Footnote: Awe and humility, interspecies relationship – big brain v. big body.
It is impossible for me to feel confident in the world these days. The natural disasters alone will set most any thinking person on edge. Add the political instability, of which the US president is a primary source, the ongoing racial, religious, and economic development conflicts, renewed nuclear threats, the mass destruction of the remaining wild places, unprecedented extinctions, the demise of clean water, climate change, and the pillaging of natural resources in places that were thought inviolable and there is enough to stop your heart from beating.
We have big brains. How can we be so utterly ignorant and stupid?
I have a sense of how insignificant I am in the grand scheme of things. I am but one person. If I don’t answer “urgent” phone calls, emails, or texts, emergencies will be resolved, decisions will be made, and the world will go on. No matter how famous, infamous, rich, or important I may become, all trace of me (except my plastic legacy) will disappear in the blink of a geologic eye. In totality, and geologically, human beings are not of much greater significance.
We evolved big brains that allowed us to domesticate plants and animals for food, turn metal into tools, create art and music, and to send men to the moon. If we are not going to use our brains for the collective good of the human population – not to mention the Earth as our only sustaining home – then I can only hope that the whole of humanity is found to be evolutionarily insignificant and passes the way of the dodo. Which, not incidentally, was wiped out by humans.
I took this photo to record the awe and humility I felt simply stepping into an elephant’s footprint in its native African home. If we cannot appreciate the magnificence of the world around us and rally our collective intellect to better sustain us and the resources we depend upon, we deserve to be nothing more than an archeological footnote to a more evolved species of the future. Perhaps something with a big body rather than a big brain. I hope it’s the elephants.
Extirpated from the wild in most of Africa, I had the good fortune to see black rhinoceroses on a private preserve in Zimbabwe last year.
Finding them after dark, a spotlight illuminated a calf scampering about behind its placidly eating mother. Her horns were cut off to deter poaching and the animals are under 24-hour armed guard.
The black rhino population dropped from an estimate of several hundred thousand in the early 1900s to 2,410 by the late 1990s. The primary cause for this decline is poaching. Several subspecies are extinct.
These photos are fuzzy and full of nighttime darkness and shadows. At first, I was disappointed by them. A year later, they seem to appropriately suit their state in the world.
Wary of the light and strangers, a rhino calf hides behind its mother.
The mama rhino has been dehorned as a measure of protection against poaching. Her dehorned shadow is visible on her calf’s side as it moves behind her.
Rhino back, fade to black. What will the world be without rhinos?
Happy Winter Solstice!
All the best and brightest for 2017!
Spring trees after morning rain. Beartown State Forest, Massachusetts
Yampa River valley, cottonwoods, snow, and afternoon light. Colorado
Fern aliens. How can so many shades of green live in one place? Mount Baker, Washington
Sea alien – A.K.A. anemone. Deception Pass State Park, Washington
Paintbrush in lichen-laden sagebrush. Steens Mountain, Oregon
The road through Candy Land
Fall color against red rock. Capitol Reef National Park, Utah
Super moon set. Canyonlands National Park, Utah
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
Kalahari Milky Way. Botswana
Zebra-belly nap face. Moremi National Park, Botswana
Personal grooming is important in maintaining superiority.
Elephant knees and toenails and a little one tucked under the trunk. Chobe, Botswana
Lilac-breasted roller. Moremi National Park, Botswana
Paradise Found, Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
Makgadikgadi Salt Pans, Botswana
Okavango Delta, Botswana
Emerald-spotted wood dove, Moremi National Park, Botswana
Whoa, amazing butt balance.
midnight stars, Maun, Botswana
Part 1 The jackal
The jackal arrived first. Stopping every few meters to look around, over this shoulder, over that shoulder, turn all the way around and look again. Then do it again a few meters later and again a few meters after that. Finally, at the zebra carcass, she ripped off big chunks and swallowed them almost whole. Standing on the ribs for better traction, tearing, stopping to scan every mouthful or two, gulping as much as possible. Working every angle for the best grip and the most meat, she moved from one end of the zebra to the other and back again. Watching and eating.
Black-backed jackal with zebra carcass. Moremi National Park, Botswana
Part 2 The hyenas
Three hyenas materialized, one by one, in the grass 30 or 40 meters from the carcass. The jackal stood on high alert. It went back to the carcass, but more furtively, inhaling as many big chunks as she could. The hyenas began working their way in, looking around as they moved. And then, just as quickly as they appeared, they dissolved back into the grass. The jackal stood down.
Hyenas in the grass. Moremi National Park, Botswana
Part 3 The lions
As the hyenas began their descent upon the carcass, a lioness sauntered into view through the grass. Lying down 20 meters out from the carcass, only her back and head were visible. The hyenas made their exit. The jackal went back to business with renewed vigor.
A few minutes later, another lioness appeared in the grass. Moving around the first, she strolled the perimeter, moving slowly toward the carcass. The jackal took note and without rushing or being in any way obvious, she evaporated from the scene.
The lions took turns moving closer, repositioning themselves, lounging near the carcass but not going directly to it. They were both within a few meters, rolling a little, posing for the morning sun, seemingly enjoying their implicit power over hyenas and jackals. One flopped to the ground with a post-zebra belly in need of rest, while the other dragged the carcass closer to a covering tree and began feeding. Breakfast is served.
Zebra breakfast, Moremi National Park