The nature of nature

Nature is beautiful.  Nature is inspirational.  Nature is essential.  But nature is not kind.

Well, there is kindness in nature but let’s not pretend nature is inherently kind, or caring, or gentle.

This week, there has been the horrific incident of a four-year-old boy, same age as my youngest, falling into the gorilla enclosure at Cincinatti Zoo.  The endangered silverback gorilla, 200kg in weight, was an adult male.  The zoo has faced criticism for killing the gorilla rather than risking the child’s life.  The mother has been blasted for her child climbing the barriers and falling into the enclosure – just last month I was at Wellington Zoo and lost sight of my four-year-old on more than one occasion. 

It’s an absolute tragedy that this magnificent beast had to be shot.  It’s another sort of tragedy that it’s threatened with extinction in the wild in the first place.  And yet another heartbreak that a wild animal is locked up in a cage, no matter how brilliantly designed the zoo is to be just like home – it sure isn’t.  Yes zoos have a role in awareness and conservation, but it doesn’t cancel all the negatives about keeping animals in captivity, especially animals that need space.

The whole situation is awful but repeating ill-informed views that the gorilla would have protected the child is just a guess, and inconsistent with what I’ve read about male gorilla behaviour.  Life is not a Disney movie – this was a wild and very powerful animal.  In my view, they had no choice but to shoot the gorilla.

It reminds me of a stern talking to I got from my GP in Perth when I was pregnant with my first child.  I had a wonderful student midwife and we were excited about a water birth – I imagined it to be a calm introduction to the world outside the womb.  But my wonderful GP was not impressed and reminded me about the nature of nature – yes childbirth is natural but, as I can now vouch, it not exactly a walk in the park.

She pointed out that women left to birth “naturally” in the developing world have significantly higher rates of themselves or their babies dying than those in countries like Australia and New Zealand.  As it turned out, I ended up in theatre, only just avoiding a caesarian, so a water birth was never going to happen for me.  All power to those who have successfully had a water birth, but it wasn’t for me.

What is definitely not natural is the massive coral die-off happening at the Great Barrier Reef at the moment.  The increased water temperature linked to climate change is causing coral bleaching.  Don’t be distracted by the neutral word “bleach” – it’s going white because it’s dying.  Coral is a living thing – not rocks.  It is the outer shell of marine invertebrates that excrete limestone.  Check out Brad Plumer’s article on for a summary of the issues.

I’ve dived at the Great Barrier Reef and it’s an amazing experience.  Being under the ocean in clear water, with thousands of colourful fish, anemones, coral in all its forms and other creatures is incredible.  But coral is not just beautiful – they are nurseries for fish so support a healthy fishery feeding millions and creating jobs, they protect coastlines from storm damage, and they offer top quality tourism opportunities.  Some organisms in coral have even been found to fight cancer. 

And it’s not just coral we’re losing – don’t get me started on claims that fishing companies in New Zealand waters have been dumping huge numbers of dead fish without reporting it.  This makes me furious.  Watch for the results of the investigations.

So while nature might not be kind, we are part of nature.  To quote author Marc Bekoff: “Humans are a part of nature, not apart from nature.”  Our actions, or lack of action in protecting nature, will bite us.