IllovoThis weekend I participated in the Illovo Wagtail Conservation Festival. A local community concerned for their local environment, are trying to conserve the tiny little bit of it that is left.Biodiversity_Hotspots

Here in Durban we are privileged to live in the middle of one of 34 global biodiversity hotspots: the Maputaland-Pondoland-Albany ecosystem.

Maputaland biodiversity hotspotIt is the second richest floristic region in southern Africa (after the Fynbos / Cape Floristic Region) and, for its size, also in Africa. Of the 8,100 or so plant species that grow here, nearly a quarter are endemic (occurring nowhere else).

Of the original area (274,000 km²) only a quarter is left, and only a third of what is left (23,000 km²) is protected (that’s 8% of the original area).

EarthwormThe species richness in this area is amazing. One creature this area is famous for is the giant earthworms, which we had in our garden in Pietermaritzburg back in 1990, but which I haven’t seen since. (I was so happy to hear my friend, who lives on the edge of Palmiet Nature Reserve in Westville, found one in her garden not long ago.)

Africa population 2000 arrow
Africa population 2000: UNEP/GRID-Sioux Falls

This area also happens to be extremely densely populated. Natural environments are under severe threat from agriculture, forestry, urbanization, mining and invasive aliens.

The estuary in this new little conservancy in Illovo is severely disturbed from past sand mining activities, surrounded by urban areas and sugar cane plantations, overrun by invasive aliens. It needs tender loving care, and the local folks are eager to start. Let’s hope and pray the land owners and powers that be play along, that their concern for the environment is real, that it wasn’t all just lip service to get ahead financially.

A day of extremely interesting presentations on frogs, bats, snakes, butterflies, estuaries, trees, dragonflies, birds and … insects.

FrogThe herpetologist (Jeanne Tarrant) said people ask her, “Why are frogs so important that you care so much about them?” The bat lady (Helen Bruigom) said she had to convince people that bats have an important role to play in nature. People don’t like them. The snake catcher (Nick Evans) said people come to him with dead snakes, head chopped off, asking him what kind of snake that was. “Really! I don’t go to a vet with a decapitated dog and ask him what breed that was. I just don’t do that.” Someone asked me, “So what is the point of cockroaches? What value do they have?”

Why do creatures need a reason to exist? Why do they have to have a ‘point’ or a ‘purpose’? What kind of purpose would satisfy the people who ask these questions? Do we have to justify the existence of every creature before we allow it to live, before we give it our respect, attention and protection?

Imagine if we applied the same standards to ourselves? What if each one of us had to justify our existence? As in, “Why are YOU here? What is YOUR purpose? Why should YOU be allowed to live? Why shouldn’t I just poison you or chop you in half, since I have no use for you?”

We are on EARTH, for crying out loud! The living planet! Go live on Mars if you see no value in life for its own sake – and see how that works out for you!

I said in my talk: “All living things are connected, because (1) the same DNA flows through us all, and (2) living things eat each other. It almost seems as if the purpose of living things is to get eaten, because whoever doesn’t, goes viral – and not a good way (eg army worm).” I joked that “it seems we humans are not fulfilling our purpose, since we are not getting eaten enough”.

But rants and jokes aside, what is our purpose in this area? Of course we have many spiritual and ethical ‘purposes’, loving God, loving each other. But what is our purpose in nature?

According to Genesis 1 we are to rule earth. Unfortunately the sort of rulers God had in mind is not the sort we turned out to be. Instead of shepherd kings we became Pharaos. Our purpose however hasn’t changed: to rule nature by caring for it and saving it, in the spirit of Christ: humble, serving, self-sacrificing, loving and caring for the very “least of them”.