Valerie Harms, extinction events

Author and editor Valerie Harms has allowed me to post here her wonderful introduction to her own book, Dreaming of Animals.

The Unity of Inner and Outer Nature

                       by Valerie Harms

I had a vision of a unified kingdom of animals when I journeyed to the Galapagos Islands, situated 500 miles or so from land in the Pacific Ocean.  The animals did not yet have the fear of humans that has become imprinted on animals in the rest of the world.  I rested next to a sleeping sea lion and stood within hand-shaking distance of penguins and boobies.  I swam amidst clouds of curious fish, who approached me first.

When I lay down next to the sea lion, she looked at me languorously.  Our skins were coated with sand.  We basked under an immense sky, gentle wind, with the persistent sound of frothing waves.  How did she view me?  I did not really know but for awhile at least we shared a moment of the gift of life.  I took in as much as I could the sheen of her coat, the graceful lines of her form, and her peace.

I knew that in the past these once barren volcanic islands, covered with hard lava, had been found by organisms (seeds, spiderlings) from water and the air and which, despite all challenges, over the eons adapted and formed colonies, native to each island.  The endemic cultures were the reason why the islands helped Charles Darwin make his famous observations about the evolution of species approximately 150 years ago.

I was also aware how these island ecosystems were destined for future change as our species plunder the fish and turtles, introduce rats and goats, and batter the coasts with tourist boats.

I had been motivated to write this book by similar threats to animals in the rest of the world.  As part of my research for this book I traveled to Hawaii, Mexico, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Bali, Spain, and Morocco, where I’d seen how the animals are treated now, as well as the stuffed ones only visible in museums.  In rainforests and near seashores I observed some of the wondrous species that inhabit this world.  Everywhere I went, wildlife are threatened, usually by people making insensitive economic decisions.

I hate and fear the threats of extinction to animals, because animals have been vital to us since we existed on this planet.  For no matter where we live – whether near desert, mountain, jungle, grassland, tundra, lake, or ocean, we dwell amidst a number of other species populations with invisible dynamic links that originated way before our ancestral family appeared millions of years ago. Our lives depend on the crucial functions animals fulfill for the Earth.  In breathing, animals produce and maintain oxygen and other gases in the atmosphere.  In eating, some maintain a balance of populations between predators and prey.  In defecating, they recycle nutrients and help produce fertile soil.  Burrowing, they churn and till the soil.  Some help regulate water supplies, some pollinate plants, disperse seeds, and decompose organic wastes.  (A large fraction of the U.S. food supply depends on native pollinators).  In breeding and evolving, animals broaden the gene pool, making possible more medicines, foods, and other resources essential to all living beings.  The larger the genetic diversity, the more possible options we have for the optimum survival on this biosphere.