By Heidi Trautmann
When I was a child I devoured books about famous explorers who went across the seas, across unknown white spots on our world maps, such as Columbus, Vasco da Gama, James Cook, Livingstone, just to name a few, not to forget the Vikings and Normans before them who came right down to the Mediterranean and conquered, robbed and/or settled on many coasts there. It was the seafaring people who undertook the first voyages of discovery, expeditions often financed by royalty who needed some new income for their cashbox or just driven by the individual dream of adventure. Rumours were handed down of riches across the sea, similar to the fairy tale about the treasure of gold at the root of the rainbow or the country where the golden apples grew...that was after the explorers returned home and told and wrote about the beauty of the new countries they had discovered.
Today we have no more white spots on our world map, the last ‘wild’ people have been tracked down and when there are riches under their bottoms they are being relocated to other places. Thus the beauty of untouched land was soon conquered and civilized. Sad stories all around the world.
In the course of time governments realized that they should better reserve some spots of natural beauty as national parks, monuments, before the greedy humans would eat it all up. Today most of the countries have protected areas, national parks which hardly amount to more than 7% of their entire land area, usually between 2-4%. The United States, for example have about 59 protected areas/national parks representing around 2,7% of their land area; Germany with 14 parks just 2,7%, France with 10 parks 9,5%, United Kingdom with 14 parks about 8,7%.
On my travels I have visited many national parks; the first one I saw with my own eyes was the Quiçama National Park in Angola in 1962; during the civil war after the independence from Portugal, many animals were killed by weapon carrying young people training their skills on them. I was there again in 1975 shortly before the Cubans arrived in Luanda. 25 years later the park was rebuilt by the World Wild Foundation bringing in animals from South Africa. I drove through the Krüger Park in South Africa and many smaller ones, also through beautiful Botswana, and we visited the Etosha Pan and the Namib Desert in Namibia. All these parks in Africa have often been in danger by greedy business people, to hunt animals for their skins, their ivory or body parts to be sold as virility potions.
I have been to many of America’s national parks with Yosemite Park being the most popular one; this park suffers from mass tourism most; Yellowstone Park was the first one to be established by Ulysses Grant in 1872; others to name are Sequoia, Grand Canyon and Bryce Canyon, Moyave Valley and especially Death Valley, a park which impressed me deeply because of its colours and vastness; Monument Valley and Yoshua Tree Park with its amazing landscape. Then the parks in Mexico, Copper Canyon and in Baja California a landscape incomparable to anything I have seen before.
There are also so many sites in the world which have been declared world heritage because of their uniqueness and because some organisations feel responsible and are afraid that they might be destroyed by careless population and sold out by their governments on our globe.
What can we do to help preserving that little which is left intact! We can support those who have taken over the responsibility, we can show respect and care when we enter these national parks and areas found worth of recognition as world heritage; we can show more involvement in environment and be more aware of worldwide nature problems, not just inside the parks but in front of our garden doors as well. A National Park is a sort of museum just like a Zoo; it shows us how the world was before the humans took over; a peep show into another world.
If we are not careful we will one day have nature reserves behind glass for us to look through because that will be all that is left.
PS 1: I wrote this text following my article on the Karpaz demonstrations (see under Cyprus activities and movements)
PS 2: The Bryce Canyon photo is by Elisabeth R. Rose. Please click to see her work.
Photo Courtesy: Elizabeth R Rose