“Once upon a time there were pandas…”
“A long time ago, when your great grandfather was just a young boy, the North Pole was covered with lots and lots of ice…”
“Grandma have you seen lemurs? No, my child. They became extinct when I was a little girl.”
It may not be too long before you hear phrases such as these as the coming generations talk about panthers and tigers the way we do about dodos and dinosaurs. It’s indeed a pity that some of the most awe-inspiring natural wonders on this planet may not make it through this century, thanks to all the damage mankind has managed to wreak on them. Before that happens, here are a few that you may want to put on your travel list, to experience up, close and personal the marvel of nature and the sheer ingenuity of its creations.
Belize Barrier Reef
The Belize Barrier reef is considered to be one of the most vibrant and diverse reef ecosystems in the world. Home to creatures like spiny lobsters, whale sharks, manatees, sturgeon, rays, and conch, the existence of this reef is tenuous and highly threatened. Severely bleached in the late 1990s, the Belize barrier reef has lost more than 50% of its coral, including the very distinctive and unique staghorn coral. Since then, the reef has declined rapidly as global warming, development, and agricultural pollution continue to place this delicate eco-system under great strain.
The Everglades, spread over 2.5 million acres, is the only wetland in the world where alligators and crocodiles are known to share territory with each other. With 60% of the water from the Everglades being diverted to cities and farms nearby, not to mention the invasive farming and encroaching development, this region has shrunk to half its size as compared to what it was in the 1900s. The only known habitat for the Florida panther, there are less than a 100 cats left in the wild, while the threat of their becoming completely extinct in the next four decades looms large over our heads. In addition, twenty other species of animals are endangered in the Everglades, including wading birds, turtles, and manatees.
The Tahuamanu Rainforest
The largest salt lick in the world is found in the Peru’s Tahuamanu rainforest. Sharing the habit with these raucous birds are several other endangered animals, such as giant armadillos, giant otters, ocelots, and jaguars. Sadly, Illegal logging of mahogany, excessive gold mining that releases mercury into the air and water, and indiscriminate farming and hunting have placed this fragile eco-system in a very precarious position, indeed.
The Congo Basin
Home to the majestic mountain gorillas, the Congo Basin is the 2nd largest rainforest in the world after Amazon. Spread over 1.3 million square miles, the Congo Basin extends across six nations. In spite of this massive extent, UN reports that less than one-third of this region may be left standing by the year 2040. Guerilla warfare, mining, ranching, farming, poaching, and illegal logging have taken its toll on this rainforest, even as animals like forest elephants, okapis, mountain gorillas, and bonobos are fast making it onto the list of endangered species.
The movie in animation may have been cute but that’s far from what can be said about condition of the world’s fourth largest island in these times. Especially famed for its indigenous flora and fauna owing to its millions of years’ of isolation from the rest of the world, the bleak prediction for Madagascar is that its entire forest cover will vanish in 35 years. At one point they sprawled uninhibitedly over 120,000 square miles; today, they stand at a pathetic 20,000 square miles. It is really sad that some of the endemic species on this island might become extinct even before scientists have a chance to record and study them.
There is a Native American proverb that goes something like this – “We do not inherit the world from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.” It’s about time we sat up and realized the profound meaning in this simple statement and make sure we leave behind a worthwhile legacy for our children.