In the Holy Bible, in the Book of Genesis, we are told that on the fifth day God created the great whales, all the fishes of the sea, and all the birds of the air. On the sixth day, He made the animals —the cattle and the other creatures of the earth — and on that same day He made man and gave him “dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.”
In the story of evolution, scientists say that after the earth was formed, certain special conditions on it allowed life to spring up. BBC Earth says that in 2016 scientists updated their version of the tree of life. Scientists said that “almost all of the branches are bacteria”, and that “the shape of the tree suggests that a bacterium was the common ancestor of all life.”
How the animals and birds and fishes got here, and how we got here, is debatable, but what is fact is that we are here now, and we human beings have near total dominion over everything that the Creator, or evolution, produced.
Some deep thinker said that we borrow the earth from our descendants, that we are only custodians of the flora and fauna that we meet here, not owners. As custodians it is our duty to pass on to the next generation, in the same or an improved state, that which was passed on to us by our ancestors. Have we been up to the task? Do we get a passing grade? The answer is that we are failing. A number of the members of our environment are not doing well during our watch, and so we must make the effort to do better.
Among the marine creatures, the Nassau grouper, which was once plentiful in our country, is now considered a critically endangered species. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists manatees as a vulnerable species with a rapidly declining population because of “habitat disturbance and degradation, pollution, climate change and increasing tourism.”
On terra firma, our forests are falling to the chainsaw, bulldozers, and axe at an alarming pace, and the existence of two of our most famous species in the wild, our majestic jaguars and our fabulously beautiful scarlet macaws, is seriously threatened. Deforestation for agricultural purposes has significantly reduced the habitat of the jaguars, forcing them to predate on cattle, which exposes them to being shot by farmers protecting their stock. They are also being hunted by the desperate poor, to satisfy the greedy in foreign countries who want the teeth to sport as jewelry.
The extremely endangered scarlet macaws are being hunted to near extinction by desperately poor poachers who sell them to selfish, greedy people who put them in cages to entertain themselves. In times past Belizeans kept the scarlet macaw as pets in cages too, but with greater education, and law enforcement, this practice has diminished.
On the frontline of the battle to save the jaguars and the scarlet macaws is the FCD (Friends for Conservation and Development), an organization that manages the Chiquibul Forest Reserve. The FCD is constantly battling poachers and farmers from Guatemala who encroach on the area to steal animals and birds, and to cut down the prized forest. This year they also had to fight forest fires. The FCD reported that over 22,000 acres of precious forest was decimated by fires, most of which spread into Belize from farms in Guatemala, or were started by farmers from Guatemala who had encroached on our territory to make milpas.
It seems like every week there is some new threat to our environment. Just the other day it was decimation of the beach in Placencia. This week it is construction of another gas station near the coastline in Punta Gorda. The jaguars and scarlet macaws that live here, our forests, our barrier reef and the many species that live there, these are our charge, our responsibility, to preserve for our offspring — the people we are borrowing them from. We need to do a better job.
Heightened awareness trumps false sense of security
On April 17, 2020, the newspaper, Mexico News Daily, reported that use of face masks had been declared mandatory in 11 Mexican states, and in Mexico City, but that while millions of Mexicans had been ordered to wear face masks by their local authorities, it appeared “unlikely that the federal government (would) make their use in public mandatory across the country.” The newspaper said that the country’s Deputy Health Minister, Hugo López-Gatell, had stated that there was “no solid scientific evidence that the widespread use of masks will help to limit the spread of COVID-19”, and that he had cautioned that use of face masks could lull the people into a “false sense of security”, a belief that they weren’t susceptible to infection while wearing face masks, “when in fact they (were).”
It’s possible that Mr. Lopez-Gatell might not have considered all the facts. If we aren’t properly educated about their use and effectiveness, wearing face masks can indeed lead to a sense of false security, but far outweighing that is the heightened awareness when we wear masks. Every time we reach for our face masks we are reminded that even though we went through seven weeks COVID-19- free, the pandemic is still very real and so we must not drop our guard.
We could say that there is face mask dissension in Belize. When we are getting on a bus or going to the store, we don’t have to ask ourselves, “to mask or not to mask”, because it is the law, but there are voices, one of them a top educator, that are strongly suggesting that they would like to see the law mandating face mask use repealed.
At this newspaper we have looked closely at the data supporting the use of face masks when we are in public places and, finding the benefits compelling, and since it is ALWAYS better to err on the side of caution, we have declared our support for the law. We note that the Prime Minister, the Minister of National Security, and the Commissioner of Police always wear their face masks when they make public appearances, and we commend them for leading by example.