A traveler without observation is a bird without wings.
– Moslih Eddin Saadi
Travelers these days often meet with “unseasonal” rains, floods, drought, hurricanes, animal migrations, and more as we move about the globe. Sudden stories abound about dramas of climate change affecting creatures with whom we share this planet (See walruses’ plight, sidebar).
On my recent trip to Sri Lanka, I chose to tour at the “best time of year” (no monsoons, rain, and reduced heat) in January. However, because of massive rains and major flooding across the country a few weeks before, my trip turned out a wet one. Hundreds of Sri Lankans had lost their lives, homes, livelihoods, animals, and more. I experienced disrupted weather and roads throughout my three-week stay. I also lived through a major monsoon-like rain in Kandy, the first capital of Sri Lanka (Old Ceylon).
My safari through the Yala National Park lurched over huge watered holes in the dirt roads. The driver assured us the roads usually ran smooth, but “unseasonal rains” had recently washed out the reddish earthen surface. Flooded arenas spotted open areas, serving as watering pools for antelope and birds. Most animals had retreated into the forested areas. We did glimpse one hoopoe, an exquisite crowned bird sitting smack dab in the middle of the pot-holed track. The three-ton jeep jerked to a halt a few feet from the very confident fowl. The bird owned that muddy terrain, showing no fear of massive metal. It wasn’t the leopard I’d hope to see, but it would do. The Yala Preserve has one the highest leopard densities in the world. No such luck as the unexpected deluges weeks earlier dampened chances.
I also missed sighting a humpback or a blue whale, mammals in residence in the waters off southern Sri Lanka. Speaking later with a naturalist-ecologist from Walker Tours in Colombo, I learned why my three-hour whale-watching tour off Mirissa—the teardrop island’s southern tip—witnessed only one calamari (squid), a single lone coconut, and five whale-watching boats bouncing through rough waters. Apparently “unseasonal” rains washed tons of silt off shore. Mud-infested waters pushed the whale staple of krill out past the shipping lanes. Whale-watching tours cruise only to the shipping lanes for safety. Now I understood why my guide had been insistent on being prepared for disappointment at six o’clock in the morning. Prepared for NOT seeing a whale. Mammals and dolphins followed their meals.
Moral of the Story: For me personally, such travel experiences are a sign that I must return to Sri Lanka one day. As travelers, paying attention to climate change and creature science can enhance our journeys.
Every perfect traveler always creates the country where he travels. Nikos Kazantzakis
As sea ice disappears, so may walruses
Pacific walruses require long rests between swim cycles. These hefty marine mammals usually find respite on major pieces of sea ice or on shore. As sea ice chunks decrease, walruses must compete with thousands of other walruses for the same spot of land.
This land grab leads to stampedes of up to 35,000 animals, often killing many by trampling. NOAA—National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration—recently documented such a pandemonium at Point Lay, Alaska. The NOAA photos have “gone viral” at weather.com.
Sea ice also serves the principal area where Pacific walruses give birth—another danger for the species.
We must all stand alert and lobby for our fellow creatures on this ever changing planet.