Nature Blog Network Future Earth: February 2008

Friday, 29 February 2008

Corporate gorillas.

Mea culpa. I admit to a fascination with how groups of people interact, how teams work and how they become dysfunctional. Families too. In my defense, I can't help it - I've spent far too much time lolling around with apes... I mean "studying primates in the wild". Primatologists are warned about anthropomorphism, but not about the converse. I look around the room at a corporate meeting now and find myself picking out the characters....

.... ah, yes, there's the dominant silverback - quite a young one, not yet confident in his role and chest-beating for self assurance;
.... oh and there's the glossy young blackback looking to challenge. Pant-hooting with no real reason or resonance.
.... watch out for that experienced female - the others are looking to her for guidance, a real pivot point for action, we'll have to convince her to move up the mountain first;
.... there's the young adult who has been picked on and marginalised. She'll be transferring to another group before long. She's watching, knows where all the best foodplants are and is full of emotional intelligence, we just don't have access to it - how can we draw out her contribution and get the others to listen?
.... and there has to be a young rascal, jumping all over everyone and making them laugh. We'll book him to plan the break-out session.

Yes, many types of talents needed for groups to gel and societies to function. Ignoring that can lead to management mayhem - whether you are a corporate captain striving for success in the urban jungle or an itinerant ape eking out a living on the forested volcanic slopes of central Africa.

Just watch out for ethologists - keep an eye on them as they are keeping both eyes on you.

Tuesday, 26 February 2008


Thanks to biomes blog for this one (

Proof that Australia is down udder?

Engaging elephants

Not surprisingly, Asian elephants like lowland forests. Sadly for them, so do people – easier to chop and crop. People also plant tasty treats in their cleared land, banana trees with succulent pith and a tempting smorgousboard of sweet-smelling forest fruit trees.

Caught between the farms and the steep slopes of the central Sumatran high forests, elephants become a problem to people and some years ago a few hundred such crop raiders were caught and sent to training camps.
You’d think they’d hold it against us – but some of these amazing creatures are now helping conserve their own remaining forests.

The “conservation response units” take captive elephants to new areas of conflict between pachyderm and people. Crop raiding elephants are herded back into the forest by man’s new best friend – sometimes
heading off as soon as the captive elephants are in the vicinity. Do they rumble a warning?

Whatever they are saying, they get their reward - a centre in Tangkahan on the edge of the Gunung Leuser Reserve in North Sumatra is testing a new tourism model too - patrolling and securing income for forest protection at the same time. Bathing in the river with happy humans scrubbing your itchy skin - look at their faces. Who's having the last laugh now?

Monday, 25 February 2008

Mobile Menace

As the World Mobile extravaganza unfolded in Barcelona last week, no doubt unleashing another generation of the marvelous little monsters on a waiting world, can we pause for just one bleeping moment and consider a gigantic tax on second mobile owners?

As the plane lands in Indonesia, we simple travellers from western lands watch as those in the know switch on both their mobiles. Why two? Why waste resources, why pay two bills?

“Ah”, proffers the lady with a huge wide belt and a smile to match... “international and local”.

“Phone and text” says a businessman with a practical shrug of the shoulders at our electronic naivety.

A small voice from behind a mound of duty-free gifts... “wife and mistress”! The laugh that unites the departing passengers cuts across cultures.

Sunday, 24 February 2008

Will there be Blood?

The film "There will be Blood" (review at is compelling viewing and should perhaps be compulsory viewing for anyone trying to shape a balanced world. Yes, we know that competition is fundamental to evolution, and that it's a very selfish genome. But over time some characteristics have become part of different species evolutionary success, and they include cooperation, care and even apparent altruism. Will our own species draw on these as competition for finite resources becomes critical, or will there indeed be blood?

In a mesmerizing and exhausting performance by Daniel Day-Lewis, his ultra-competitive character is self aware, manipulative and ruthless. Gradually closing windows into a world of other human emotions, he strips himself down to the competitive core and its need to destroy any perceived challenger.

Before I descend into unfamiliar pessimism, a question for captains of this the only way to succeed in business, or am I naive in thinking that even in the corporate sector there is increasingly a need for cooperation in this globalised world? And what about politics...the United Nations, European Union, African Union, Association of South East Asian Nations.....are they the way of the future, hopelessly optimistic alliances befuddled by bureaucracy, or competition writ large?

That gremlin on my shoulder is whispering..."Rwanda, Kenya, Kosovo, Ireland..... ". Scratch the surface of nationalism and there is a rapid descent to tribal competition for access to resources. Cheer me up somebody, please!

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Midnight Music

What melodious mutterings reach your ears between midnight and the wee small hours of the morning? What reaches from beyond your bedroom to disturb your urban space or rural idyll? Theraputic sounds or just plain noise?

Just last week I thought I had escaped far enough into the forest, where I would be serenaded to an early sleep by countless cicadas and kept in dreamland by the pitter patter of falling rain. Ah well, such is indeed the stuff of dreams. The local muezzin, inspired perhaps by the lunar new year, kept the microphone on after the last call to prayer and kept thinking of new items for general distribution.

A few days later I tried again. Another province, another forest – this time at the end of a lovely valley, beside a waterfall. Perfect. Except that it was Saturday night and some giant speakers were wheeled out of hiding and linked up to a generator. Thump, thump, thump... the valley acted as a giant sounding board and Britney’s “oh baby baby..” broadcast into the tropical night.

Birdsong, I reasoned, must be better. The small town hotel on the coast of Kalimantan at least had swifts nesting nearby and the chatter of returning birds would make a pleasant soporific as my tired head hit the pillow. Wrong. It was a tape, on repeat throughout the night, turned to full volume and meant to attract more birds to the artificial nest site next door. A “des res” for working birds.

And your noisiest location, location, location? Arjay will award a pair of earplugs to the best offering.

Monday, 18 February 2008

Aceh Green

Aceh’s Governor Irwandi enjoys political credibility with his electorate (38% of the post-conflict vote) and environmental credibility as a “Green Governor”, championing a healthy environment as a basis for long-term economic development. So far, so good. What’s the problem?

Sadly, the problem lies within the peace process. Prolonged conflict constrained destruction of natural resources; peace unleashed the demon of uncontrolled exploitation. The Governor instituted a logging moratorium along with a comprehensive review of the forest sector. The stakes are high, and not only for a healthy environment. The carbon wrapped up within Aceh’s forests “ups the ante” and could provide an economic incentive for their protection. Aceh’s Ulu Masen forest complex has just received the first certification as a site where the world could invest in avoiding destruction through carbon credits:

Roll up, roll up – place your bets on the future of the planet.

Friday, 15 February 2008

Hard choices at the cutting edge

I am sitting cross-legged on the floor of a small wooden hut on the edge of the central forests of Aceh. The wife of “Pak Mukim”, traditional leader for the locality, has graciously served us tea, and we are discussing the difficulties of forest conservation with our host. A sudden downpour thundering onto the tin roof temporarily drowns out conversation, and the Mukim’s wife mops his brow. This is indeed humid forest.

Pak Mukim is pleased with the work on fruit tree nurseries and on improving the economy of this area, but concerned that the young men returning now the conflict is over are cutting forest in the zone set aside for protection, having obtained permission from the village administration for this illegal action. What to do? The authority floats between civic and traditional leaders and meanwhile more forest is chopped and burned. A slow drag on his clove cigarette and the fragrant smoke curls out into the downpour outside that washes more of Aceh’s soil into the river on route to the unforgiving sea.

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Arjay is in Aceh

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