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Living Together

Living Together

December 2009: “Believing as I do that man in the distant future will be a far more perfect creature than he now is, it is an intolerable thought that he and all other sentient beings are doomed to complete annihilation after such long-continued slow progress.” – Charles Darwin


‘Reflections in the Dark of Night A masterful still life created by the photographer using intelligent lighting married to a long exposure, brings this heronry at the Kagzipura wetland, Aurangabad, Maharashtra to life. The ethereal image, captures hundreds of roosting egrets for whom such wetlands are life itself. Apart from the tons of food that such wetlands provide, they are vital to the survival of a planet at risk from excessive carbon accumulation in the atmosphere. While helping to recharge the groundwater table, wetlands also counter climate change by locking huge quantities of carbon in their ooze, which is largely comprised of decaying plant and animal matter – Baiju Patil


“Live together and flow with nature’s tide. Or die alone.”


That’s the stark message every species inhabiting this beautiful ‘blue marble’, the third rock from the sun, is trying desperately to send to Homo sapiens.


Empedocles (495-435 B.C.) the pre-Socratic philosopher suggested that the ‘combining’ power of love and the ‘disrupting’ power of hate were the two ultimate forces of nature. Driven by harsh climate change impacts, the reality of his world view has been forcing human societies to gather across our beleaguered planet in Rio de Janeiro, New York, Kyoto, Bonn, Buenos Aires, Marrakesh, The Hague and now, Copenhagen. Hopefully, the wisdom of collective survival will dominate ultra-national priorities.


By the time Sanctuary readers get this issue most world leaders will already have decided their positions for Copenhagen. Whether their utterances prove to be sense or suicide will be clear to us on December 18, 2009, when the dust of climate negotiations settles.


Meanwhile nature soldiers on, demonstrating the art of living through the community life of other gregarious species it supports. If we are able to imbibe even a fraction of the life-lessons they teach, we may still survive the ineptitude that has marked our stewardship of Planet Earth. Consider for a moment the life of elephants (herd members protect their young and do not exhaust their food supplies), termites (individuals work for the collective even at personal cost), wildebeest (herds stick together to tackle threats during their great migrations), gorillas (the troupe respects its leader who actually protects them from harm), and sardines (shoals recognise safety in numbers). 


The egrets so exquisitely photographed alongside draw on three primary benefits that motivate them to live in communal roosts: 1. Reduced predation risks. 2. Improved thermoregulation. 3. Enhanced foraging efficiency. These benefits are available only as long as individuals in the roost behave. If even a few turn renegade, or destructive, the entire roost is placed at risk and could be abandoned. This egret “living together” lesson is one that President Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldives has already learned, and one that President Obama and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and their advisors will probably be forced to learn rapidly in the stormy days ahead of us.


Bittu Sahgal, Editor, Sanctuary Asia, Vol XXIX No. 6 December 2009


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