Sunday, August 11, 2013

Diverse Reactions To Scavenger Diversity--Iguazu Falls, Argentina

People's attitudes and beliefs tend to be resistant to change. Great effort is spent by political columnists and advertisers seeking to change minds, usually to no avail. An exception to this inertia of the mind happened during a recent trip to Iguazu Falls in northern Argentina, where perceptions of various wildlife shifted radically over the course of a day.

If there happen to be any plants or animals reading this blog, a bit of advice. I know most of you really don't care what people think of you. You're just trying to survive in the real world, unaided by the womb-like umbilical cords of piped water and energy that people have built for themselves. Not easy, I'm sure, and I respect that. But if you do find yourselves starting to care, and want people to gasp with admiration upon witnessing your splendid form, then consider a few basic principals. If you're a plant, play well with others. Don't overwhelm or dramatically displace. If you're an animal, strive for a balance. Be generally aloof but make surprise appearances so that people can delight in their good fortune. You are of course expected to participate in your natural foodchain, even if it means occasionally being eaten. Above all, avoid tapping into the trash humans carelessly leave behind, or raiding their gardens. The temptation is huge, I know, but this is a slippery slope towards a bad rep.

This Plush-Crested Jay is a good example of that slope. Taking a boardwalk to a lookout above the massive Iguazu Falls in Argentina, we thought ourselves fortunate to catch a glimpse of this colorful bird.

We felt less lucky when the jay showed up for lunch the next day on the hotel patio. We're appreciative, of course, of the greater diversity of scavengers that a national park provides--a nice break from the usual song sparrows and squirrels. But a word to the wise, here. It's bad manners to eye people's food over their shoulders.

This dove is being much more discreet, averting its gaze in a respectful manner.

Fine to eat peanuts while holding them between your feet,

but the least you can do is wait until all the guests leave before moving in on the leftovers.

And you're teaching the mockingbirds bad habits. Of course, have to say: nice job cleaning the plates, and reducing in some small way the organic component of the wastestream.
But you'd get more respect

if you stuck to posing at a distance, flattering those who brought superzoom cameras.

A good zoom and a high boardwalk also reduce the risk of photographing a caiman, which seemed to understand that its big teeth are a plus as long as it keeps its distance.

The rodents didn't make much of a show. We saw no 100 pound, 4 foot long capybaras--the largest rodent in the world--nor guinea pigs, a wild relative of which is said to live here. But we did come across this delicately structured agouti exhibiting appropriate wildlife behavior, grazing photogenically at a discreet distance from human traffic.

It's hard for insects to win friends, which makes the butterfly's success all the more impressive. Suck nectar, not blood. Dazzle with color and phantom-like flight. Hang around flowers and tree bark, not restaurants.

Perhaps this monkey had taken to heart the signs warning people about its capacity to steal food and even bite, because it was limiting its behavior to wonderfully adroit and graceful harvesting of seeds up in a tree.

Got to say, though, the coatis are blowing it. Cute balls of fur with a ringed tail. Great first impression.

But those bold forays into eating areas are problematic.

Snarling over candy wrappers? Wrestling in the walkways? Our biggest change in perception came when one grabbed the bag of empanadas set next to us on the bench, and dragged it off into the woods. That's not scavenging; that's blatant theft.

They're not even fazed when restaurant managers start coming after them with sticks. It's almost like they think they're as smart as we are. Being kin to raccoons, they may not be far off the mark. In fact, all of the more aggressive scavengers were also the most intelligent--jays, monkeys, coatis. Intelligence may be the real slippery slope, bringing with it the capacity to think outside the ecological box, break free of the foodchain, spot opportunities, and give in to temptation. Sounds like the history of another mentally enabled species I know.

An extensive writeup on the wildlife of Iguazu can be found here, including photos of toucans.

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