From my Hide: The world’s natural environment – some good news, and bad

NEXT Tuesday, March 21, is not only Human Rights Day here in South Africa, it’s also the International Day for Forests and Trees.

Well, there can be no argument that forest and trees are one of the key natural elements essential for our survival, so their state of health is of great importance to us.

Here are some snippets of news on the subject.

A new report indicates that the planet’s natural wilderness areas are shrinking rapidly.

Over the past 25 years some 3.38-million square kilometres of wilderness, about a tenth of the total, has been severely impacted by human activity.

According to a study done by the University of Queensland in Australia, nearly a third of that is in the Amazon, with Africa a close runner-up.

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About 20 percent of the planet’s land area, some 30-million square kilometres, is still classed as wilderness, but if the human encroachment is not stopped or at least slowed down, we will be losing countless species of fauna and flora, a severe blow for global biodiversity.

And staying with the main issue, global climate change would appear to have claimed yet another victim, this time a humble rodent on a tiny island in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.

The Bramble Cay melomys was first observed in the mid-1800s on the coral island, which is just 340 metres long and 150 metres wide.

A team from the University of Queensland, again, has been keeping an eye on the rodent, but the last sighting was in 2009, giving rise to fears that it has become extinct.

The island is frequently flooded because of rising sea levels, destroying the rodent’s habitat.

Meanwhile, rising temperatures are causing the loss of huge stretches of sea ice in both the Arctic and the Antarctic, as well as the permanent ice mantle of such places as Greenland.

There are now very real fears that a top secret military nuclear facility in Greenland’s far north, constructed under the ice at the height of the Cold War in 1959, may be exposed if the ice melts.

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The facility was abandoned several years ago and it was assumed that it would remain frozen in time for ever.

However, although most of the nuclear material was removed, some 200,000 litres of diesel fuel and unknown quanties of radioactive coolant and toxic organic pollutants were left behind.

And finally in response to a reader’s query on ants, we too have ants, lots of ants.

We have really tiny ones that march in long columns all over the place and we have others, about a centimetre long, including legs, which latch on to anything they find lying around.

We frequently see them working as a team, perhaps four or six at a time, struggling off with a large food item.

I have read somewhere that that is one of the reasons why Homo sapiens, us, developed along different lines to the great apes – because of co-operation.

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We learned to work together when hunting, giving us a better chance of success and therefore a better chance of survival.

I wonder if we are watching the development of a Super Ant? I hope not.

Source: The Week: The Best of the British and Foreign Media.

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