Yesterday the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper published a wonderful online story and graphic showing the nature and extent of shark attacks in Australia. The link below is included, despite the risk of my best Polish friend never visiting me in Australia given his fear of all the many deadly creatures here:
The truth being that mosquitos are responsible for more deaths than human murderers and sharks put together. Perspective is a wonderful thing when the rest of the news for the last three weeks has been about human terrorists and an increasing number of tourist destinations being flagged too dangerous for travel. Two years ago I took my wife to see the movie JAWS on the big screen right before we went on a beach holiday with the kids and I am sure she will still swim in the ocean after reading the above mentioned link. Required reading before our sailing around the World in five years time or earlier.
Aside from the common sense of mitigating risk by not going near danger, humans and other species have always had to improvise safety nets when forced to coexist with a threat. Even when that threat falls. We still swim between the flags on beaches with life guards. We wait for the green light even if the road is clear.
On a daily basis for the past four weeks of school holidays our three children have terrorized each other out of sheer boredom and we have had to impose time out, separation, manual labor and a myriad of other distractions to keep the peace. All completely natural when you see how different societies bored with being downtrodden or wronged, exhibiting the same motive for violent actions. Which does little to explain why sharks attack or mosquitos bite some people, while ignore others.
Our greatest loss is when something we love or have not yet been experienced, is gone forever. So what happens if you eliminate the source of risk. Let me tell you about our own family’s experiment with genocide. Well accelerated extinction really.
Dengue fever borne by one species of mosquito, is a quiet competitor of malaria, although not as deadly or famous. It has terrorized the tropics for decades and for as long as I can remember the best defense was eliminating potential breeding grounds such as emptying water from old tyres, the dishes under potted plants etc. So it was with Boy Scout enthusiasm our entire family volunteered for our kid’s school part in a campaign to breed out this species of mosquito. Initiated by the local University, supported by the State Government and rolled out to sister countries in the Middle East and South America, this thing had more multicultural consensus and emotion than a normal genocide. I even wrote the organizers a letter to suggest they extend the idea to eliminate the whole range of sand flies, blow flies, sheep flies and house flies than invade us daily in larger numbers than mosquitos and regardless of their value to the food chain, their presence is never welcomed by anyone.
We dutifully filled the little paper cups with some water, mixed in the dried mosquitos eggs and mosquito food. It worked as far as I can see and the campaign was a success in our suburb at least. The mosquito eggs hatched and went out to breed with the dengue mosquitos rendering their offspring dengue free and all in the space of two months. Wow! I bet there are some army generals looking to do the same thing with people. No mosquitos at our house for last 6 months. Not even the non-dengue mosquitos. Nadda. Had we thrown the baby out with the bath water? With absolutely no regard for the food chain, could we now expect some chaos theory inspired tidal wave of giraffes in return?
Meanwhile indoors, I was wearing a completely different hat and trying to protect another species altogether. A family of gecko lizards. From my wife. Thai people probably live with larger populations of geckos than Australians and have different superstitions. Thai women in particular have a fear of geckos that is on par with the western fear of mice. My wife hates Thai geckos and Australian geckos with equal distain. Despite my constant reminder that they eat mosquitos that would most certainly bite our deliciously chubby 20 month old daughter. We coexist by me carefully catching geckos and releasing them in a tree across the street.
A large part of the shark story in the Sydney Morning Herald story sets out the case for culling sharks which present a fear as much as crocodiles who swim in the same waters as families like my own. Don’t I have a vested interest in keeping my children safe in the sea? But what about all the small less ferocious creatures leurking beneath the surface liked deadly box jelly fish, spiked stone fish and eels? Also there is no accounting for rogue jet skiers and my own childrens’ plain old dumb stupidity/learning experiences. Where do we stop?
Let’s start with this very unconfirmed small list of questionable statistics I was able to find typing with one hand this morning while I was swatting a fly with the other. Our long suffering planet is comprised of the following (approximately):
+8,700,000 natural species, of which some number the billions and others would be lottery winners.
+7,100,000,000 humans and ambulance chasers.
8,313 cultures/tribes, not including biker gangs or helicopter parents.
6,500 spoken languages, does not include parliamentary speeches.
So to make everyone happy those 8.7 million species and 8,313 cultures would need to each have their own protected habitat so the more ferocious do not terrorize the less ferocious. Mind you there are some people a lot more ferocious than mosquitos. That is until you consider some of these cultures only survive because of their interdependence on other cultures, so total separation from their neighbors is counterintuitive to their survival.
Coexistence, cooperation, cross fertilization, tolerance, patience, all seem more feasible than creating more borders, barriers and less need for understanding what lies beyond. That my friends is the topic for another post.