I started a Substack to publicise the threat to pangolins. And now the news has overtaken my intentions. So here is the current story:
Why are pangolins poached?
They are poached for their scales and other body parts that are used in traditional medicine in China and Vietnam and China. And as luxury dishes on the menu.
What does ‘the most trafficked’ mean?
Pangolins account for about 20% of everything that is poached. A million pangolins poached and killed in the last decade.
Why are they in the news today?
Well, it’s tempting to say that Pangolins bite back against the cruelty done to them. They are in the news because investigators think they may be an intermediate stage in the transmission of coronavirus from bats to humans.
Here’s what Reuters says:
BEIJING (Reuters) – Chinese researchers said the pangolin, a mammal illegally trafficked for its scales and meat, is a potential intermediate host for the coronavirus that has killed more than 600 people in China.
“This latest discovery will be of great significance for the prevention and control of the origin (of the virus),” South China Agricultural University, which led the research, said in a statement on its website.
Photo of a pangolin by Adam Tusk on Flickr, under Creative Commons release.
I saw a TV programme about this a couple of years ago. The results have been swimming around in my head ever since. And I just can’t figure out why this isn’t being blasted from the rooftops day and night. It’s amazing. It’s more than amazing. It upsets a lot of comfortable assumptions about the ‘way things are’.
I found this on YouTube. Watch and be amazed. If you are not amazed, please tell me why you are underwhelmed with what you see.
It’s a book of contemporary accounts of people travelling, working, holidaying, and studying in 1930s Germany.
Even after the Night Of The Long Knives, Kristallnacht, and the Nuremberg Laws, people still went there. Some liked the new mood; others hated it.
Many just didn’t let it bother them – the exchange rate was good and the German authorities were keen to present a pleasant face to visitors – so what was not to like?
Time and again, visitors comment on how neat and tidy the roadsides were, how well laid out and picture-perfect the countryside was.
I saw that myself when I first went to Germany as a teenager. It was my first time abroad, and coming back to England and driving up to Leeds I saw what a scruffy country Britain was.
So, as I said, I finished the book. And then I found myself saying something that really surprised me. With all that lebensraum, all that vile attack on the untermensch, all that violence and brutality – but they hadn’t destroyed Nature or attempted to destroy it.
And now, today, there is exactly that going on. Climate change – yes, get up in arms about it. But get up in arms about the destruction of nature. The pollution, the encroachment, the pesticides, the poaching. I can’t forgive that.
Last week, Tamara and I went to the Fashion and Nature exhibition at the V&A in London.
I was in London a couple of weeks before, and Tamara asked me to go and scout out the exhibition, which I did. I thought it was a fashion exhibition, not realising that the thrust of it was the damage that fashion does to the natural world.
The lower floor of the exhibition was about days gone by – about ostrich feathers, and tortoiseshell, humming bird wings, and bear fur.
The upper floor was about the damage that modern processes do, from plastic fibres leaching into the waterways, to the chemicals used to manufacture clothes.
I think we are all inured to the damage done to the living world in days gone by, but the sight of a line of tiny, dead humming birds lying there in the exhibit, got to us.
They were killed many years ago to decorate hats.
So tiny, so defenceless.
The photo here (excuse the phone camera quality in poor lighting) is of a dress decorated with over 5,000 beetle wings and parts of wings from the Indian beetle Stemocera aeqisignata.
Can you see the iridescent green of the decoration? The man in the accompanying video explained that the colour comes from tiny prisms in the wings.
That is why, unlike dyes that fade, the colour is as fresh as the day the wings were plucked from the beetles in the 1860s.
This is a slice through a Nautilus shell. This particular one is in the Zoology Museum in Cambridge, where I photographed it with my iPhone.
I tidied up the reflections and the background, but otherwise, this is a Nautilus shell as the Nautilus made it – except sliced in two.
The Nautilus has ninety tentacles that it waves about in the water to take food that passes. The shell is its home.
It starts out small, and as the Nautilus outgrows the shell it builds a bigger compartment around itself. You can see the little tubes that are its last contact with the compartment it vacates before it seals it off.
The Nautilus builds about 30 compartments during its lifetime. And in doing so it makes this spiral of air-filled compartments.
The compartments that have been sealed off are water tight, which is why a whole Nautilus shell without the creature that lives in it, floats.
I made a joke about the stupidity of Brexit, pointing out that during its life, at no time does the Nautilus abandon its shell in the vague hope that it will find another one as well fitting.
Here though, I just want to talk about the shape of the shell.
There are classical design rules. They are the rules that classical architecture follow. A certain height to a certain width, a certain distance to another certain distance.
Quite the opposite of building economically at the expense of craft and the love the product. That is, building to formula of whatever shape will satisfy the building regulations for the least wastage of plasterboard sheets to line out a room on a housing development…
Some people believe that the reason the classical design rules are as they are is because their appeal is hard-wired into our brains because of the way the world around us is constructed.
Or to put it another way, there is evidence of ‘rules’ of composition throughout nature, and these may explain why an extended form of these rules exists in classical art and design.
The Fibonacci Series in Nature and Classical Design
The Fibonacci mathematical series is simple. Start with the numbers 0 and 1. Add them together. Add the answer to the larger of the two numbers that have just been added. Repeat, and repeat, and repeat. That’s a Fibonacci sequence.
And as the series progresses, two things become apparent.
The first is seen if we construct rectangles with sides that are in the ratios of the series (1:1, 1:2, 2:3, 3:5, 5:8 etc) and set them one on another so that sides of the same length are laid on top of one another. If we then draw a line that curves to follow the corners of the rectangles, it forms a spiral.
And that spiral is the spiral that is echoed in nature – in seashells and fruit and flowers and endless features of the natural world.
The second interesting thing we can see as the series progresses is what happens to the ratio of the larger number to the sum of the larger and smaller numbers,.
In the example above I only got as far as 5:8, but if we keep going, the ratio approaches a number, a fixed ratio. It is that described and used in art and architecture throughout history certainly back to the Ancient Greeks, and which is known as the Golden Section.
Another way to express it is Phi (pronounced Fee), which is 1.618.
Take a length, any length. Divide the length by 1.618. The ratio of that part to the whole is what is called the Golden Section.
Here’s a a yellow rod. The red part if the length of the yellow rod divided by Phi.
The Golden Section is the ratio of the red part to the whole length of the rod.
And that relationship is used over and over in the classical tradition of design in art and architecture.
Turn the two parts of the rod at 90º to one another and we have the proportions of a room, or a picture frame.
Perhaps someone could make a digital camera with a sensor in that proportion.