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Pelicans, Term Paper Example

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Term Paper

Industrialization and the anthropocentric approach to nature can be viewed as the underpinnings of a general ideology that has directly endangered the environment, insofar as the relation of man to nature is one in which the latter is construed as the hegemonic property of the former. Nonetheless, such a relationship to nature has also provoked an ever-growing awareness of ecological issues, as humans attempt to radically re-think this relationship, which is concomitantly a critique of this dominant ideology. Certainly, one of the victims of this ideology is animals, as their natural habitats are threatened by the anthropocentric appropriation of nature as a resource for human civilization. In this regard, information such as endangered species’ lists can be viewed as an intervention into this dominant ideology, attempting to raise consciousness of the very animals that this ideology threatens. The fact that species of pelicans, such as the brown and white pelican, have oscillated back and forth on the endangered species list is an explicit example of how this anthropocentric attitude to the environment negatively impacts specific species. In the case of the pelicans, the negative role of the anthropocentric ideology is explicit, to the extent that industrialization and industrial disasters have contributed to this very endangerment through a disruption of the pelicans’ environmental habitat. As Nelson observes, the plight of the pelicans is clear, insofar as “five of the seven species (great white, Dalmatian, American white, brown and spot-billed have declined this century.” (99) The following essay will explore some of the specific factors for the endangering of pelicans, listing and analyzing the specific reasons for their perilous status, a status that has generally been the result of anthropocentric intrusion into their natural ecosystems.

Pelicans themselves fall within a fairly diverse group of birds, generally classified in as Pelacniformes (Nelson, 5).)The anatomical form of the pelican is homogeneous according to characteristics such as webbed feet toes, closed external nostrils, long and narrow beaks distinguished by a hook at its endpoint, and the stance of an upright posture.  (Cook, 1049) In terms of reproduction, pelicans in general “require a hole or shaded site which can lead to severe competition with concomitant territorial fighting and eviction of chicks.” (Nelson, 6) Accordingly, the environmental requirements of the pelican for breeding are already susceptible to conflict from its own natural habitat environment: the endangered status of the pelicans is underscored by the manner in which industrialization can be said to aggravate the already competitive and resolutely territorial nature of pelicans. In other words, the competition for territory, already fierce in the natural world of the pelicans, is radicalized by the environmental destruction of this territory through human production. It is therefore no surprise that two of the eight pelican species have appeared on endangered lists in North America: The white pelican and the brown Pelican.

The endangered status of the brown pelican is one that appeared to have been amended because of the decisive actions of conservationists and scientists. The brown pelican became a member of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Endangered Species List in 1970. (McKenna) The impact of industrialization, manufacturing and production was crucial to its listing, insofar as the heavy utilization of the pesticide DDT within the typical habitats of the pelican possessed devastating effects, leading to almost all pelicans in the United States being “wiped out.” (McKenna) The consequences were especially depressing in Louisiana, where the brown pelican serves as the national bird: the entire population disappeared. A dedicated conservation program was then set in place, based on a resettlement program which entailed moving birds from the Atlantic Coast region to Louisiana. (McKenna) The program proved successful, as the combination of an awareness of pesticide’s dangers to the brown pelican coupled with an aggressive and well-executed conservation program yielded sixteen thousand nesting pairs by 2004, thus leading to their removal from the endangered list. (McKenna) Nevertheless, the optimism at the brown pelican’s future in the Louisiana region was once again threatened by human action, as the 2009 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico proved devastating. In particular, the oil spill ravaged the breeding grounds of the pelicans, leading to actions by wildlife conservationists, who during the spill were primarily active in washing the birds of the foreign substance. (McKenna) The precise effects of the spill on the brown pelican population, however, are currently unknown, insofar as the Endangered Species Act monitors pelican populations on a five year basis: Federal biologists will use this time period to compile data and make a conclusion. (McKenna) Yet a decrease in population in this area would mean that the pelicans would return to the endangered list, despite the current consistency of populations on both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

Accordingly, the brown pelican’s continued presence either within or on the brink of the endangered species list is clearly the result of particular industrialization practices and a general anthropocentric outlook in business that is ambivalent to the concerns of animals. The utilization of the pesticide DDT and other forms of organocholrine pesticides in the coastlands of Louisana for agricultural purposes possessed the unforeseen consequences of disrupting “calcium deposition in eggshells, which became so thin that they broke when the birds incubated.” (Burger, 158) Moreover, pelicans as a fish-eating bird possess a long life span, such that the toxins from such pesticides were contained within the animals’ fat tissues, thereafter being transmitted to the eggs. As Burger notes, “the pesticides were a two-edged sword, causing adults to lay thin-shelled eggs and exposing embryos to high levels of toxical chemicals.” (148) Accordingly, the aforementioned already fiercely competitive ecosystem of the pelican, one characterized by a struggle for territory that is necessary for nesting and reproduction, was essentially made all the more harsh by the particularly devastating effects of the pesticides on reproduction. Whereas it can be argued that at the time the effects of such pesticides were unknown, such that that the decline of the population was an unexpected corollary of such usage, the near annihilation of the population in the 1970s was a clear example of an anthropocentric ideology that utilized substances without making precedent considerations on possible side effects on the ecosystem, of which the pelican was a clear victim. That the brown pelican was once again endangered by the oil spill of 2009 after its successful removal from the endangered list demonstrates that the precarious position of the animal is directly correlated to human behavior and its lack of concern for the environment: this anthropocentric ideology is yet another obstacle to the pelican’s continued existence as a species.

The North American White Pelican is yet another member of the species who constantly struggles with its extinction according to the negative human impact upon the environment, such that its status on the endangered and protected species’ list fluctuates. The white pelican population, much like the brown pelican, decreased from DDT usage, such that with the outlawing of DDT in 1972, populations experienced an increase.  (Scott, 179) Other causes, however, were prescient. In Ontario and British Columbia, the white pelican was endangered, “largely because of the destruction of the bird’s natural habitat.” (McHugh, 13) Accordingly, the competitive breeding biology and breeding ecology of the animals has been “threatened by the loss or degradation of habitat, especially wetlands.” (Nelson, 89) Nevertheless, as is the case with the brown pelican, subsequent action and monitoring of populations led to the downgrading of this listing in 1991 to that of “no classification of concern.” (Pollution Probe, 13) This fluctuation indicates that the causes for the white pelican decrease can be traced back to the dissolution of its natural habitat by various human activities. The already competitive context of the pelican’s existence is aggravated by an expansionist ideology that continually intrudes into natural habitats, in order to, for example, provide resources for human populations: it is the radical disruption of the pelican’s ecosystem by human actions that threatens its existence. At the same time, insofar as the “white pelican” has been moved from the endangered list, this suggests that the actions of conservationists have been successful, a success that merely underscores the fact that it was human factors which led to the decrease in the white pelican population.

Accordingly, the endangerment of the pelican populations by overwhelming human interventions forces a necessary re-evaluation of the relationship of human beings to the pelicans. As Nelson suggests “man’s main impact has been to reduce the range and numbers of many species and drive some to extinction” (89), such that the author confers with various scientists who contend “that species-extinction on a massive scale has been brought about by man.” (89) In addition, it can be added that the radical fluctuation in the endangered status of the pelicans clearly upholds such a thesis, insofar as conscious conservation efforts have led to population increases. It is the fact that conservationists have been able to replenish pelican populations which helps us discern an etiology for their continued disappearance: Insofar as “managing their breeding habitat, including control of pests and disturbance and the regulation of fisheries” (Nelson, 91) is a method for protection, it is precisely the incursion into these same breeding habitats in the various aforementioned forms that continually threatens the birds. Such a radical fluctuation in the status of the pelicans indicates hat it is precisely the aforementioned ideologies of industrialization and production that has led to the inconsistency of their safety. Whereas the efforts of conservationists have proven to be clearly successful, the fragility of the pelican environment to human action is witnessed by the sudden threat to the brown pelican after the 2009 oil spill. In this regard, it is not merely enough to re-think conservation techniques, as years of painstaking work may be annulled in an instance. Rather, a greater ideological commitment is needed to re-think the relationship of man and nature as a whole, an action, which of course, is easier stated than accomplished.

Works Cited

Nelson, Pelicans, Cormorants and Their Relatives: Pelacanidae, Sulidae, Phalacrocoracidae, Anhingidae, Fregatidae, Phaethontidae, Oxford University Press, 2005, Oxford.

Cook, Pelicans, in: A. Hilyard (Ed.) Endangered Wildlife and Plants of the World, Marshall Cavendish Corporation, Tarrytown, NY, 2001, pp. 1049-52.

McKenna, How Endangered are the Gulf’s Brown Pelicans? New Scientist, June 11, 2010, United States. http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn19035-how-endangered-are-the-gulfs-brown-pelicans.html. Accessed on September 30, 2011.

Burger, A Naturalist Along The Jersey Shore, New Brunswick, NJ, Rutgers University Press, 1996.

Hughes, Conservation is Good Business, The Rotarian, December 1987, pp. 12-17.

Scott, Endangered Animals of Florida and Their Habitats, Austin, TX, University of Texas Press, 2004.

Pollution Probe, The Probe Post, University of Toronto/Energy Probe/Pollution Probe Foundation, 1991.

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