Monday, March 4, 2013


A walk through the California Redwoods puts everything in perspective, gazing at giants that began life as tiny seeds searching for light in a dense forest.  The smell of natural decay in this forest is one of life, rather than death, as the eternal cycle of life continues as it has for eons.  What's wrong with this picture is that we were not in Northern California, rather a few kilometers outside of Rotorua, New Zealand.

One of the strongest patterns we are seeing in our eight months of travel is the stark, all encompassing influence of Homo sapiens.  Humans have, through time, "introduced" to native landscapes many of their favorite aspects of home.  Most times, the introductions have been deliberate attempts to convert a native landscape into something more profitable or familiar; however, many of the introductions of exotics have been accidental.  Whether deliberate or accidental, these introduced species are the single most significant factor to date behind the global extinction and endangerment of native species whether they be one third of all of the extant plant species in Chile, common myna birds on the Cook Islands, or possums in New Zealand.  The local ecosystems and endemic species simply have no tools to resist the onslaught.  For example, myriad flightless birds evolved in the island country of New Zealand in the complete absence of mammalian predators.  Today, rats, cats and possums dominate the landscape necessitating identified zones of poison where air raids rain toxic pellets on the land and bounties are offered on possums to give local species a chance to recover.

While the transformation of the natural world is alarming, we have contemplated the level of cultural contamination as well.  Every country we have been to has a similar story of losing some part of its identity, often with a fight over resources or religion at its center.  Invaders bring disease, war, forced conversion, and extinction to people and cultures that had evolved across millenniums on the land.  Today, that cultural invasion appears to be one of mega corporations, fast food, and pop culture as we find our Monsanto, McDonald's, and music in every region and zone we have traveled.

What is gained from such efforts can be a common appreciation, sense of familiarity, and basic comfort with the known and homogeneous world.  What is lost are the evolutionary branches of organism and cultural diversity that we celebrate in our nature programs and festivals even as they dissolve and disappear. At the beginning, invaders are generally welcomed.  It is often not until all that was special about a place disappears that the invaders are recognized for what they were.

Images are of a poisoned possum, bounty sign on a New Zealand window, and a ubiquitous McDonalds advertisement in South America.  Posted from Franz Joseph Glacier, South Island, New Zealand


  1. Great food for thought. It is a scary domino scenario-- nothing happens without a cause-effect on something else, environmentally or culturally. And now our response?

  2. Julie,
    That is the question, is it not? While we can try to put the genie back in the bottle, it typically does not work....

  3. Hola amigas, How often Stuart and I have talked about the "gringoization" of places we've visited! Recently, I heard a gringo living here in southern Mexico lamenting the absence of her favorite canned product from the supermarket. I guess we're homogenizing every place on the planet. I think if there was an fashion craze for possum-fur garments, it would kickstart the hunting!
    abrazos y tortillas, k

    1. Actually, they were introduced for the fur trade and only took over after a world in which synthetics dominated! Get ready for a new post later in the week. It will be one to make you laugh, Karen!