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Of bees, Beebe, trap guns and tourism

By ANNE HILTON Sunday, June 3 2007

I HAD no idea that mice ate bees before I attended the William Beebe Memorial lecture given by Dr David Reznick at Simla Research Station in the Arima Valley on May 27.

The invitation to attend the lecture, part of the 40th Anniversary Celebrations of the Asa Wright Nature Centre, noted that no less that 308 scientific papers have been published in the past 50 years, since William Beebe first established the Research Station that is now part of the Asa Wright Nature Centre.

Today Simla is but a shadow of its former self, as described by Dr Reznick. Once there were aviaries where scientist could study bird behaviour, ponds — all manner of labs in the living laboratory that is, or was in the days when the research station was the New York Zoological Society’s Tropical Research Station, and before quarrying destroyed, and destroys, much of the natural landscape in the Arima Valley.

The road to Simla and the Asa Wright Nature Centre is atrocious — the fact that the Centre is the prime destination for ecotourists from Europe and North America being of little or no interest to the Ministry of Works and Transport, nor, so it would seem, to the Ministry of Tourism Development.

Edging past backhoes with my wheels almost on the edge of a precipice, repeating the exercise (but without the backhoe) further up the valley, negotiating appalling potholes at around ten kph while following a vehicle driven by someone who obviously knew the road, delayed my arrival at Simla.

While still on the subject of what passes for a road to the Centre, on my return I was, unfortunately (to put it mildly) the first car to lead the procession back to Arima. Obeying the warning to slow at a corner and having, as I thought, passed the danger, on seeing a nice, wide stretch of, admittedly unpaved, road ahead, I went ahead as usual at around 30-40 kph.

When I hit the potholes I’d avoided on the way up, I swear my little Swift was airborne for a split second. Fortunately, she lived up to her reputation as Car of the Year 2005 in five countries in the developed world and was none the worse for that terrifying experience — although I swear it turned my hair a whiter shade of pale.

I shan’t be attending any more 40th Anniversary celebrations at the Centre this year unless I’m given a drop by a kind friend with an ATV.

But, back to Dr Reznick’s lecture, which was an overview of the research work at Simla in the past 50 years. I came in at the point where he showed natural selection at work in cats, mice, bees and plants and the (to me) news that mice eat bees. Thinking that fact through, I suppose bees can’t sting through the thick fur of a mouse. Cats, however, can and do kill mice, my own cats like nothing better than to hunt down and kill any foolhardy mouse — or rat — venturing into my backyard, let alone inside the house.

This explains why, if I had fruit trees in the backyard (which I don’t, I find they’re an open invitation to Cascade’s praedial larcenists) since I have two cats, those trees would bear more fruit than I could eat because local beehives wouldn’t be raided by hungry mice, leaving plenty bees to pollinate my fruit trees.

There was, of course, much more technical scientific information on observations of natural selection at work in Arima today, mostly to do with guppies in our mountain streams.

Lunch at the Centre followed the lecture. As he entered the dining room I was surprised to see Dr Reznick on crutches — until a neighbour at table told me it was while on his way to check out the population of guppies in a small pool in a rivulet flowing in Lalaja Heights that Dr Reznick fell victim to a trap gun ... so much for the idyllic life of a researcher into natural selection in our island “paradise.”

I leave others to comment on that shooting incident in our Republic where reports on what we’re told are our declining crime rates leave no space in the Press for reports of trap guns that cripple those who venture into the bush to study and to enjoy the natural beauty of Trinidad and Tobago.

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