New Zealand makes me think of the iffy relationship between the Earth and the things that live on it. Maybe that’s because New Zealand is so isolated, a smaller version of the world subject to the strains of life run amok, but seen more clearly because seen more simply. Take the extinction of the Stephens Island wren, a rare flightless bird erased from the book of life by the beginning of the twentieth century. What did it in? Rats brought to the island by the Maoris and finally, feral cats, when the bird made its futile attempt to escape by floating across the three kilometer isthmus between Stephen’s Island and the South Island mainland. Being flightless, it must have floated across on rafts of sea grass.
Habitat alteration by homo sapiens and species introduction, again by homo sapiens, are implicated in over half the cases of species extinction in recorded history. New Zealand is currently home to 7,000,000 possums. They were introduced from Australia over a century ago. They consume over 20,000 tons of forest foliage every day. It’s getting to be a case of them, the possums or the Kiwis. Noah's ark no longer applies.
I think it is useful to step back a bit and, as Joan Rivers, the comedienne says, "Take a look at ourselves." When the New Zealanders clear-cut the Cameron Rise of its orange roughy, a tasty fish now on the same road to extinction as the Stephens wren, they were merely behaving like all good mammals do. Take as much as you can get and devil take the hindmost. You don’t see a pride of lions practicing animal husbandry. The New Zealanders are doing what they can to control overfishing. Time will tell. But the fishermen and their customers are just like those feral cats. And no one likes governmental regulation.
Nature, like the army, doesn't give a damn about compassion. So why shouldn’t we pillage, rape and ravage just the way the chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans do? Well, one answer is that if we do, we’re in serious danger of terminating ourselves. We are not above the eco-system. We are part of it just like that Stephens' Island Wren and the feral cats. This is hard for most of us to swallow. Our highly developed cerebrum has allowed us to conceive of ourselves as outside the eco-system, as if we were in it but not of it. It just isn’t true. Whatever we do to the Earth we do to ourselves. It’s hard to see that simple truth. The cerebrum gets in the way.
I don’t know why. But it seems easier to see that in New Zealand.
Click here to listen to this entry in audio