The raised voices, shouting, yelling and giggling drew my attention from watching the international news.
I was on break visiting my sister and her family in Lusaka. Her son burst into the sitting room, excitedly pleading with me that I come quickly outside to stop his friends from killing a small animal.
Puzzled I joined him outside to find over eight boys throwing stone at some creature that was on the ground.
Their aim was fuzzy but a few hit the target. On closer inspection, I found that there was a chameleon on the ground, a fairly large specimen that was on the receiving end of the wrath of the young lads.
I immediately ordered them to stop, collect all the stones, vacate the yard. Taking a stick I let the obviously stressed, injured and angry lizard clumber onto it, then carefully let it disembark onto a shrub to recover from its ordeal.
It kept swaying and hissing as it did so over the next few days I observed it, it had regained its strength. Zapping up flies, grasshoppers and other such insects with its tongue. That was proof that it had recovered, few days after it had shifted to another tree within the yard.
However we amen peace, I called the young lads over to the house when I found another much smaller chameleon that they were able to let it walk over their arms without getting scared. I was actually humbled by the willingness of their young hearts to learn, to adjust and appreciate the chameleon. Traditional folklore passed down from generation to generation has labeled the chameleon as an evil creature. Labelling it as poisonous. Which it isn’t. But that’s folklore for us.
Chameleons are not your average charismatic animal – oh no. This charming list has lion, leopard, elephant, rhinoceros and buffalo as the main stars. Then the list broadens thereafter to include zebra, giraffe, antelopes, birds of all sorts. Somewhere hippo, baboon and so forth are added on. But never the lizards, snakes, crocodiles, hyena vultures, insects, slugs, snails, frogs and the other unsightly creatures.
These lesser charismatic creatures are not regarded as important animals. But they actually even surpass some of the more celebrated ones in keeping things in order and going in their wilderness kingdom that they share.
The greatest animosity is between humans and snakes. This is innate and stretches back from the incident in the Garden of Eden. Yet snakes play a critical role in the well-being of humans economically, socially and health wise. While it so not feasible nor advisable to go about hugging a snake to get to understand and appreciate them. They are our greatest and most important allies in our never ending war with an enemy that refuses to call it quits – the rat with its smaller cousin the mouse. Rats and mice not only eat grains and crops, but they also spoil stored grain with their faeces and urine.
If it weren’t for snakes, our planet would be overrun with rodents. It is not just the house rat that is a cause of concern. There are cane rats that ravage sugar plantations and other rodent that cause much damage elsewhere. Their populations are kept in check by the snakes. Overall snakes consume more rodents then all other groups of predators put together
Snake venom of which snakes are most infamous for, plays a leading role in the manufacture of drugs. Impacting on the treatment of many a human disease. True every year people die from snake bites in countries that have significant snake populations. However few of us realize just how many people’s lives are saved and improved by drugs that have chemicals compounds from snake venom. Snake venom has been used in medicine for thousands of years and even more so today, I proving an important ally in disease control and cure in the human anatomy.
‘Ooh snails…yucky yuck ‘so went my little niece on seeing a snail slowly crawling up the wall, leaving a glistening trail. Well I could not argue with a little four year old, let her be someday she would understand. The glistening trail, the snail left behind, is what is known as snail gel, used in the cure of skin aliments todays. Not every snail gel’s is used but specific ones. Yet, snails are crushed underfoot daily, tossed into dustbins, burnt and so forth but how many of us appreciate the snails contribution to our looks…ladies? These humble little creatures play an unsung role in the beautiful skin tones we see on our women and young girls. That gel dissolves pimples, warts, repairs cracks and what not.
Back to the chameleon, these lizard that live in most back and front yard gardens and orchards, share ground with agama and skink lizards. These garden dwellers control the insect populations, feeding a great many flies, beetles, grasshoppers, ants and what not. Some which canbe a pest in particular house flies and mosquitoes. Equally at home in the garden ponds and grounds are frogs and toads, just as important in the control of insects. Spiders and scorpions also prey on insects, are in turn preyed upon by frogs, lizards and birds.
Most people would admit that a lion is a superb creature to behold, a leopard is a dazzling pattern of spots, and the buffalo has an air of confidence. Elephants pose some form of wisdom and rhinos have a mystery of their own. Zebras are the stars in stripes, giraffes are lovely and the antelopes are the deep wide eyed beauties of the bush.
Unfortunately we have allowed our human prejudice to decide which creatures deserve more attention than others. In the process some of have been lost even before anything could be done to save them and the wilderness areas and the world are the poorer without them. Be they large or small, insect or mammal the list goes on. This applies to plants also. We are losing native plants without noticing – only because the animals are given more attention, yet its plants that give animals shelter and food. That however is another story for another session.
The smaller creatures are harder to notice if they became extinct. They just do not appear on most important animal’s lists. But they are – the decline of lizards, frogs, butterflies, dragonflies, ants, snakes etc. these low-life’s as they are branded would have a greater impact. What would happen if the dung beetles suddenly just vanished? The whole wilderness would be one huge carpet of and pile of dung. Dung beetles bury and eat animal and human waste. Very industrious little creatures, doing a duty all other animals shun….is this a creature one would consider as unimportant because it does not have the good looks of our average lion? But yet the lion benefits from the dung beetles sanitary work.
On my resuming duty, on the patrol, we came across a herd of fifteen eland. They seemed to float through the knee-high grass. Here was the world’s largest antelopes, beautiful animas that are worshipped in song, dance and as a tribal clan totem and name. In the grass that their hooves stirred were other smaller creatures just as vital to the whole complex network of life in this vast wilderness. Losing one means we are in danger of losing so much more in the process.