9 October 2008
What a pity the human race seems intent on destroying the world around us. We share the planet with animal, bird, insect and plant species. I sometimes shudder to imagine what would happen if alien species more sophisticated than the human race landed from outer space and treated us in the way we treat our relatives in the animal kingdom.
For it is a joy and an excitement to be in the company of some of these beautiful creatures. I am by nature intensely curious and despite blurred eye sight still am very observant. Some years ago I was down in the west of Ireland passing through Gort and decided to pay a visit to Lady Gregory’s old house at Coole Park. Walking down towards a little lake I went through a patch of woodland with tall trees. I noticed activity up in the crown of the trees and spotted a pair of small cat like animals. I went to the Ranger and said “I have just been down in the woods and seen a couple of little animals that looked a bit like cats in the top of the trees, I didn’t know quite what they were and wondered if you could tell me. Could they possibly be cats?” The Ranger looked back at me and said “Well you lucky bugger. From your description there is no doubt they were Pine Martens. I have been here for fourteen years and I have never seen them. You just stroll past on your way back to Dublin and they all come out to say hello.” It reminded me a little bit of the chocolate ad for kit kat when the poor photographer waits and waits and waits for the Pandas to make their appearance, the minute he turns his back they come out, do a dance routine and disappear again.
It was the same forty years ago or so when I was walking in the west of Ireland with a pal from Trinity Tony Hanahoe later to become famous as the Captain of the Dublin GAA football team. We went over to Inishbofin and were presented with a choice, a lobster lunch for 10 shillings (50p) in Mrs. Days Hotel or an opportunity to go shark fishing. Naturally enough I chose the lobster and equally naturally Tony chose the manly pursuit of the shark. I thoroughly enjoyed my lobster and set out for a stroll ending up on a headland. I lay there gazing into the waters of a small bay and was rewarded by the sight of a school of basking sharks disporting themselves in the water. When I met up with Tony again on the boat home it transpired he’d hadn’t even got a glimpse of the big fish and I had both my lobster and a good gawk at the monster of the deep.
My mother was also something of a nature watcher. She spent the happiest twenty or more years of her life in Central Africa. In 1930 she hopped straight from Laois to Africa with my father stopping only to get married at 8 o’clock in the morning in St. Anne’s Church in Dawson Street. In the beginning they were out in the bush and it was my mother’s delight to charm the animals and make friends with them. Some of them whom she had more or less domesticated she brought back with her when she returned on leave. Her state room in the old steam liners used to be full of these little creatures. On one occasion she brought back the first Herman’s Potto in captivity and I have a picture of it which appeared on the front page of the London Evening Standard sometime in the 1930s. She brought it back and presented it to Julian Huxley who was head of the London Zoo and a pal of hers. For this she was rewarded with life membership of the London Zoo.
Now I have my second home in Cyprus, and I still enjoy the beauties of nature in all its seasons. I go there in the Spring to revel in the splendid outburst of wild flowers. There are no less than sixty different kinds of orchids on the small island of Cyprus. A year or two ago I was just driving into the entrance of my village when in a field on the left hand side I noticed a violent slash of colour, formed by literally thousands of wild miniature gladioli.
Cyprus also has its own diminutive little Scops Owls which serenade me on autumn evenings as they swoop over the roofs of the village and I have also stood in wonder at the majestic soaring flight of the Bonelli Eagle. Swimming by moonlight in the bay at Avdimou I have been buzzed by a curious pair of Eleanora’s Falcons. There are hares and foxes but my favourite is the little Cyprus hedgehog. To them the new tarmac roads of Cyprus have become the ballrooms of romance upon which, with a suicidal disregard for the traffic, they promenade themselves at night. It is glorious to be a part of this complex reality of nature and to realise that in a place like Cyprus a mere ten thousand years ago I could have rubbed shoulders, twinned trunks or locked horns or whatever the appropriate metaphor is with the Pigmy Elephant or the Pigmy Hippopotamus.
How glorious and how rich this planet we have inherited is and how sad as I said in the beginning that we are depleting its richness at such a rate. This is why it is such a joy to be a supporter of the Seal Sanctuary which does so much to reach out in friendship to our animal kith and kin.
Senator David Norris