Saturday, February 18, 2017

lizard girl

When I received a photograph of the very pretty granddaughter of a friend I thought I'd try to capture her in a drawing. Of course my rendition does her actual looks almost no justice at all; in reality, her vivacity and confidence in the love that surrounds her defeats my small ability at portraiture. You may have noticed this little girl isn't standing in a doorway or a garden and neither is she accompanied by a typical household pet. Instead, she stands at ease with an iguana in equally sanguine posture. Do you wonder why?

Well, just a few days before I found her photograph in my inbox, I'd been reading about The Galapagos Islands, the remote archipelago where Darwin first conceived of his theory of natural selection after examining the unique fauna who lived there. Some 30 percent of the plants, 80 percent of the land birds and 97 percent of the reptiles are found nowhere else on Earth. Besides the famous giant tortoises, there were several varieties of oversize iguana - the land ones feed on cacti and shrubs while the marine iguana graze on seaweed near the shore.

Over the past 300 years, hunting and invasive species reduced both the giant tortoise populations and the lizards by an estimated 90 percent, destroying several species and pushing others to the brink of extinction, although a few populations on remote volcanoes remained abundant. Along with the pirates and eventual settlers, came goats, pigs, donkeys, dogs, cats, and rats. They trampled the delicate native plants, gobbled up turtle eggs, staged inexplicable attacks on land iguana colonies, snacked on baby chicks, and tore through cactus tree trunks. After the Galapagos National Park was established in 1959, park guards halted killing of tortoises for food, but those animals introduced to the islands continued to destroy the habitat and kill the native species.

 How researchers got rid of more than 200,000 goats is interesting (if somewhat gory):

In a project called Isabella helicopter aerial attacks eradicated 90 percent of the goats on that island. Although it's relatively easy to remove 90 percent of a goat population from an island as they become more rare, they are harder to find. Once they'd been educated and learned to hide, the hunters flying around in an expensive helicopter found no goats.

So they decided on a technique called Judas goats. Since goats are gregarious and like being in groups they captured individual animals, put radio collars on them and released them back into the wild where the goats would go and find more goats. A week or two later it was easy enough to find the hidden herds.

It's hard to write about the Galápagos without talking much about the tortoises, but since their story is far more famous than the efforts to protect the lizards, I just thought I'd let you know that overall the situation for all of the rare and beautiful species that Darwin described is far better now. Extraordinary measures that have been taken to protect these animals have been largely successful. At the same time the future remains mired in debates over how to protect the islands from the 150,000 tourists who visit each year, many of whom unintentionally bring invaders by depositing tiny seeds on trails, and occasionally fungi or insects that can cripple the fragile ecosystem. (Personally, I agree with Crow that tourists should stay at home, but that's a whole other subject.)

Land iguanas are large - more than 3 feet long - with males weighing up to 30 pounds. They live in the drier areas of the Islands, and in the mornings can be found sprawled beneath the hot equatorial sun. To escape the heat of the midday sun, they seek the shade of cacti, rocks, trees or other vegetation. At night they sleep in burrows dug in the ground, to conserve their body heat. They feed mainly on low-growing plants and shrubs, as well as fallen fruits and cactus pads. These succulent plants provide them with the moisture they require during long, dry periods. Land iguanas show a fascinating symbiotic interaction with Darwin’s finches, as do giant tortoises, raising themselves off the ground and allowing the little birds to remove ticks.

It's enough for me to know they're out there in hope that Earth will continue as the beautiful and diverse surrounding that gave us birth. My further hope is that little Lizard Girl and her friends will grow up to add to our knowledge and compassion for all God's creatures. We need more nature photographers and naturalists.

ps: My picture didn't do justice to the iguana either..

pps: Harper's
Game On - East vs. West, Again
by Andrew Cockburn


Andrew R. Scott said...

A fine picture. A complex tale. I wouldn't trust that lizard's smile, the depiction of which has nicely caught ambiguity.

Should Fish More said...

I guess they are 'better' to run across than Komodo Dragons.....
The girl in your excellent watercolor drawing reminds me of my eldest Grand, Cora. Zei is now 19, out in the world, seeing if zie is up to it's challenges. I wish her the best.

susan said...

Ah yes, Andrew, you've reminded me of the song from Peter Pan:

Never smile at a crocodile
No, you can't get friendly with a crocodile
Don't be taken in by his welcome grin
He's imagining how well you'd fit within his skin

susan said...

In Douglas Adam's and Mark Carwardine's 1985 book 'Last Chance to See' they visit an Australian scientist Dr Struan Sutherland. When they tell him they're on their way to Komodo he says:

"Well, don't get bitten, that's all I can say. And don't come running to me if you do because you won't get here in time and anyway I've got enough on my plate. Look at this office. Full of poisonous animals all over the place. See this tank? It's full of fire ants. Venomous little creatures, what are we going to do about them? Anyway, I got some little cakes in case you were hungry. Would you like some little cakes?"

Lindsay Byrnes said...

Hi Susan,
Nice post to read with very appealing pictures. The idea of the little girl and the iguana in equally sanguine posture is an evocative and creative picture which sets the scene nicely for what is to follow. It reminds me of my childhood and now with grandchildren who also share that same fascination and affinity to nature with all of its wondrous animals and plants.
On the positive side in relation to the risks associated with the influx of tourists the National Park Directorate does have many measures in place such as restricting only small groups to be allowed to visit only special designated sites. All visits must be accompanied by Park-certified naturalist guides who monitor ecological conditions carefully. There is extensive screening on the planes on the way over, on entry through the airport and so on and strict quarantine provisions operate for all boats.
Bet wishes

Sean Jeating said...


As for your 'pps':
Today's press-release by SIPRI seems fitting:

Arms exporters: the USA accounts for one-third of total

With a one-third share of global arms exports, the USA was the top arms exporter in 2012– 16. Its arms exports increased by 21 per cent compared with 2007–11. Almost half of its arms exports went to the Middle East.

‘The USA supplies major arms to at least 100 countries around the world—significantly more than any other supplier state’, said Dr Aude Fleurant, Director of the SIPRI Arms and Military Expenditure Programme. ‘Both advanced strike aircraft with cruise missiles and other precision-guided munitions and the latest generation air and missile defence systems account for a significant share of US arms exports.’

Russia accounted for a 23 per cent share of global exports in the period 2012–16. 70 per cent of its arms exports went to four countries: India, Viet Nam, China and Algeria.

China’s share of global arms exports rose from 3.8 to 6.2 per cent between 2007–11 and 2012–16. It is now firmly a top-tier supplier, like France and Germany which accounted for 6 per cent and 5.6 per cent, respectively. The ongoing lower rate of French arms export deliveries may end soon because of a series of major contracts signed in the past five years. Despite a spike in arms exports in 2016, German arms exports—counted over a five-year period—decreased by 36 per cent between 2007–11 and 2012–16.

susan said...

Hi Lindsay,
I'm happy to know you enjoyed reading the post and, in particular, seeing the pictures. The photograph of the little girl inspired me.
Yes, I understand your point that having people visit sites where they can actually see the tortoises is a good thing insofar as the experience may well lead them to promoting the well being of all creatures. Still, I wish it weren't necessary for so many to feel they need the experience.
All the best

susan said...

Thanks for the link to the SIPRI report, Sean. WWII saw the buildup of a huge arms industry that ought to have been dismantled afterwards and never was. Isn't it a shame that Grumman and Lockheed Martin weren't retooled to make kitchen appliances like others were?

Sean Jeating said...

Imagine Eisenhower said "In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex", and no one would care.

Ol'Buzzard said...

An interesting post. Humans have been the root of more extinctions than nature.
Love your drawing.
the Ol'Buzzard

susan said...

I think nobody even listened, Sean, when they realized how much money there was to be made. Yet unsurprisingly, none of the weapons sales made by the United States or any other nation thus far in the history of the world has promoted world peace. None has reduced - on the contrary, all have increased - terrorism.

susan said...

Do you remember this version of America the Beautiful, OB?

O ugly now for poisoned skies, for pesticided grain,
For strip-mined mountains’ travesty above the asphalt plain,
America! America! Man shed his waste on thee,
And milled the pines for billboard signs from sea to oily sea.

While our race wasn't around for the Big Five, we're definitely in the running now.

marja-leena said...

Ah, lovely innocent little girl and friend, beautifully done, Susan. The rest is pretty depressing, what humans do to the natural world, its creatures and other humans. Keep cheering us with your lovely art, thanks!

susan said...

Thanks for always coming by, Marja-Leena. Drawing and painting the images I make cheers me too. Sometimes that's all we can do.

L'Adelaide said...

Good morning, dear susan... love your little girl, looking quite the explorer. Frankly the iguanas, those giant ones make me look away, just freak me out and i have no idea why. i love those big old tortoises and hope they outlive humanity, which they probably will since look how well they are doing with the finches. Quite admirable methinks. i hope you are seeing some sun as we are finally seeing some as of earlier today when it was actually shining. hoping for some dry days for the weekend before another storm i hear. it is late, i am tired but wanted to say hello. your blog is looking busy again... and more art... YAY! much love, dear heart. xxx