Humans consider themselves to be the cleverest creatures on Planet Earth. But are they?
Given the fact that we cannot contest the matter of relative cleverness at an arbitration tribunal presided over by some Darth Vader figure from Distant Dark Matter, we can only use the humans’ own criteria to judge humans’ cleverness against that of other creatures.
So, consider this: in the animal kingdom, when two equally-matched members of the same species engage in combat – usually over female-mounting rights – the fight ends as soon as one of the animals “turns tail”; that is, when it turns away from its antagonist to signal that it’s in the act of running away from the fight.
But if such a situation occurs among humans in combat, is it not certain that it will end in the total vanquishing of the defeated one, who might lose his head or be otherwise done to death? Transmute that into political contests….!
Again, predators in the animal kingdom only kill to eat. But humans can kill for a variety of reasons, including killing other creatures for fun! Some humans even carry parts of the body of a slain “game” animal away, as a “trophy” to be displayed with great pride in the hunters’ homes. They turn the whole process into an almost abstract concept by using euphemistic terminology: for instance, they “bag” an antelope; or lion; or elephant. They don’t “kill” it.
But perhaps what sets humans apart as the least clever of Planet Earth’s inhabitants is the human attitude towards one of the essentials that make life possible on Planet Earth: water. Without water, there can be no living creature. And Planet Earth’s creatures, aware of this fact, treat water as a most precious commodity which they go to great lengths to try and obtain.
Desert dwellers are the best water-hunters in the world. In the Australian Outback, for instance, pool water can be extremely hard to come by. To defeat this handicap, a lizard called the “thorny devil” has evolved skin that can absorb water like that type of paper known as a “blotter”. Remember how we used to prevent ink from running on our work in the days before the “Biro” pen was invented? The scales on the body of the thorny devil are structured in such a way that they enable the creature to collect dew and channel it down to the corners of its mouth, where it is drunk as water!
Another desert creature that has found a way to defeat the perennial shortage of water is the African Pyxie Frog. It was previously believed that these animals died off during every dry season, but what was actually happening was that when the rainy season ends on the African savannah, this frog burrows 6 to 8 inches underground and seals itself in a mucus membrane that hardens into a cocoon. The frog can “hibernate” in this sac for up to seven years, waiting for rain! When the rain does come in the end, the water causes the mucus sac to soften, signaling to the frog that it’s time to wake up!
The South African lungfish benefits from a similar method of hibernation.
But perhaps the creature with the most ingenious technique for obtaining water is desert dweller known as the Namaqua sandgrouse of the Kalahari Desert. What does a bird do if it hatches chicks who are helpless and incapable of obtaining life-saving water for themselves? That’s the perilous situation that faces newly hatched sandgrouse chicks, which are usually nested in a scrape in the heart of an arid, barren wasteland.
Well, the sandgrouse possesses an uncanny solution to desert living that is unique to it. It is the only bird in the world that can carry out the following feat: the male species of sandgrouse travel en-masse to watering holes, sometimes up to 60 miles away, and wet their breast feathers, which are specially equipped with a large number of tiny barbs that soak up water like a sponge. Absorbing roughly a quarter of their body weight of water into their feathers, they then make the long return flight back to the nest where the chicks are waiting. They do this every day for two months, until the chicks grow up enough to be able to make the flight to the water source themselves. How did the sandgrouse get to know that it could utilise its feathers not just to fly but to fetch water for its chicks?
But, of course, no discussion of desert survival can be complete without mention of the camel. The camel’s hump stores fat, which can be used as a source of both food and water for the animal when the going gets tough!
Finally, there is the case of the “Dorcas Gazelle” of North Africa, an antelope which will drink water when it is available, but which, when water is scarce, can get all of the water it needs from the food that constitutes its diet. It can also, when water is in short supply, transform its urine into uric acid. The urine gets concentrated into “a white pellet”, instead of staying as the hydraulically-expensive liquid waste!
Given these immensely efficacious survival techniques that animals use to defeat deadly thirst, what would animals think of humans who deliberately pollute or destroy the ancient water sources whose existence made their own ancestors choose the localities in which to build their towns and villages? Can there be a human habitat without a river or stream?
If you relate what you have just read about animals and water to the activities of the Ghanaians who use excavators and earth-moving machines to turn the beds of rivers and streams upside down, in search of gold, in the foul enterprise called galamsey, you will see how absolutely lunatic the argument in support of galamsey is. Its practitioners and supporters claim that since the galamseyers need to earn a living, they must be allowed to continue to carry out their wanton destruction of our rivers and water-bodies! Which animal would make such an argument, knowing how precious water is to all living creatures? Wouldn’t Darth Vader breathe fire out of his nostrils to exterminate any fool who brought such an argument before him?
Would such an argument impress the humble sandgrouse which has to fly sixty miles every day for two months to ensure that its chicks get water to drink and survive?
Maybe we should catch a few galamseyers, take them to the Kalahari Desert and leave them there without water. Then we should bring them back home to tell the story of their sufferings to the rest of their gang.
As a Cockney would say, “That’ll learn ’em!”
Wouldn’t it just…?!!!
By CAMERON DUODU