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About the Author

Johan Knols
Blogger, safari specialist, professional wildlife guide (Woerden, Netherlands)

Johan Knols is the owner of the planyoursafari blog. He studied tourism in the Netherlands and has been working in the African tourism industry for nearly 15 years. Starting as lodge manager in the Serengeti in Tanzania, he eventually owned his own mobile safari company in Botswana. Johan received his professional wildlife- guides licence in 1998 and was awarded the title of Honorary Wildlife Officer with the Botswana Wildlife and National Parks authority in 2005. During his time in Africa he has managed upmarket safari lodges and has done overland trips in the luxury and semi-luxury sector. At the moment he is a full-time blogger giving tips and advices on everything related to African safaris.



Published 04th May 2010 - 25 comments - 3573 views -

Evolution in reverse

It’s hairy, black, extremely social and sometimes behaves like a macho. It prefers mountainous terrain, makes a new ‘bed’ nightly and its future is very bleak. War, poaching, deforestation and spread of (human) disease are a constant threat. No, being an Eastern Gorilla used to be fun, but it’s not anymore.

No wonder that on the 29th of April 2010, ScienceMagazine published a report that concluded that our government’s promise to ‘slow down loss of biodiversity’, and in some cases even halting it by 2010, has failed. A promise that was made in 2002 and incorporated as target 2 in the Millennium Development Goal 7.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has produced a Red List of Threatened Species™. An impressive piece of work that is accompanied by a nine minute video (!?) about how the site can be used.

Just out of curiosity I searched for ‘apes’. Happiness, that the site works and delivered seven results, turned into unhappiness as I started reading. Out of the seven ape species on our planet, six have a population trend of ‘decreasing’, of which two are ‘critically endangered’ and the other four ‘endangered’. The one and only ape of apes that is on the ‘increase’: Homo Sapiens(Human).

To find out how formidable the task of slowing biodiversity loss really is, we go back to our black hairy friends living high on the mountains in the Congo and which we will use as an example.

You are stuffed if you live in the DRC warzone: soldiers and rebels alike use natural resources (gold, tin and coltan (for your cellphone!)) to finance their deadly games. Even trees are used to earn an extra income by ‘taxing’ trucking companies that bring the logs to East African harbors, from where they will be shipped to do-good-countries in western Europe. And as if your habitat is not disappearing fast enough, hordes of peasants are helping its destruction by making (illegal) charcoal. Where to start solving the problem?
For the full, very well done, e-book story on Environmental Crime and Conflict in the Congo Basin click here.

But it is not only under circumstances of war that our biodiversity is under threat. Even when you as a tourist have preservation in mind and stay in the wrong hotel, you are creating problems. As can be seen from the threat to the Damara Tern (coastal bird) in Namibia, created by the construction of, believe it or not, an Eco-Village!

And it is not only Africa having problems. Also closer to home we know how to play the destructive card. The Mediterranean Sea will host as much (wild)life as your bathtub if nothing gets done. Whether MED POL and its 21 members can really make a change still has to be seen.

And outside my Dutch window?
I haven’t seen a house sparrow in the last three years in my gutter. Only its future.

We, ape of apes, are not really good at solving problems of biodiversity. Even when we have set the new date to curb them for 2020.

We will see in the coming ten years if we manage. We must just hope that future generations will not have to look back on us as “those arrogants calling themselves ‘Homo Sapiens’”. Because if biodiversity ever gets written as bioDIEversity, we only deserve the dubious title of ‘Homo Erectus’.

We might even end up with the words ‘critically endangered’ behind us on the Red List of Endangered Species™.


Do you, as I do, believe that this video is not strong enough, that it is too soft for such an important issue as biodiversity, then what should it look like to drive the message home before 2020?



  • Giedre Steikunaite on 04th May 2010:

    bioDIEversity is exactly what it is, Johan! Acknowledging the sadness of the situation, I cannot help but chuckle at the irony of this re-written word! smile

    I was suspicious straight away after founding out this was a year of biodiversity - are you joking? The ape of apes doesn’t like to share its playground, it wants all the other kids to get out of it so that the ape of apes can have some fun.

    Johan, thank you for this post.

  • Giedre Steikunaite on 04th May 2010:

    Oh, and this setting up of new deadlines… What ensures the same thing won’t happen again? Maybe in 2020 we’ll find ourselves putting new nice slogans like “Save the Earth until 2050!”. And then “2100!”, until there is nothing more to save.

  • Johan Knols on 05th May 2010:

    Hi Giedre,

    I am happy that at least I could bring a smile on your face.

    The problem with trying to solve major world issues is that we are dealing with 6,5 billion individuals who have a feeling they can’t improve the situation on their own.

    Secondly, I start to feel that all experts, scientists and civil servants should start to write in layman’s terms about the problems facing us. Personally I can’t keep my eyes open when I read one scientific (UN)article after the other. No wonder nobody wants to listen to the way these guys all speak. Is this also the reason why the general public is not really interested in our problems?

  • Pieter Kat on 05th May 2010:

    Hi Johan:

    A good post. I wonder if a bunch of people wearing suits and sitting at a Biodiversity conference will make any difference - we have had similar meetings recently on climate change (also responsible for loss of biodiversity) and the Doha CITES meeting (no action on some increasingly endangered species involved in trade).

    Biodiversity is a strange concept to begin with - few people really understand what it means, and the arguments for maintaining it are equally fuzzy. Unfortunately, Homo sapiens is not sapient enough, and we value biodiversity only as a means of how it can help us - new pharmaceutical products from the plants in the forest that might help to cure cancer, a new potato species that could grow in the desert and feed everyone, and a new fish from Lake Tanganyika that can become important in the aquarium trade. A frog species goes extinct in South America? The dodo is extinct? There are no more quaggas and bluebucks? Thousands of species (that mean nothing to us anyway, bunch of beetles and other crawly things, yuk) go extinct per year? Loss of biodiversity affects the health of ecosystems? Ninety-nine percent of the audience is now asleep or filing out the door. Jesse James has had affairs while married to Sandra Bullock? Now there is a stampede to regain their seats. 

    Another prickly issue is that Homo nonsapient has been directly and indirectly involved in loss of biodiversity for many thousands of years. There are good studies done on the disappearance of whole faunas on Pacific islands that correlate well with when they were colonized by humans for example. And then there is the indirect problem of human-mediated introductions of invasive species that threaten endemic flora and fauna. Rats are a prime example, but so are introduced plants, insects, etc. And then we have let loose a great diversity of species we have selectively bred for our purposes - cattle, goats, sheep, pigs, chickens - they feed us, but you have seen first-hand the destructive effect that over 4 million cows, goats, sheep, and donkeys (2003 figures) have had on fragile environments in Botswana. 

    And then we know from the fossil record that there were many mass-extinction events long before humans even appeared, known as the “Big Five”. Devastating effects on life on earth, see

    We are now well along into mass extinction number six, and for the first time this is not caused by asteroids hitting the earth, volcanic eruptions that make Iceland look microscopic by comparison, etc. This extinction cycle can be placed squarely in the lap of one species. The average “lifespan” of a mammalian species is about 1-2 million years from fossil record evidence. Homo sapiens has only been around for maybe 150,000 years, but our population growth, ever increasing rates of resource use, destruction of environments,and poisoning of the atmosphere might mean that we could just be a flash in the pan. But we will take many species to extinction with us when we go, except perhaps cockroaches and the species living at the deep sea vents.

    We are the cause, and let’s hope that we can also be the solution. Like the people in Greece, this might mean we have to accept austerity measures to make up for past excesses.

  • Johan Knols on 06th May 2010:

    Hi Pieter,

    Thanks for your comment and especially the interesting link to the Big 5 mass-extinctions.

  • Giedre Steikunaite on 06th May 2010:

    Homo nonsapiens! Oh this is great. I’m gonna borrow these terms, OK?

    Johan, I agree, guys (males mostly) in suits are completely disconnected. It’s weird when you see some exciting person talking passionately about an issue, and everybody listening and clapping. The others don’t follow for some reason, even though clearly that’d be of major advantage and they’d reach more audiences. One can argue it’s not their job to be interesting as long as they’re accurate, but then again I believe if one has no passion for what they’re doing, it’s not worth it.

    Being the cause, we definitely have to be the solution, unless cockroaches decide to take matters into their own hands and do it for us (now that’s not what we want is it).

  • Pieter Kat on 06th May 2010:

    Hi Johan:

    Here is your next big challenge. We must all work together to organize an Environmental Blogger Conference. I’m serious about this. Having read very many posts, these are all well-informed people from a diversity of backgrounds with new ideas and new ideals. No suits, no fancy receptions, just good issues. It might start small, but the diversity of opinions represented might just be the wedge we all need to break down the wall of current complacency.

  • Johan Knols on 07th May 2010:

    @Giedre and Pieter,

    As we all agree upon, the most important thing we are speaking about is money. Money talks, money makes the world go round.
    With the financial crisis we are facing, peoples minds are not with bioDIEversity, they are not busy with sustainABSENTability. No, they are more concerned about whether or not they will be getting their pension or whether the Greek crisis will all drag us into a financial abyss.
    Making steps back in order to preserve biodiversity is an illusion. It would take a proper catastrophy to wake people up. Why worry about the disappearance of a butterfly you have never seen?

  • Johan Knols on 07th May 2010:

    Another species in trouble: the Cheetah
    For a video interview with Laurie Marker see the PlanYourSafari blog:

  • Hemant Jain on 09th May 2010:

    Johan, this is outstanding stuff. I am inspired to write about India after reading your post.
    Just on house sparrows, they are declining everywhere. But I recently saw some signs of a small revival in Paris and Italy. Also saw a couple, just a couple in London.
    In India, they are in a bad shape. But we are writing about them and making people do their bit. You would love to see this:
    I am also surprised that in the year of Biodiversity, the govts are promoting GMOs. Wouldn’t that kill biodiversity? But do we care?

  • Giedre Steikunaite on 09th May 2010:

    Johan, there is something seriously wrong with homo nonsapiens if we need a proper disaster to wake us up. Why can’t we do things right in the first place?

  • Johan Knols on 10th May 2010:


    Thanks for the link!


    If I had the solution to your question I would tell you…
    Growth, growth, growth and more growth. That is what our leaders want. And those are the leaders we vote for. We don’t want to step back, only forward. That we are slowly strangling ourselves is a ‘little sacrifice’ that we have to bring for growth!

  • Bart Knols on 12th May 2010:

    @Pieter. This is a very, very good suggestion that should be conveyed to EJC. You are proposing TH!NK4 here… a first. TH!NK4 with a focus on the environment and sustainability would be marvellous, what do others th!nk?

  • David Dugmore on 18th May 2010:

    Hi Johan,
    I thought this simple little story below explains humanity very well ...funny but sadly its the truth…

    “Little boy goes to his dad and asks, ‘What is Politics?’

    Dad says, ‘Well son, let me try to explain it this way:

    I am the head of the family, so call me The President. Your mother is the administrator of the money, so we call her the Government. We are here to take care of your needs, so we will call you the People.  The nanny, we will consider her the Working Class. And your baby brother, we will call him the Future.  Now think about that and see if it makes sense.’  So the little boy goes off to bed thinking about what Dad said.

    Later that night, he hears his baby brother crying, so he gets up to check on him. He finds that the baby has severely soiled his diaper. So the little boy goes to his parent’s room and finds his mother asleep. Not wanting to wake her, he goes to the nanny’s room. Finding the door locked, he peeks in the keyhole and sees his father in bed with the nanny.  He gives up and goes back to bed.

    The next morning, the little boy says to his father, ‘Dad, I think I understand the concept of politics now.’

    The father says,  ‘Good, son, tell me in your own words what you think politics is all about.’

    The little boy replies,  ‘The President is screwing the Working Class while the Government is sound asleep.  The People are being ignored and the Future is in deep sh*t.”

  • Johan Knols on 18th May 2010:

    Hello David,

    Thanks for adding a little bit of humor to this very serious topic.
    But I guess the joke is not far of from reality.

  • Daniel Hudon on 19th May 2010:

    Dear Johan,
    Nice post. I think part of the problem is that too many people think they can’t do anything. They also think that the extinction of some animal or plant halfway around the world won’t affect them. Anyone who is now tuning into the International Year of Biodiversity has to start tuning others into the fact that every action and every dollar spent has an effect. At Boston University last month we organized an Ecolympics—a week of sustainability-oriented actions to raise awareness for the human footprint on the environment. Events ranged from using a re-usable cup and shopping bag to taking shorter showers, recycling, eating less meat, eating locally and so on. Though we were limited in our advertising, we got 200 people to sign up, including some from other universities and even some friends and family beyond the US.

    Of course, the Ecolympics needs to run every day of the year, with everybody participating, but hey, it’s a start…

    And, yes, people in suits aren’t going to change things. We, the masses, must get it into our minds that we’re consuming too many natural resources and that it’s have serious, detrimental effects on ecosystems, some of which can be portrayed as houses of cards, and if too many species die, the whole thing collapses.

    So, if in the joke above, the people are being ignored (it’s entirely possible given the deep pockets of large corporations for advertising)
    then we’re going to have to start shouting louder.

  • Daniel Hudon on 19th May 2010:

    ps. here’s our link, just in case:

  • Johan Knols on 20th May 2010:

    Hello Daniel,

    Thanks for your comment and the link to the great initiative you guys organized.
    To come back to your last sentence, I wonder if shouting louder makes a difference (throwing rocks and firebombs also never work) but shouting more and with increasingly bigger crowds will help. And that is exactly what initiatives like yours are doing. Awareness, awareness and more awareness. That the rate in which things are changing is way too slow is also a pain in the neck to me.
    Remember the guy withstanding tanks at the Tiananmen Square? Everybody in the world knows what happened there and he didn’t (at least not audible) utter a word. We have to start looking for action like that when trying to save our bioDIEversity.

  • Daniel Hudon on 04th June 2010:


    Good point about the guy at Tiananmen… I agree, we have to start looking for more creative actions to speed up the awareness. Earlier this year, I saw a guy who wrote a song a day and published it on Youtube… that was a good idea. And I found the documentary “Food Inc.” very persuasive. It’s daunting to try to compete with the tidal wave of consumer advertising to buy, buy, buy, but somehow we have to start changing the message.

  • Johan Knols on 05th June 2010:

    Hi Daniel,

    Good that you mention consumer advertising (CA). Lets compare that with the advertising to save the biodiversity (AB).
    The CA gives a consumer a happy message, a feel good message. The AB is often highlighting a negative aspect, something consumers don’t like to hear.
    The trick is now to change the AB in such a way that it gives consumers a similar feeling as in CA.
    What could be done?

  • Daniel Hudon on 05th June 2010:

    Hi Johan,

    Some negative advertising does work: for example, the anti-smoking campaigns and the don’t litter campaigns (though this latter one was backed up by large fines for littering highways).

    I don’t think there needs to be a uniform marketing strategy… it’s about awareness and sometimes the message goes better with humor and sometimes it just needs to be a little harder hitting.

    Come to think of it, I’d like to see an ad featuring a troupe of orangutans moving into a downtown and razing buildings because they want to erect a new forest, or an ad with an oil derrick dropped into the middle of an affluent neighborhood.

    Ultimately, we’re going to have to start knocking on doors to get a new message out, like they do for election campaigns…

  • Johan Knols on 07th June 2010:

    I like your example of apes trying to build a new forest.|
    We do have a problem though and that is that wherever people make money, they tend to forget that the loss of biodiversity is eventually going to catch up. A good example of this we can see right now with the oil-spill in the USA.
    Only when those with influence start to see the light, will we be able to start moving in the right direction.
    On Wednesday we have national elections in the Netherlands. Yet, due to the economical crisis, we only have one party that has the guts to speak about new opportunities in sustainability and long term Green efforts. That party is a left wing party. Those on the right haven’t dared to use the G-word (although they must see the problems in 10-15 years to come).

  • Giedre Steikunaite on 07th June 2010:

    Daniel, good one about the orangutans taking over a city! It could be adapted to particular cities, say, one gang of orangutans come over to London and wipe out the City, the financial district, forcing banksters to flee, another gang visit San Paolo and decide they like it enough to build their factories of trees there. smile

    Johan, I’m pessimistic about those in power seeing the light. They keep on reporting about the damage of the oil spill to BP image and their share prices, as if turtles, shrimps and pelicans give a damn about it.

  • Johan Knols on 07th June 2010:


    You are not pessimistic about those in power seeing the light, you are just frustrated with the speed in which this is happening. 50 years ago hardly anybody spoke about environment and biodiversity. That has changed dramatically, albeit slow.
    Human greed will always be here at the cost of wildlife.

  • Giedre Steikunaite on 07th June 2010:

    Both, Johan, both.

    The speed of change has to adapt to the changing circumstances, otherwise the process goes out of control. If today more species are in danger and we are killing them faster and faster, there should be accordingly more effort to stop it. And yes, human greed will always be there at the cost of wildlife. Greed and ignorance.

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