We often think of animals in the wild as ‘out there’. Even those who truly love animals and feel a connection to them can feel a sense of ‘otherness’. And yet, we share the earth – together. Humans may be at the top of the food chain, but without animals and our delicate ecosystems humans could not survive.

We all depend on each other, whether it’s obvious or not.

This post continues the month-long theme of the inspiration of animals.

The delicate nature of ecosystems

Ecosystems are communities of living things (such as plants & animals) interacting with non-living things around them (such as air, water, and energy). Generally they can be as small as a pond or as large as a rainforest, and WWF has classified even larger areas that are geographically distinct, known as ecoregions. Within an ecosystem there is a balance between all things, and subtle changes can have significant influences.

Have you heard the story of how wolves changed the rivers in Yellowstone National Park? It’s an incredible demonstration of how one change – reintroducing wolves to the national park after 70 years – can have a profound effect. The presence of wolves meant fewer deer, who had been ravaging the plant life. New areas of vegetation sprang up, which resulted in more birds and stronger beavers who, in turn, built little dams and created new niches within the environment for other animals. There were many other effects, but perhaps most impressive was change in the flow of the rivers because of less soil erosion. If you haven’t seen it, invest four and a half minutes and watch the video 🙂

We also know of the worldwide crisis in bee populations. This is an issue that affects not only the natural environment but humans’ very livelihood. If bees were to see a catastrophic decline, it would have a major impact on human life and economics. Greenpeace explains:

Honey bees – wild and domestic – perform about 80% of all pollination worldwide. A single bee colony can pollinate 300 million flowers each day. Grains are primarily pollinated by the wind, but the best and healthiest food – fruits, nuts, and vegetables – are pollinated by bees. Seventy out of the top 100 human food crops, which supply about 90% of the world’s nutrition, are pollinated by bees.

Bees, then, are a critical component of their ecosystems.

Wild animal behaviour

I am fascinated by wild animals and when I learn something new about an animal I’m like a wide-eyed child. One animal that I think is widely misunderstood is the beautiful Koala. I’m fortunate to have volunteered with an organisation that looks after them, and learned a lot. A common misconception is that koalas get ‘high’ or ‘drunk’ on gum leaves – probably because they sleep up to 18 hours a day! They simply have a very specific, low-nutrition diet which requires a lot of digestion power – and sleeping is the best way to conserve energy. They need to eat huge amounts of leaf, and are very fussy eaters. Each koala needs about 100 trees. Their habitat is therefore incredibly important, and preservation of it is critical.

Recently Australia Zoo welcomed its first baby koala for the season and it’s the cutest thing ever.

Another fascinating world of animals and their behaviour lies in the deep ocean. The ocean floor of the Antarctic is only now beginning to be discovered and understood, and some incredible animals are being uncovered. The marine life there has been largely isolated from the rest of the planet for tens of millions of years… so you can imagine the treasures to be found. There are icefish with antifreeze proteins in their blood, translucent anemones that dangle their tentacles in the water while their body is in ice, sea spiders with legs that span seven inches, and scallops that could be 40 years old or more. It’s a wonderland of life, seen in person by only a special few.

The responsibility of humans

We know humans have an enormous responsibility as caretakers of our earth. Our way of living has had a massive impact on the ecology of the planet and, although it wouldn’t be possible to prevent every impact, we must try to minimise it.

There’s no doubt animals are a vital and beautiful part of our world. It’s also a critical truth that our world is made up of delicate ecosystems. All creatures on our earth – including humans – need each other.  We owe it to animals and to our planet to do our best to nourish and nurture them. We can take action through aspiring to live a cruelty-free life and making small adjustments to our diet. If nothing else, by allowing ourselves to be inspired by our domesticated friends and animals in the wild, I believe we’ll see opportunities to make our own small differences.

John Muir