Thursday, September 6, 2007

619 Co-evolution and Family Planning for Plants

Message no. 619[Branch from no. 587] Posted by Thomas Culhane (1311520071) on Wednesday, March 14, 2007 4:19pm Subject: CO-EVOLUTION

Good points Dawn! During the four years I worked for the Los Angeles Zoo I spent alot of time with friends in the "Behavioral Enrichment" Department. Their job was to provide stimulation to the tragically understimulated captives in the psychological prison (or "insane asylum") that we call "the zoo". Since I worked for the Horticulture Department we were always trying to think up ways to use vegetation to give the animals something to do. Unfortunately, most zoo management people thought of plants as decorations or theatre set pieces for public appreciation rather than essential psychological motivators for the inmates. They somehow forgot that animals and plants co-evolved and that millions of years of co-evolution have created powerful associations between animals and plants (hence many of the reasons so many of us in this class have said we love the sight of trees outside the window).

I was a champion of the CO-EVOLUTION cause in zoo planning. I kept insisting that our role as human beings was to keep the processes of co-evolution intact and help them to continue occurring even as we conquered the world with concrete and steel.

Did you know that there are over 250,000 species of vascular plants in the world (and millions of varieties!) and that planners and architects and landscapers only use about 300 of them? For this reason the whole world is getting to look more and more alike. Cairo looks just like Los Angeles, with its preponderance of Bougainvilla and Washingtonia palms and Pittisporum trees and Eucalyptus. When we would tour all the zoos around the world we found that the horticulture departments and gardeners were all using the same pallette of easy to grow and maintain plants. So zoos are doing a terrible job of saving the plants upon which all animal life depends.

Do an experiment and go to your local zoo and talk to the horticulturists and ask them if they have been given permission to enlarge the pallette of plants so that the right plants are with the right animals. They will probably tell you that they are the lowest on the totem pole, have no budget and no power, and that very few exhibits actually have plants IN THEM -- most of the plants are in areas the animals can't get to.

With the exception of the Bronx Zoo, the Prospect Park Zoo, the Central Park Zoo (go new york!) and Disney's Animal Kingdom and the San Diego Zoo, which have the most talented Horticulturists in the zoo world (because they have the money!) only two zoos I've spent much time in (The Merida Zoo in Mexico in the Yucatan and the Singapore Zoo) deliberately put plants in the exhibit with animals so they could co-evolve. Instead of completely hot wiring trees (putting electrical schock cables around all the trees to keep animals from climbing or scratching or eating them) they SELECTIVELY hot wired the trees so that animals could still use the tree but not do too much damage. By regulating access to the plants they allowed the animals to do what animals love to do -- scratch, climb, tear, break branches, eat leaves and fruit and twigs and bark, hunt for insects, chase birds etc. The animals in these enclosures were happy indeed!

Since our behavioral enrichment staff and our horticulture staff didn't have the budget to put the right plants into the exhibit, we were reduced to putting durable toys in the exhibits (plastic balls mostly) and cutting vegetation and throwing it on the floor of the exhibit or hanging it on a wall for the animals to play with.

As you all know by now, I am not only a eutopian dreamer, but, with a Masters and Ph.D. candidacy in Urban Planning, a profound believer in the Noah's ark concept. I think we have to be "stewards of the earth" and take good care of all of God's creation through this flood of destruction so that when the human incarnations of our spiritual essence pass from the earth (i.e., go extinct,as is the fate of 99% of all living species incarnations over time), the coevolutionary process that God created will remain fruitful so life can continue to multiply. I believe that Zoo's and cities other institutional environments (see chapters 10 - 13) must be redesigned for maximum behavioral enrichment so that organisms can fluorish and experience their developmental maxima.

For me this means paying careful attention to the relationship we design in for a multitude of species of plants.

Ask yourself when you go to the supermarket "how many types of plants do I really know? How many do I interact with on a daily basis? Of all the types of plants that God evolved for our benefit on this planet, how many do I consume or use? "

You will probably find that grasses account for over 50% of your diet and your landscape. You will notice that instead of the thousands of ground covers available for your habitat, you only are familiar with a few species of grass and maybe a few succullents and a few clovers and other members of the Pea family (Legumes). You will notice that you principally eat grass (wheat, corn, rice, oats, barley and sugar cane are all grasses, in the grass family, Graminae). Then you will notice that besides a few grasses, you rely on just a few vegetables from the Legume family, the Pumpkin family (Cucumbers), Rose family (Apples, Pears, Peaches, Nectarines) and the Citrus family, and the Potatoe (thanks Dan Quayle!) family (Potatoes, Tomatoes, Eggplant). All in all you may use a few plants from about 10 of the 120 or so plant families in existence (see here for a list of Economically Important Plant families

What this means is that we are doing a dangerous job of FAMILY PLANNING for plants which will have PROFOUND effects on all the animals as well as the entire ecosystem. Plants are the key to a healthy ecosystem. The reason there are so many different types of animals is precisely because there are so many types of plants (and vice versa). When we reduce the number and types of plants we necessarily reduce the number and types of animals which, in turn, reduces further the number and types of plants. It is a viscious circle that leads to extinction and what Harvard's E.O. Wilson calls "The Eremozoic Era" -- the "Great Age of Loneliness".

If we want to "save the earth" and make a healthy safe environment, we must start by increasing the variety of plants in our neighborhoods and in our institutional environments. Our zoos must be told directly by the public (who pay the zoos bills) "WE WANT TO SEE MORE VARIETY OF PLANTS IN THE EXHIBITS. WE WANT TO SEE PLANTS AND ANIMALS INTERACTING AS THEY WOULD IN THE WILD."

This is truly the only hope for the animals of this planet. And for us!

I would love to discuss this more with you guys!

Meantime, check out this website for the National Wildlife Federation's "Backyard Wildlife Program" to see how you can help be a part of this modern Noah's ark:

No comments: