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Sunday, September 19, 2010


The Siafu ( Pronounced ; See - ahh - foo )

It is dusk in the West African forests of Gabon near the Congo border. The forest that has resonated throughout the night with the chirps, and buzzes, and calls of insects and frogs and birds is now still. Birds still call as do a few distant primates. But the insects and amphibians are still. It is a strange and uneasy stillness. The locals know what is happening. In the understory of the dense jungle, small life forms are on the move. Some flee North and South. Others flee East and West. But many others do not realize the danger or know to vacate the area.

Tension is growing as something moves silently along the leaf litter. Tiny forms scour out across the region. Medium sized ants that seem in a race. They are swift moving and all heading in the same general direction. A few song birds fly down to feed upon these first few ants. Tasty snacks for those with such an appetite. But soon the leaves stir and rustle as more ants swarm in a strange living blanket. The birds that are experienced fly off. They understand that the meal is no longer safe to eat. One or two birds however hop around in the leaf litter. Determined to gorge on this tasty treat. They do not notice the swarm on their legs. By the time that they feel the first few stings and fly off to a nearby branch it is too late! The birds try desperately to pluck the swarm out of their feathers. But they have been tagged with a chemical signal and the stinging ants venom burns and disorients the songbirds. Suddenly an eye is pierced and the bird in a panic attempts to rub it's face on the branch upon which it stands. But the branch is now a highway for more ants and the bites weaken and shock the bird. It's heart races and it suddenly falls to the floor of the jungle. Fluttering helplessly as it is overcome and dies. The second songbird has also suffered the same fate.

Insects and arachnids are hunted down and overcome in the leaf litter or on the tree bark. A young black mamba thrashes violently, even biting itself in an effort to bite it's aggressors. It dies in a combination of ant bites and its own venom. Another casualty of the relentless invasion. A large rat soon suffers the same fate as a frog and spider. The forest floor is black and red with ant bodies. The swarm moves like a great giant alien organism. It is eighteen feet wide and will take three and a half days to cross the area.

As the swarm continues, it overwhelms any animal unable to swiftly get out of its path. Nothing is immune. Great trumpeting pain and crashing of trees fills the air for miles as a massive bull elephant is attacked. The great bull did not feel the ants on his thick skin. Was not much aware of them until he was covered and the first bites filled him with pain and venom. The ants swarmed into his trunk, mouth, eyes, and ears. Their bites swelling his trunk shut and his mouth and throat until breathing was virtually impossible. His eardrums are penetrated and ruptured by powerful mandibles and his inner ear is attacked. The beast looses equilibrium as he thrashes and runs into trees in a painful blind rage. He is off balance and knocked senseless in his diminished breathing and panic. He falls to the floor where more ants await the giant and attack. He thrashes in agony, but his system is going into shock and his heart slows. He will not get back up. He is food for the colony. This is not some army ant colony of South America eight hundred thousand strong. No, this is the African Driver ant. The swarm is over forty million animals.

It hunts as a single organism rather than forty million individuals. It is a sisterhood of blind ants. They do not see the prey. but they can feel and sense and taste the food. They work in concert to bring down anything in their path. The Siafu are the most deadly predator in all of Africa. You yield to them, or you die. Those are the only options.

They are also my favorite analogy for those folks who come to me with doubts. I have often had people approach me after a lecture or book discussion on conservation issues and marine concerns who related to me that they really loved what I have written about and explained. They tell me how wonderful the work is that I am doing. But they then go on to share with me that they really want to get involved. But they have 2 issues that are holding them back. The first is that they don't believe that anything that they could do will amount to much help in the grand scheme of things. They feel tiny and helpless to affect changes.

The second issue is that they are working and trying to raise a family in a troubled economy and that they do not have the money or where-with-all to help out. And I smile as I then relate a more basic version of the story that I have just shared with you about the Siafu.

I explain to them that we are in the conservation movement like the Siafu. We are a blind collective. An individual driver ant is a medium sized ant with a painful sting. But not too severe or deadly. Easily squashed or killed by many things. But the Siafu, like the growing colony of conservation minded people is not just a single ant. It is many individuals acting in concert. And like the Siafu we need not see what all the other ants in the group are doing. We only need to put forth our own effort and together we can fell the largest opposition that there is! Just as the Siafu kill insects to elephants, so too can and will we overcome all that is in our path.

So all that anyone has to do is to participate on some level. It does not necessarily mean that you have to donate money. You can help in many other ways. Spread the word about sharks and the oceans. Educate the children and the public. You would be amazed at how powerful an aid that this is. Many people do not understand the law of 2 degrees of separation. This is the law that states that you are only ever two layers of friends away from someone who knows a celebrity or person of influence. So you never know which one of the people you share the message with might then share it with a relative or friend of a law maker or celebrity or person of influence who can be quite an impact in making a powerful change.

You can also do other basic things. Sign petitions online. It takes usually 2-3 minutes to sign a petition. It is generally 2 pages. A basic info page so that they know you are not the same person who signed a moment ago, and a second confirmation page. That is it. Simple. There is a third page in case you wish to share with friends, but even there, you do not have to if you feel uncomfortable doing so. But at least sign it yourself. It is easy and quick. I sign 30-150 petitions a month. Some of them have only a mild affect. Others have HUGE impacts. I am proud to know that I was one of the thousands of conservation Siafu who got shark products entirely banned in the state of Hawaii! A landmark in shark conservation measures. I am proud to know that I was one of 5560 Siafu who caused the Florida Fish and Game Commission to vote for Unanimous protection for Lemon sharks in Florida. So sign them and share them. Your voice matters.

You can educate your kids. Teach them conservation measures and get them involved in school and social events that support conservation and wildlife education. After all it is their world next. They should have a strong say and desire in protecting our world and theirs.

Pick up trash. Take a bag with you when you go out hiking, or walking. I often do beach clean ups. I like to hunt for shells and chunks of coral on the beaches in my area. But I always have 2 bags. One for shells and one for trash. I get the trash first, and on my way back up the now clean beach, I shell at my leisure. And it feels good too! Pick up the trash around the area. You will be saving fish and sea turtles and birds and us too. We are all interconnected. Start a group in your area and make it a fun social event. Conservation efforts do not have to be work or boring.

Support conservation organizations. Small cash donations help out as much as big ones. Skip a coffee or extra expense and take that $5 and donate it to an organization of your choice. Use Charity navigator or the advice of trusted conservationists to determine where or who to support. Do not waste money on corrupt pseudo conservation groups like Green Peace or World Wildlife Fund. Instead support groups that use the money soundly and actively. Support the Environmental Investigation Agency or Oceana or Shark Savers or Sea Shepherd Conservation Society or Wild Aid. Be selective and even small donations matter. It all adds up.

And so too do all of our efforts. So what are you? Some tiny ant wandering alone, insignificant, and easily squashed? Or are you one of us? Are you the scout or soldier of an unstoppable colony of Conservation Siafu? If your heart and desire are there, it only takes action to join the group. And know that even if you cannot see what all of your other colony members are doing, it is a small matter. For together, we WILL fell the greatest of problems and entities that stand in our path! The choice for your opposition ( and ours ) is a simple one,.. Yield or be overcome!

I hope that you will join the Siafu all around you!

- Erik

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