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Slaughter of the wildlife

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Recently, I’d been made aware, through Facebook, of the presence of flamingos out at Orange Valley, which is a small community located along the west coast of Trinidad and a short distance away from the temple in the sea at Waterloo. Now while the general public may not be aware of the presence of these migratory birds, these careless explorers from the South American continent, there are some of us who set our watches by them.


The greater flamingo, while perhaps not a spectacular sight in Venezuela or Guyana, is indeed a breathtaking sight in this country because they do not occur in great numbers here and are generally only seen at specific times of the year. I am embarrassed to admit it, but the Idiom team has been pursuing these magnificent birds for the past three years without any success.


Over the past two weeks I’ve visited a road laid down in the sea to provide ease of egress for fishermen, given the muddy slog which obtained prior to this engineering intervention. The air is filled with the incessant cries of the laughing gulls crowding the mudflats on the southern side of the jetty. This species is so numerous at this location they darken the skies when startled into flight.


Then to my left, on the northern side of the jetty, way off in the distance, the unmistakable form of the greater flamingo. Just a pair of juveniles with their long necks stretched out, their heads swaying back and forth over the mud flats, looking like two dorks with metal detectors.


We just had to get closer; they were so distant only the Hubble telescope could procure a decent image. A fisherman recommended that we walk through the back of the nearby mangrove fringing the mudflats. One look at the mangrove and that suggestion did not get past the committee stage.


Then the young fisherman mentioned something in passing that stopped me dead in my tracks as we walked along the road in the sea. “It had ’bout elem ah dem yuh know but dey shoot out mos’ as dem in de huntin’ season.” That kind of news is enough to, as Morissey put it, “…make a shy bald Buddhist monk reflect and plan a mass murder.”


Whereas my mental processing of the flamingo is awe and pride in our natural resources, for others there is a quick calculation in the mind of the possible weight of these birds and a rough tally of the price they would fetch for some drunken wild meat lime. These birds are worth way more to the villagers alive than a one-time sale of a few plucked, lifeless carcasses.



You also have to bear in mind that there are no quotas on hunting in this country so quite possibly the objective of those hunters was to harvest the entire flock but they probably missed the two immature flamingos which are still there today (there may be others scattered elsewhere).


The story of the manatee is tragically similar. While an aggressive conservation campaign has been in effect for many years in this country, it is my opinion that this manatee conservation strategy is rooted in the very thing that can lead to its eventual extirpation: secrecy.


At this time it appears to me that those who have taken on the responsibility to safeguard future generations of the manatee believe the best way to do this is to isolate them from the public altogether. Out of sight, out of mind in this context is not an appropriate response to the very real threat of poaching.


Individuals involved in conservation efforts in Trinidad all know that the manatee has appeared in the Sangre Grande market, and not as live displays. All hunters and poachers know exactly where their quarry is. For the majority of us we don’t know and consequently we don’t care.


I was told by a colleague recently that it was with great joy he spotted a manatee at Christmas time in the Nariva Swamp. Only weeks later while leading a tour in the area he stumbled onto a dead manatee on a beach which he believes to have been the same one he had recently seen.


There was bruising around the head so I will leave you to form your own conclusions about what befell that poor creature.  That is one less manatee that could bring tourists to a community that, in many respects, is scratching out a living in an environment with diminishing resources.  


At the moment the single greatest threat to the natural environment is unbridled quarrying. Just this week it was revealed that for the first time in the history of its existence, quarrying in now visible from the verandah of the Asa Wright Nature Centre. The sprawling operation run by National Quarries has long been a thorn in the side of communities in the Arima valley. Now the harvesting of aggregate seems more determined than ever to claim broader swathes of the Northern Range.


Quarrying is of course a scourge across the entire landscape of Trinidad, shrinking wildlife habitats, making it easier for hunters to extract limitless amounts of wildlife from ever diminishing populations. It has also come to my attention that there are now whispers of plans for a quarry in the hills of Lopinot.


Oil and natural gas, aggregate… the entire future of this country is built upon finite resources, imaginary labour, and a state suckling its brood well into adulthood. Renewable resources key to the diversification of the economy are left coated in the dust and oil of the immediate developmental paradigm.



Other countries such as Costa Rica have recognised the value of its wildlife resource, attracting thousands of tourists keen on immersing themselves in the life-affirming experience of communing with animals in the wild. In T&T at the broader level, eco-tourism substantively involves killing and eating the display.


Are we going to wait for the anarchy of dramatically declining oil and gas reserves, the removal of fuel subsidies and the disappearance of union dues which keep labour leaders in BMW seven series climate changers? Or can we secure our future by preserving the natural resources which, if properly managed, can provide our only real sustainable economic development?


Just imagine, the Orange Valley community playing host to birding enthusiasts from around the world, giving them an opportunity to experience the flamingo in its natural environment just 15 minutes off the highway. We are a nation blinkered on the path to the scorched-earth aesthetic, devouring hillsides everywhere to feed questionable vote- buying infrastructural projects and an ever expanding worthless housing stock. We can’t see the forest for the trees only for the wood.



The way we consume wildlife in this country one would swear that our people are starving in the Sunderbans.  This Government came into office with a pledge to meaningfully address environmental concerns. Thus far, however, there has been no concrete intervention in the wanton destruction. There is still time, there is still hope. Is there the will?


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