pests and predators

Sawasdee from Koh He in Thailand,

When I played cricket at Walgett (north-western New South Wales), during the short nesting season of the magpies, the new mother would occasionally build her nest in the trees adjacent to the cricket ground. This meant that the whites-clad fieldsmen would seem to pose a threat to her chicks. One day, when a magpie was protecting her babies by swooping the fielder at deep fine leg, one member of the batting side disappeared for a while, returned with a shot gun and shot the bird. (When I recounted this story this morning, Linda’s eyes bulged in horror, and then she spat out the word, “Bastard!”, with a pronounced plosive ‘B’.)  

It’s a bit like killing a shark in the ocean on the grounds that they might attack. In both cases, we are in their territory. But it’s we the humans who maintain the safety by culling the supposed predator.

Great Pied Hornbill
Koh He

Here on Koh He, in tropical Thailand, the spectacular but endangered Great Pied Hornbill feeds off the seeds of a tree which grows on the delicate interface between sea and land. Recent beach erosion has placed some of these trees at risk of undercutting, thus reducing the hornbill’s food source. At the moment, the tree roots are supported by sandbags. The hornbill  is hanging on by scavenging on the edges of the resort. They hover on the beams or the railings, swooping quickly as soon as someone vacates their table. It’s only a very short jump for someone – like the irritated cricketer in Walgett – to perceive the birds as pests and take some kind of action to preserve the sanctity of the human occupation.

The Great Pied Hornbill is an endangered species here in Thailand. Luckily, it’s a spectacular animal (even more so on the wing) so it has images on the signage and the walls. Linda reports that it is the national bird of Malaysia, too.

Creatures which have such drawing power have a chance of survival, even if it is for our sake, rather than their own; except of course when some bastard decides it’s a good target. (Linda still fumes on the mention of the American dentist and Cecil the lion. The plosive ‘B’ always gets a run when that case is recalled.) It’s a pity that a creature has to be spectacular before humans consider it worth saving.

Koh He is not the only beautiful place in Thailand. We’ve been criss-crossing the glassy Andaman Sea this week, stopping at some gorgeous places. Linda openly wishes for the aeroplanes to be all cancelled so we can stay here. It would be tough if that happened. But tolerable.

Ping Lao from Koh He,


island in the Andaman Sea
Great Pied Hornbill in the tree

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