in some cases have not been paid in three or four years: a situation that Leakey described as 'really quite demoralising, you know'.

Above: young man of the forest

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