Thursday, 10 September 2009

The Cross River Gorilla: A Reflection On The Plight Of A Neighbour On Danger Of Extinction

For those who believe in nature there is no doubt that there is a huge amount of orderliness and beauty in nature. The water we drink the air we breathe, the foods we eat including the fish and meats that come from various seas and animals are testimony to the fact that there is beauty in nature.

The nature is wired in such an intricate way that this mystery called nature continues to elude human understanding. The nature is structured in such a way that everything depends on each other. Everything under the face of the earth is useful and relies on the existence of the other or others to have his life and being. The meaning of this is that there is possibility of life on earth not continuing if one of these chains of life is broken.

Take for instance, the relationship between animals and plants. Science made us to understand that plants are very important to animals just like the water is very crucial to the survival of the fish. The fish will cease to exist if the waters dry up. This truism is because of the fact that water is central to the survival and navigation of the fish. In a similar way, man and animals existence are highly dependent on the plants and every plant, no matter how useless it may appear to be is very crucial to the survival and existence of man and animals.

Generally, the air we breathe according to the science is called Oxygen. In fact man takes in oxygen and brings out carbon dioxide. The oxygen man takes in does not come from the vacuum; it comes from the plants. Therefore the plants give Oxygen to the man for his survival. Now the question is what does man give in return? The answer is very simple; while breathing man takes in Oxygen and gives out carbon dioxide. The oxygen he takes in comes from the plant and the carbon dioxide he gives out is what the plants take in as a vital means of survival. The logic here is that carbon dioxide is as vital to the plant as Oxygen is to the man.

Without carbon dioxide the plants would not live. Man has to give it out, and without oxygen man would also not live, the plants must have to bring it out. There is therefore a symbiotic relationship existing between man and the plants and that chain of relationship is very crucial and vital for their continued existence. One cannot do without the other; they are simply dependent on each other. They have to be there for each other otherwise there would be a disaster.

Health wise, man also depends mainly on the plant for the source of medicines he uses to fight both old and emerging diseases. Most of the drugs being used today in the medical filed to fight diseases usually come from the plants. Malaria drugs like the Artemisinin Combination Therapy are sourced from the plant and this has proved a huge success in fighting malaria in the tropical climates especially in the sub-Saharan Africa.

The Artemisinin Combination Therapy, popularly known as the ACT in the medical field is a combination of drugs specially used for the treatment of multi-drug resistant strains of falciparum malaria. The compound in it called the asesquiterpene lactone is isolated from a plant called Artemisia annua. Not all plants of this species contain Artemisinin. Apparently it is only produced when the plant is subjected to certain conditions, most likely biotic or abiotic stress. It can be synthesized from artemisinic acid. There are also millions of plants out there that have been very beneficial to man right from the man’s existence in the fight against illnesses and diseases. Those involved in the alternative medicine especially Africans and Asians are more likely to value the importance of plants in their survival.

Man does not depend on plants only as a source of medicine. Plants are also very vital to the survival of man as a means of food. Most plants are very beneficial to man for the maintenance of a healthy diet and healthy mind. Not only that, plants also serve numerous other needs in the life of man including providing him with woods for his chairs, building his house, bridges and many other things we cannot enumerate here but which attests to the fact that man is likely going to end up in misery if plants are no more there.

Just as plants serve numerous beneficial needs for man and animals, so do animals also contribute immensely to the well being and existence of man too. Animals like chickens, pigs, goats, cows and even snakes serve as meat for the man and are very crucial in the maintenance of a healthy and balance diet in man. For instance fish is a big source of Omega 3 acid for the well being of the man. Omega 3 acids are very vital for the cardiovascular well being of man and could be a great source of defence against the coronary heart diseases.

Coronary heart disease is the term that describes what happens when your heart's blood supply is blocked or interrupted by a build-up of fatty substances in the coronary arteries. Over time, the walls of your arteries can become furred up with fatty deposits. This process is known as atherosclerosis, and the fatty deposits are called atheroma. If your coronary arteries become narrow due to a build up of atheroma, the blood supply to your heart will be restricted. This can cause angina (chest pains). If a coronary artery becomes completely blocked, it can cause a heart attack. The medical term for a heart attack is myocardial infarction. By making some simple lifestyle changes, you can reduce your risk of getting coronary heart disease. Omega 3 acid is very vital in preventing this. However, the human body is incapable of synthesising Omega 3 de novo and therefore fish serves as a good neighbour and supplier.

How about snakes? Snake bites could be very poisonous but for the treatment of the same bite similar snake venom must be used. Snakes also serve as a source of meat to humans. The meat is not only delicious, the fats and oils from them has proved to be a huge source of relief for many. Most African and Asian communities especially the Chinese use the fats and oils from snake in treatment of swellings, joint pains, rheumatoid arthritis and bursitis. In a nutshell, fats and oils from snakes are higher in eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) than other sources and therefore actually plausible remedies for joint pain as these are thought to have inflammation-reducing properties. The lesson here is that any animal no matter how idiotic or stupid they may seem to appear, are still very beneficial to the survival and well being of man.

These are just few examples and there are still numerous others but suffice it to say at this point that the relationship amongst man, animals and plants is a symbiotic one that cannot continue if the chain is broken. Man’s life is highly dependent on this chain and man cannot continue to proudly think that his life would be cosy if this chain is broken. In fact, the simplest truth is that if we remove all the plants in the world, man would only have about few seconds to live and vice versa.

Against this backdrop, it is therefore very disturbing that man has not done enough to maintain this chain and to carry out his own part of responsibility within the life chain and ecosystem. He has been very selfish in maintaining only his own existence to the detriment of other parties in the chain not realising that his own survival actually depends on the well being and existence of other parties in the chain. That’s stupid! Isn’t it? Scientifically, man is aptly referred to as homo sapien and homo sapien is actually derived from two Latin words ‘homo’ meaning same and ‘sapien’ meaning wisdom. Man is therefore the only animal honoured with this beautiful and highly elated name and as a result must live up to the demands of that name. Unfortunately man has not been living up to this expectation!

However, it is commendable to know that there are people who appreciate the fact that man has been very unfair to the nature and the climate as well as to other parties sharing same environment with us and are striving to do something towards that. The late Michael Jacksons’s ‘Earth Song’ is one such attempt to address this issue. The ‘Earth Song’ is the third single from Michael Jackson's album HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I. Jackson is very popular with the production of socially conscious material such as ‘We Are the World’, ‘Man in the Mirror’ and ‘Heal the World’. However, the ‘Earth Song’ was the first that overtly dealt with the environment and animal welfare. The ‘Earth Song’ was accompanied by a lavish music video shot on four geographical regions. Its theme is on the destruction and rebirth of Earth and it went on to receive a Grammy nomination in 1997. The song was a top five hit in most European countries. In the UK, it remains Jackson's best-selling single.

In a similar development, the United Nation’s Framework Convention on Climate Change produced in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 as well as the 1997 Kyoto Protocol are two concrete examples of another effort made so far to address this problem and wickedness. Unfortunately many countries, organisations, businesses and individuals in the world are still not doing enough to help further this cause and I would want to concentrate on two countries for personal reasons. Countries like Nigeria and the United States are seriously lagging behind and actually doing nothing to address the situation.

The United States, although a signatory to the Kyoto Protocol, has neither ratified nor withdrawn from the Protocol. The signature alone is merely symbolic, as the Kyoto Protocol is non-binding on the United States unless it is ratified. In 2005 the United States was the largest per capita emitter of carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels. The America’s Climate Security Act of 2007, otherwise known as the "Cap and Trade Bill", was proposed for greater alignment with the Kyoto standards and goals. That bill was almost 500 pages long and would have provided for establishment of a Federal Bureau of Carbon Trading, Regulation, and Enforcement with mandates which some authorities suggest would amount to the largest tax increase in the history of the United States.

On 25 July 1997, before the Kyoto Protocol was finalized, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed by a 95–0 vote the Byrd-Hagel Resolution (S. Res. 98), which stated that the United States should not be a signatory to any protocol that did not include binding targets and timetables for developing nations as well as industrialized nations or ‘would result in serious harm to the economy of the United States’. The following year, the Vice President Al Gore symbolically signed the protocol, however with a proviso that the protocol would not be acted upon in the Senate until there was participation by the developing nations. The Clinton Administration never submitted the protocol to the Senate for ratification.

However, with the inauguration of Barack Obama early this year, the story is changing. A committed environmentalist, President Obama is already finalising an arrangement to have the Senate ratify the protocol so that he will sign it.

In Nigeria it is a different story all together. The country has no time for anything climate or environmental protection. The leaders are still very busy corruptly sharing the national cake while a disaster is seriously looming at their backyard and the disaster is the imminent extinction of the Cross River Gorilla found mainly in the South of the country and across the border with the Cameroun.

Recently the Time Magazine listed it as one of the species in critical shortage. In actual fact, in the whole of Nigeria and Cameroun, where they have their home, there are less than 300 remaining in existence and the meaning is that if we allow them to go into extinction, our children would never have the opportunity to see them and they would probably brand us as a wicked, selfish and useless generation and would likely not forgive us for this recklessness. Also the ecological and medical benefit of the gorilla to the man is going to be lost forever.

The Cross River Gorilla scientifically known as Gorilla gorilla diehli is the most endangered ape in Africa and ranked number 25 as the most endangered primate species in the world. Illegal hunting for bush meat and habitat loss seriously threatens the future of the gorillas. Until recently, many Cross River gorillas lived outside of protected areas, where they were highly susceptible to poaching. While the region where these gorillas dwell is known for unusually high levels of biodiversity, human population growth is placing increasing pressure on the area’s forests and wildlife.

For instance, extensive agriculture and logging operations divide the gorilla’s habitat into isolated blocks. However, recent genetic studies reveal that the scattered subpopulations of Cross River gorillas are in fact one viable population.

Once thought to be extinct, this unique subspecies of gorilla ‘resurfaced’ in the 1980s and is found only along the southern section of the Nigeria-Cameroon border. Preferring habitats of low and mid elevation rainforest and montane forest, the remaining Cross River gorillas live in roughly 11 subgroups dispersed amongst the region’s highland areas. One of four known subspecies of gorilla, Cross River gorillas most closely resemble western lowland gorillas but differ in the dimensions of their skulls and teeth.

While the Cross River Gorilla was first scientifically described in 1904, very little was known about this species for almost 100 years. In fact, it was once thought to be extinct, only to be rediscovered in the early 1980’s. Because it lives in such a remote location along the mountainous border of Cameroon and Nigeria it has never been well studied. It is separated from the nearest population of western lowland gorilla-the other subspecies of western gorilla-by at least 155 miles. Recent genetic testing indicates that while the Cross River gorilla is found in at least 11 scattered subpopulations, these subpopulations represent a viable population which actually has more genetic diversity than the relatively well-known mountain gorilla.

Researchers have also recognized a number of socio-ecological distinctions. Like other gorillas, the Cross River gorilla reproduces slowly, with females giving birth only once every four to five years. Since their estimated numbers hover at fewer than 300 individuals, this critically endangered species depends on conservation efforts and law enforcement for its survival. The Nigerian government is simply not doing nothing to ensure this despite the fact that the gorillas are concentrated mainly in the country and is actually named after one of the States in the South of the federation. This is a very disturbing trend and the fact that these gorillas graced their presence in these two countries should be a reason for them to ensure that these primates do not go into extinction. Unfortunately, the two countries are not really bothered at the moment with what happens to the gorillas.

Nigeria in particular is less concerned at the moment with the fate of the gorillas. The elected officials are simply more concerned and interested in how to loot the commonwealth and leave this already impoverished nation further impoverished. The endemic corruption in Nigeria would never allow the government and his officials to focus all their attention and energy towards protecting this endangered species and if they would at all take interest in it, the corrupt officials are more likely to join the local poachers in killing and selling them for economic gain. The problem with Nigerian is very deep and mysterious. I do not have a doubt that the present Nigerian government is not competent to handle the conservation and protection aspects of safeguarding the endangered species.

It is therefore based on the aforesaid that I strongly suggest that the United Nation’s should come in with an urgent measure to conserve this endangered species. This is not the time to fiddle while Rome burns. This is time for action and since it is obvious and that those entrusted with its care and preservation cannot take good care of them, it becomes imperative that the United Nations must do something. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush and it is better to make hay while the sun shines.

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