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Butterflies: A tale of backyard gardens

SOME of the world’s top conservation managers are as rare as the endangered species they work to conserve.

One of them is Dan Ashe, director of the US Fish and Wildlife Services, who would spend his time minding rhinos and elephants; but the man is more worried about the fate of butterflies, at least for now.

According to National Geographic magazine, orangeand- black monarch butterflies are highly recognisable, but there are fewer of them to spot now than ever before.

“As recently as the mid- 1990s, populations peaked at an estimated one billion butterflies. Now the number is down to 50 million, a tremendous decline,” reports NatGeo.

The principal reason seems to be the loss of habitat, specifically the loss of milkweed, which is where the butterflies lay their eggs.

“Herbicides are very effective for food production, but the casualty has been the milkweed,” NatGeo further reports. “It’s catastrophic for an insect like the monarch.”

The good news is that practically any household can rebuild the habitat for the monarch butterfly, even on a wellappointed backyard garden.

But the story wasn’t as rosy for the black bees of Tanzania, whose only home on the lower reaches of the Kilimanjaro Mountain was ‘poisoned’ with coffee chemical sprays.

Unique to this country, these black bees whose white honey provided equally unique medicinal properties were on the verge of extinction until the few remaining individuals were relocated elsewhere.

Concern over unwitting application of otherwise useful chemicals goes a long way down the planet’s ecological memory lane; it was the ‘wonder’ chemical DDT which led to the publication in 1962 of Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, bringing to public attention – for the first time – that DDT residues in waterways soon found their way into dairy milk, and from there, into humans through the inevitable food chain.

At first, Carson was roundly criticised by vested interests in industry, and a usually gullible public not willing to see things beyond glossy appearances.

If DDT killed off all your pestering dudus, who’s this woman (Carson) to tell you that the chemical was also “killing the environment” and ruining mama’s milk!

In many ways, the environment movement has also been a running battle of often lonely voices and an uncaring industry, buffeted by a complacent public whose definition of ‘development’ is often defined by glossy adverts from the consumer industry. Over time, we lose more than we gain from unsustainable development projects.

Many of todays’ ecological ills stem from seemingly ‘innocent’ trappings of modern life. Few of us, for instance, have had reason to associate the fast food giant, McDonald’s, with an increasing pile of plastics across the globe.

For decades, plastic straws have been essential tools for cocktail makers and fast food addicts. According to the pioneering US Science magazine, eight million tonnes of plastic are pumped into the Earth’s oceans and seas every year – which would translate to 250kg every second.

For years, the focus of environmentalists has been on plastic bags. But plastic straws have now come into increasing public spotlight, thanks in part to images that have gone viral on the Internet.

For instance, one online video about the dangers posed by seemingly innocuous straws show a sea turtle rescued off Costa Rica getting one being removed from its nostrils. But there’s hope.

With pressure growing on governments, particularly in Europe, to ban single-use plastics, manufacturers are currently feeling the heat.

Last April, the British government announced it planned to ban the sale of single-use plastics, including straws.

The European union followed suit in late May. In India’s commercial capital Mumbai, Burger King, McDonald’s and Starbucks were fined for violating a ban on single-use plastics, according to recent press reports.

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has meanwhile pledged to make his country ‘free’ of single-use plastics by 2022. Some corporations are also taking steps.

In the UK and Ireland, McDonald’s has pledged to complete a ‘transition’ to paper straws by 2019. In France, the burger giant is testing alternatives.

Question: Why did we start off with the butterflies and black bees of Kilimanjaro? It’s from these ‘small’ citizens of Planet Earth that we first begin to detect there’s ‘something foul’ in the air – often after seeing some of them dying off, unfortunately.

Just as hapless, we wake up to these unfolding ecological imbalances long after they’re dead. Most scientists share Dan Ashe’s sense of optimism that things could, indeed, turn around (for the better) and help build populations of endangered species through simple garden habitats, not just for the monarch but many others on the fateful league of extinction. I

n the words of an old slogan, we’ve to think globally and act locally.

  • Cell: 0712122128 Email: shanimpinga@gmail.com
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Author: James Mpinga

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