Published in Tiny Spoon Issue 5: Ecology in 2020.
If you act like that bee acts, uh uh. You’re working too hard. – “Bare Necessities,” The Jungle Book
Birds screamed like they knew something we didn’t—maybe some of us knew, and liked to pretend we didn’t.
I would be annoyed with us humans too; I would shit on someone every time I flew.
No wonder the cassowaries want to claw us alive. A bird clawing a human alive? you ask incredulously. Cassowaries are five feet tall—that’s how tall I am. Be careful you don’t run into a protective mother somewhere out in the jungle.
They must be related to Australia’s other huge bird: the emu, the world’s second-tallest bird, after the ostrich. Emus grow to be six feet tall. In 1932, the government of Australia declared war on the emus, The Great Emu War.
The emus won.
We went to Bali for spring break. It was a short 4-hour plane trip away. We were excited, especially because the country is really cheap to visit.
One day we included the Monkey Forest in our schedule. Our other friends wouldn’t go because monkeys are creepy.
In the Monkey Forest, you have to put all your belongings away. They steal sunglasses, glasses, hats—really anything they can grab and run with.
I saw a few playing with a water bottle, as if it were the world’s greatest treasure.
Monkeys in Costa Rica howl, staying true to their name: howler monkey. These ones didn’t steal from us. They posed for pictures in tree branches.
My brother caught a photo through a telescope of this one tiny monkey.
I swear in those eyes, I saw the knowledge of deforestation. That monkey was thinking of homes stolen, turned into power lines.
Maybe the sea doesn’t count as the jungle. But whenever I’ve been in a rainforest, a beach has always been close by.
In Bali, we visited a sea turtle sanctuary and held a hatchling in our hands. I posted a photo of a hatchling in my hand with the caption: Welcome to this terrible, beautiful world.
I thought my words were poetic.
We bought hatchlings to release into the ocean. On the way from the sanctuary to the sea, I rode on the back of my cute friend’s moped, no helmet on. We passed cows, gazing at them as we zoomed by.
One of our tiny turtles wouldn’t stop turning around and swimming back to shore. As if the turtle was thinking, I’m not ready.
Did that baby sea turtle know that swimming away from the shore would be swimming into a terrifying future? Only 1 in 1,000 hatchlings survive to adulthood.
Sea turtles are endangered. Maybe because of all the plastic they’re choking on. Or all the boats that cut their bodies in half. Or the fact that they all have herpes and don’t want to reproduce because of the pain.
I can’t stop wondering if that baby sea turtle instinctively knew that it would be better to stay on shore than to swim out to sea.
Once we rode on a boat in a crocodile farm to see the salties up close.
Salties are the last animal I would ever want to run into in my entire life. They immediately send your body into their signature move: the death roll. It should be called the spin of death. The worst part is, they only eat your arm, leaving the rest of your body to rot.
One day my friends went to a beach, and the next day we saw on the news that a huge saltie was spotted swimming at the same beach they were swimming at.
One time on the news we saw the title: Tourist Killed By Crocodile. They only found her clothes torn up at the shore, the rest of her body was gone entirely.
Up close, we could see how huge they were. How hard their jaws snapped when they were hungry.
Seeing them so close validated my intense fear of them. But it also made me see them as beautiful. They are dinosaurs that can survive anything this Earth goes through.
I hope at least the crocodiles make it,
when if anything really bad ever happens to the rest of us.
How many miles does the Great Barrier Reef stretch across? I guess that’s a complicated question. Do we include only the part that’s alive now, or the parts that were alive in the past?
Two-thirds of the Great Barrier Reef is dead. And that fraction grows by the day.
I know the Reef is large enough to be seen from outer space. It’s the largest living organism on the planet.
Google says the Reef is 1,600 miles long. I’m bad at math or else I would write how many miles two-thirds of that number is. Knowing the exact number would up the drama factor and the shock level.
But all you need to know is that our seas are too acidic, too warm, too salty, and they don’t have enough oxygen. The ocean soaks up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and it’s killing the life that lives below the waves.
I went snorkeling; I was so excited swimming out, but when I looked in my goggles, all I saw was white. The Reef was colorless.
Six months later, my mom and I went to a healthy part of the Reef. We had to travel on a huge boat to get there, ironically.
I put on sunscreen even though I knew it kills the Reef—the ozone hole above Australia made me burn easily, and I burn bad, and I’m afraid of skin cancer—I felt guilty the entire time.
Elephants aren’t in all jungles. They’re not in Australia because of the megafaunal extinction that killed or dwarfed all large mammals on the entire continent.
Luckily, there are elephants in Bali. While we were there, we went to an elephant sanctuary. I think they call them sanctuaries just to attract tourists by fooling us into thinking the facility is beneficial to the animals.
We researched the sanctuary and it seemed pretty reputable. Hell, even The Crocodile Hunter recommended tourists go there because it is ethical.
At the sanctuary, the elephants danced like they were happy. They hugged the workers with their trunks, balanced on beams, painted, did math, shot basketballs into hoops, and even more that I can’t remember—or maybe I just don’t want to remember.
I thought it was cool at the time; I even took videos and posted them on social media.
Later that night, my friend told me, You know they abuse the elephants to get them to perform those humiliating tasks, right?
I didn’t know. I didn’t read about it. I didn’t think about it. I didn’t consider why that one elephant was chained to the ground by the foot.
I don’t mind snakes that much. Australia has 8 of the top 10 most poisonous snakes in the world, yet I still chose to study there. I never really saw snakes when I was in the jungle, but I was often tricked by twisted branches.
I’m not that scared of snakes. I know they don’t want to hurt people unless people want to hurt them. They mostly leave us alone entirely, only looking for small prey they can eat—I learned that in class. I also learned that the most dangerous snakes in Australia are the ones that are an unsuspecting color, like brown or black. The bright, neon-colored snakes are the ones that are harmless.
When my friend brought a python into our apartment, I found that in real life, I am very much afraid of snakes. My roommates and I yelled at Wyatt to get the python out of our apartment.
Holding the snake around his neck, Wyatt insisted, But look, it’s so cool!
When I slowed down, I realized it did look peaceful. Instead of squeezing desperately to suffocate Wyatt like I once watched on Animal Planet, the snake looked relaxed. Comfortable. Happy.
I never saw many bees in the jungle—except in Costa Rica, where they hovered over our beers and piña colidas—but that’s precisely the problem: they aren’t around much anymore.
That Black Mirror episode where the government creates electronic bees to pollinate the plants because all the bees went extinct is looking closer to reality as the days fly by.
African honey bees adapt and evolve very quickly, and they’re essentially taking over many other continents. In ecology, invasive species are seen as a huge negative, but in this case, it’s a positive.
African honey bees are surviving even in the face of pesticides, climate change, loss of habitat, habitat fragmentation, parasites, and pathogens. The bees really have a lot going against them.
I took a pollination class in college, and we learned 90% of bees worldwide are dead. The African honey bees, in my mind, are a sign God might exist.
When we sing “The Bare Necessities” from The Jungle Book into microphones at karaoke—which happens often—I always think of the accuracy of that lyric Baloo sings: If you act like that bee acts, uh uh. You’re working too hard. Bees really do work hard.
They bring us the bare necessities. The bare necessities of life will come to you. Only if the bees exist.
They bring us all our fruits and vegetables, adding flavor and nutrition into our lives. They make all the other animals and plants on Earth function; they are the soul of the ecosystem.
We all rest on the shoulders of tiny, hardworking bees.
Next time you see a bee, think of all the times they filled your belly with food. Think of what life would be like without them—think of how lifeless this place would be.