Tag Archives: Wangari Maathai

I think that I shall never see a Billboard lovely as a Tree

If mankind disappeared today

What would all the animals say?

Birds, koalas and even bees,

Would sing with joy – they’d now have trees!

I find it interesting that so many people hate trees.

They cause more neighbourhood disputes than any other issue. Trees are poisoned because they block views or for any number of innane reasons. It also seems (at least in Australia)  that everyone craves a McMansion which necessitates the removal of every single bit of plant life so that an extraordinarily large house can encompass every square metre of the available land. And then everyone whinges when they notice that birds have left the suburbs. https://roslynmotter.com/2010/05/30/not-in-my-backyard/

Though on the other hand, a recent article in the local paper told how twelve Ibis chicks were left orphaned after the Calvary Retirement Village in Ryde, New South Wales, got a permit from the National Parks and Wildlife Service to remove Ibis nests from palm trees on its site. Many trees were cut down deliberately because they were home to ibis, which some people consider to be pests. The point was made that the Ibis is not a pest but a native bird which has been forced to find trees in residential areas because their natural environment has been wiped out.

Meanwhile, in the Melbourne Botanical Gardens the staff were devastated after someone vandalised the historic Separation Tree. The 24-metre, 400 year old river red gum was the site of celebrations on November 15th, 1850, when Victoria broke away from New South Wales. On 19th August it was ringbarked when someone broke into the gardens and attacked it with an axe. With a huge gash surrounding the tree’s trunk there is a good chance that the 400 year old tree will die.

So, do trees have a raison d’etre? Do we really need them?

Well there are lots of reasons why we might. Most notably that the leaves of the trees absorb CO2 from the atmosphere, thus keeping the temperature on earth down to the levels that make our life on earth comfortable.  They then convert the CO2 to oxygen for us to breathe. The Amazon Rainforest for example, produces more than 20% of the world’s oxygen supply.

If you’ve read my last blog you’ll see that research shows that the leaves of trees have, over the last ten years, become smaller so that their surface space does not absorb the same amount of CO2 from the atmosphere that they used to. This is a matter of great concern because if CO2 builds up in the atmosphere, the temperature on earth will increase, and this will lead to drier conditions, fires and generally intolerable conditions for humans, animals and plantlife as we know it.

The other reasons that trees are of benefit are as homes for animals and birds.  Animals and various bird varieties live in hollows in the trees and birds also make their homes in nests which they construct on the branches. Many animals including monkeys, fruit bats, possums, koalas and more, depend on trees for their homes.

Bees and wasps construct their hives on the trunks of trees.  

The Green Tree Ant which lives in tropical regions of India, Africa and Australia, construct their homes from leaves, building huge leaf homes in the branches of trees. They build nests by weaving leaves together with a sticky substance produced from their larvae. Many ants work together to constuct these oval shaped nests which can finish up being 300-500mm long.

Trees are also a safe haven for animals escaping from other predators. Out in the wild, a leopard will drag its catch up a tree so that it can eat in peace, free from lions and hyennas which would steal it off them.  Any animal that can climb a tree is in a great position to escape predatory animals that can’t. I’ve seen documentaries which showed baby bears running up into trees to escape angry male bears that would kill them if they could catch them.

And of course there are animals that can’t walk comfortably on land and which  prefer to live in trees. These are sloths, monkeys, possums, orangutans, squirrels, koalas and sugar gliders for example.

Also, trees provide foods  for animals and man.

Koalas eat only certain kinds of eucalyptus leaves. Sloths tend to stay with the same trees, eating their leaves, for their entire lives. Silkworms only eat mulberry leaves.  Trees provide fruits and flowers which are the sole food source of certain birds and animals and in a symbiotic arrangement, the birds, animals and even ants help the trees spread their seeds throughout the landscape.  They also help the flowers in the trees to pollinate by taking pollen from flower to flower.

Not only do trees provide fruit for eating, they also provide herbal remedies for both man and animals. The bark of the trees, the leaves, flowers and roots all have potential healing benefits. There is still much we don’t know about the healing powers of many trees and plants but many pharmaceuticals contain elements from plantlife. Animals also know intuitively to chew on the bark or leaves of trees if they are sick.

Teas, tinctures, poultices and extracts made from countless plants are used to soothe sore throats, boost immunity, ease congestion and relieve pain. Read more: Medicinal Uses for Trees & Plants | eHow.com http://www.ehow.com/list_5831216_medicinal-uses-trees-_amp_-plants.html#ixzz0yFasZzMd

Quinine comes from the bark of a South American tree and is used in treatments for malaria.

According to the University of Maryland Medical Center website, eucalyptus is a traditional diabetes treatment.

The leaves of olive trees are traditionally used to lower blood pressure, ward off colds and treat cardiovascular problems. Now research suggests that olive leaf extract products have a dramatic effect on excess weight and have the potential to combat obesity.

Ancient Olive Tree on the Mount of Olives, Jerusalem

Willow tree bark contains salicin, a chemical used in the manufacture of aspirin.

Every part of the coconut palm is used by the Fijians. The leaves are interwoven for roof thatching and the coconut is an important ingredient in their cooking. 

Trees have been worshipped by many native and ancient people.

As a punishment to the ‘pagans’, in 772 King Charlemagne had Irminsul, the sacred tree of the Anglo Saxons, chopped down. From that time on country people have been leaving farms and moving to the city. This was the start of modern man’s disconnection with his farming roots.

Today we no longer worship trees. We worship money. We think nothing of chopping down any tree that stands in the way of development and progress. The theme of the movie Avatar where a sacred tree is blown up for the valuable mineral underneath is without doubt the way of the world these days.

Steve Irwin had a wonderful idea. He used to buy up as much land throughout the world as possible in order to protect the animals and trees on it and he encouraged others to do the same.

Well, unfortunately the late Steve Irwin is no longer with us and he was a rarity. Most people are keen to sell their treed properties to developers because that is where the big bucks lie.

Unfortunately that short sighted or ‘show me the money’ approach is what is going to cause ruination for us all. Many species are under threat because trees which are either their habitats /or the habitats of their prey/ or the source of their food, are being chopped down to either make more farm land available /or for housing developments/ or just for woodchipping as in the case of the Swift Parrot’s habitat.

The following are just some of the species under threat due to destruction of the habitats containing trees specific to their survival –

Orangutans – living in the jungles of South East Asia. Their jungles are being burnt down, particularly in Indonesia to make way for palm oil plantations.

The Powerful Owl (Ninox Strenua) – the largest owl in Australia. It is recognised by its large, bright yellow, forward directing eyes. Powerful Owls feed on a range of possums and gliders. The presence of hollowed trees within the landscape is critical for their survival, not only as a home for their prey’s habitat, but also because Powerful Owls only nest in large hollows.

The Swift Parrot (Lathamus discolour) – is a specialised pollen and nectar feeding parrot that migrates across Bass Strait from summer breeding sites in Tasmania to winter feeding sites in mainland Australia. The most significant threat to this species is the loss of breeding habitat in Tasmania, primarily the harvesting of Tasmanian Blue Gum due to forestry practices including woodchipping. In 1989 it was estimated that only one third of the original Eucalyptus globulus forest remained.  The main threat in Victoria is a reduction in the extent of Box Ironbark woodlands which provide a source of winter flowering, nectar and pollen. See http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:tZ4_xzXKbNkJ:bird.net.au/bird/index.php%3Ftitle%3DSwift_Parrot+parrot+under+threat+near+Horsham,+Victoria&cd=2&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=au

Red-Tailed Black Cockatoo (Calyptorhynchus banksii) – A recent preliminary study in South-western Victoria indicated that the Red-tailed Black Cockatoo population should be considered endangered because of the loss of Brown Stringybark forests and suitable nesting hollows in South-east Australia. Past clearing of Brown Stringybark forests has reduced this essential habitat and has caused the remaining areas to be broken up and fragmented. Frequent burning, particularly by fires which damage the canopies, may have also had an adverse effect on the food resources of these Cockatoos.

Glossy Black-Cockatoo (Calyptorhynchus lathami )  – The Glossy Black-cockatoo is a dusky brown to black cockatoo with a massive, bulbous bill and a broad, red band through the tail. The red in the tail is barred black and edged with yellow.  The species is uncommon although widespread throughout suitable forest and woodland habitats, from the central Queensland coast to East Gippsland in Victoria, and inland to the southern tablelands and central western plains of NSW, with a small population in the Riverina. An isolated population exists on Kangaroo Island, South Australia.  It feeds almost exclusively on the seeds of several species of she-oak (Casuarina and Allocasuarina species), shredding the cones with the massive bill. It is dependent on large hollow-bearing eucalypts for nest sites. It faces serious threat due to the reduction of suitable habitat through clearing for development/ Loss of tree hollows /Excessively frequent fire which reduces the abundance and recovery of she-oaks and also may destroy nest trees.

Koalas – Koalas are a uniquely Australian tree dwelling animal that is under serious threat in Australia. They succumb easily to stress and they are certainly suffering from some very stressful situations. They can only eat certain varieties of eucalyptus leaves and these days the major koala breeding areas seem to be slap bang in the middle of major areas of development – for example, Port Macquarie and Nelson Bay. As housing developments claim their trees, they are attacked by dogs and cats, and highways bissect their breeding areas so that many die trying to cross roads. Bushfires also claim many koalas’ lives. See https://roslynmotter.com/2010/03/11/pity-about-the-australian-koala/ and http://wn.com/australia’s_shame__logging_deforestation_threatens_koala_habitat_near_nation’s_capital_china_cares

Soon, the only Australian birds left will be behind wire

The above are just a few of many, many birds and animals that depend on trees for survival. All are facing hard times in these days of urban encroachment on their native habitats. The Chinese panda is almost extinct because their bamboo plantations have been cut down for development, and so the list goes on.

You might ask why we should care if a few thousand species are wiped out. After all, what does it matter if a red or orange parrot bites the dust?

Well the reason is BIODIVERSITY.  Biodiversity is the variety of all life forms on earth – the different plants, animals and micro-organisms and the ecosystems of which they are a part.

As it happens, 2010 is the United Nations International Year of Biodiversity. 

Each bird, insect and animal is a link in an evolutionary chain. As each species is wiped out,  links are broken all over the place, and we are left with major chinks in the biological chain. We can only ask what the end result will be.

Today, a report was released titled ‘Into Oblivion: The disappearing native mammals of northern Australia’. It estimates that the number of sites classified as empty of mammal activity rose from 13% in 1996 to 55% in 2009 and predicts that in 20 years native mammals will be extinct. Presumably that does not include the human mammal. However, how can we be sure? We are just one link in that biological chain and if we are the only link left, what will that mean for our survival?

And how can we justify the deaths of so many species just so that we can steal their habitats?  What dreadful custodians we are of the earth.

The first woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize – Wangari Maathai – was in Sydney in July this year. She formed the Green Belt movement out of concerns that rural women in Kenya’s lives have been devastated by deforestation.  Their drinking water and food has been affected and they have no fire wood for their cooking  and heating because of this deforestation. Since she commenced her organisation in 1977 they have instigated the planting of 40 million trees across Africa.

Israel has a very proactive reforestation project, having planted 230 million trees across their territory which is mostly desert.

Małgorzata Górska’s leadership in the fight to stop a controversial highway project led to a significant legal precedent for the environment that resulted in the protection of Poland’s Rospuda Valley, one of Europe’s last true wilderness areas.

In Russia, an unlikely housewife activist,  Yevgenia Chirikova, has been involved in a  three-year quest to save the Khimki forest from destruction. Chirikova became aware of a plan to fell a huge swath of forest so that a new highway could be built through it. The 150 hectare Khimki Forest forms part of Moscow’s dwindling green belt and was intended to be a preserve for local wildlife and to act as buffer against the pollution radiating from Moscow. She and other activists have been arrested many times during the course of her
campaign. Let’s hope she succeeds but then, it is not easy saving trees from man’s desires.

By the way, Australia is the most megadiverse developed country and supports almost 10 per cent of the biological diversity on earth. So when are we going to take the problem seriously?

Celebrate trees on http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Trees

Title courtesy of Ogden Nash.

(The Doofuzz Dudes series features some very fantasical trees such as the Moon Tree, the Blood Tree, The Tree of Life and Biter Trees)

Amazon at Lowest Level

THE Amazon, the world’s biggest river, is at its lowest level in more than 40 years near its source in northeastern Peru, causing havoc in a region where it is used as the only form of travel, authorities said.

Read more: http://www.news.com.au/breaking-news/amazon-at-lowest-level-in-40-years/story-e6frfku0-1225913307084#ixzz0yL77FlSy

Normally, the Amazon River pushes so much water into the Atlantic Ocean that, more than one hundred miles at sea off the mouth of the river, one can dip fresh water out of the ocean.  The volume of water in the Amazon river is greater than the next eight largest rivers in the world combined and three times the flow of all rivers in the United States .

The Amazon drains more territory than any other, from Colombia, Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru, Paraguay and Venezuela before running across Brazil and into the Atlantic.

The current problem is due to lack of rainfall and high temperatures in the region.

At present it is causing havoc on shipping in the region but no doubt it will have an impact on the Amazon Jungle.


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Wangari Maathai

In these posts I have been bemoaning the destruction of the jungles in South East Asia (to make way for palm oil plantations). The Amazon basin is still being razed although last year for the first time there was a reduction in the rate of clearing. Australia has cleared most of its original old growth forests too. It seems to myself and lots of people that developers will always be given preference in any trade off between development and preserving nature – and I don’t think that it matters what political party is in power.  Money always speaks louder than birds can tweet.
However, there is an amazing woman who speaks for the trees. Her name is Wangari Maathai from Kenya. As Sammy Cheboi wrote in the Daily Nation, December 24, 2009
She is the first woman in Central and Eastern Africa to hold a PhD; the first woman to head a university department in Kenya; the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize; and the 12th UN Messenger of Peace — with a special focus on the environment and climate change.
Wangari has devoted her life to saving trees and to this effect she has founded two movements –
The Green Belt Movement – Kenya and the Green Belt Movement International. These organisations are  focused on the planting of trees, environmental conservation, and women’s rights.
In October 1989, Maathai learned of a plan to construct the 60-storey Kenya Times Media Trust Complex in Uruhu Park in Kenya. Despite vehement opposition from the government, she was able to stop the development which she equated with building in the middle of Central Park, New York. Her name was subsequently placed on a list of high profile assassination targets in Kenya.
To read more about her go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wangari_Maathai.  There are many websites that laud her work.
I have previously said that a couple of dozen men with rifles can do a lot of damage, but in this case, one determined woman has also done much good.
Catskills Animal Sanctuary
I was pleased to read that the kind donor who had previously offered to match all donations made to 1st January,  2010 up to $1.5 million, has generously offered to extend the offer to the end of 2010. So please consider a small donation to the sanctuary as these people are really committed to helping farm animals http://www.casanctuary.org. I know that many people are distressed by the thought of horses being sent to the slaughter-house. Well, a donation to the Catskills Animal Sanctuary will certainly help save some horses, not to mention the fact that they have just rescued a huge number of goats which are now living in safety. You can see the animals they rescue on this link http://www.casanctuary.org/cas/animals.  I think they also have vegan cooking classes at the sanctuary.  If you live nearby you might like to contact them to find out.  They have just employed a vegan chef.
Talking about vegan food, have you ever eaten the delicious Japanese snack called mochi? This is pounded rice made into rice cakes and dried. If I eat two for breakfast I find that I am completely satisfied until lunch time and that’s saying something as I’m a greedy pig by nature. Mochi are absolutely luscious grilled – they puff up and are soft and creamy inside. Here is a description of mochi being made http://www.squidoo.com/how-to-make-mochi. If you get a chance, buy a bag of white mochi from a Japanese supermarket where it is much cheaper. Mochi from health food stores tends to be quite expensive.

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