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Invasion of the Killer Toads

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It doesn’t seem to end. Wildlife lovers the world over hang their heads with concern and heavy hearts every time we hear of the latest numbers of Elephants, Rhino’s, Sharks, Tigers, Pangolins, Bears, Tigers and Hornbills (sheesh the list is getting longer) that authorities know of that have been poached, dehorned, finned, descaled, butchered, poisoned, slaughtered or drained, in the case of the Bear Bile industry, to feed the ever voracious ‘needs’ of the vain. The illegal wildlife trade is an estimated US$19Bn annual industry that is pushing many wildlife species, along with their habitats to the very verge of extinction. Given these vast sums of money being made is there any reason to think man will stop when the numbers dwindle to single digits? Will it be too late or will the scarcity of a species drive the price even higher for those last remaining body parts? It doesn’t bear thinking about.

Personally I see my understanding of wildlife photography as a career in a state of flux. Given this massive onslaught against nature and wild spaces I seem to be increasingly of the mind that Wildlife Photography in 2016 is starting to ebb away from being an occupation that is undertaken due to a passion for wildlife and photography in order to share in its beauty and more to an absolute necessity in order to record the threatened species for future scientific reference. Species are going extinct at a rate previously unheard, everything is linked back to man and many aspects of his modern lifestyles and technological advances, most to the detriment of his very own existence. This is my take on the whole issue.

We live at a time where man has placed himself, as always, as the top dog, A#1, King of the Hill. There is nothing he can’t do that isn’t deemed unethical as long as the end result is longevity for the human individual. There are real concerns with regards to the burgeoning human population of the planet, a population that has more than doubled in my lifetime. As a species we’re now numbering somewhere in the region of 7.4Bn people all living on this spinning rock. Historically our population had been held in check by war, natural famine and disasters, bad health, accidents and premature births etc. We now look back just a few decades to see the night and day differences in health care, and to a greater degree health care in corners of the World previously way out of touch. Scientists throughout the World are constantly looking for remedies to diseases such as Malaria, AIDS and Cancer and in some cases have already had favourable results in the prevention, stabilising or halting of these maladies in some patients. Skilled medical teams can now transplant our Lungs, Hearts, Limbs and even Faces, every process and treatment going towards the artificial extension of human life. Alas, War seems to be the one thing that Humans are really good at and so that still rages however all other aspects of life that once posed real serious threats to our individual longevity have all but been replaced with preventative technologies and medicines. All ensuring the proliferation of man.

With every human life saved the need to feed, house, clothe and treat them further exacerbates the issues facing our natural planet. When will a line be drawn? If there is one word humans don’t seem to understand in the grand scale of things is ‘enough’, unless of course it is used in its standard context of “There’s never enough (insert planet debilitating product)”. How can man(kind) expect to continue at this rate? I am of the mind that we will simply breed ourselves into our own demise. And the sad thing about it is that as one of the few self aware, some would say apex, beings on earth we seem to knowingly embrace our race towards that demise. It makes no sense. Sadly we are so spatially unaware of our surroundings. Tech giants depend on the natural environment for component ingredients for their ‘smart’ devices such as rubbers, plastics and Gold and as a result have devised economical manufacturing technologies to get their small LCD monitors into the hands of the majority of the Worlds population. Captivated minds pouring over social media profiles with no spatial awareness feed the narcissistic societies we’ve become. So focused on our perceived ‘status’ that we don’t see, or seem to collectively  care, about what is going on around us in the animal kingdom. ‘Elephants are Going Extinct’ blares the headline “Man I wish there was a dislike button” “Oh hey Kanye looks soooo kewl”. Attention spans reduced to seconds, dialog reduced to abbreviations, emails to one liners. And still we race to save ourselves.

I recently heard of a situation in one of the most diverse regions of our planet. Madagascar boasts a gamut of wildlife that is 90% species endemic to the island, found nowhere else on Earth. This once rainforest covered island is, was, rich in hardwoods and timber, its once majestic greenery now reduced to cover just 16% of the islands landmass. It is also a land rich in mineral deposits such as Gold, Nickel and Diamonds. Oil is refined on its Western coastline. Yet it human population remains as one of the most impoverished on the planet existing on an average daily income equivalent of less than US$2. Driven by the demands to extract more and more Nickel Mines import machinery and goods from Asia. Linked to these activities saw the suspected arrival in shipping ballast tanks of a Toad so voracious and poisonous that it threatens the very existence not just to the islands wildlife but also to the country dwelling human communities.

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Poisonous Asian Toads were suspected of arriving in Madagascar between 2005 and 2010. Until now their numbers were not thought to be problematic but it seems that is now very much the case. A localised population in the East of the country is estimated to number some 4 million individuals. Each year the females produce some 40,000 offspring, the population at this time is at a point of explosion. This issue has now started to become a grave concern by many scientific entities that solutions are desperately being sought. All this time I can’t help but continually think and worry about what this implies for the wildlife of Madagascar, many species of which I’m sure are as yet unknown to science.

Wildlife for me isn’t just the Icons, wildlife for me includes very much the bugs, the lizards, geckos and ‘creepy crawly’ insects. We as a species haven’t had the chance to enjoy and understand many of the species currently at threat from the advances of man and so they slowly, quietly slide from existence with little care being shown by the silent majority. For sure there are some good people who care, but are we enough to sway the course of man’s incessant drive to pillage, own, posses, eat, wear and dominate lesser species and the wilderness. Standing in the way of this ‘progress’ is to stand in the way of massive revenue streams at corporate and governmental levels. Do we really expect people to stop making these billions of dollars when the small voices demand it? Small voices are easily silenced as the rise in activist assassinations the World over so clearly demonstrate.

I’m not sure I can simply accept the potential loss of this gamut of unique Madagascan wildlife currently threatened by this invasive species. One way of looking at it, a saving grace maybe, is that it does actually pose a real threat to humans with documented deaths arising from cases when people have eaten this amphibian. To the Western palate that may seem pretty off but in many Asian and Third World locations Frogs, Toads and other Amphibians figure very much in the diet of localised rural communities, and especially if they are as impoverished as the indigenous Malagasy people. Seeing that the presence of this Toad posses a very real risk to human life that is now becoming more of an issue it will be interesting to see what, if any, government enacted eradication programs will be introduced. One nightmare scenario is that whilst it still has some way to go the current epicentre of the population is still some ways from spilling into the Pangalanes Canal, the worlds largest manmade waterway. If that does come to pass it will destroy any possible containment or eradication plans given the species proliferation rate and the area of coverage afforded by that waterway. With an annual expansion in the Toads territorial range of some 2Km the race is on.

It’s a situation we can only hope doesn’t deteriorate into complete chaos. I’ll be keeping my eyes on this and updating as the story unfolds. Fingers crossed the disaster gets avoided.

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