Discovery Channel’s London office is a fishbowl. Glass everywhere. You can see an image of it here.
One day, outside my window, a flock of parakeets landed in the trees.
Parakeets. In West London.
It turns out London is awash with parakeets.
The legend is that either they escaped during the filming of The African Queen at Shepperton Studios or that a few birds were once set free by Jimi Hendrix.
(Sadly it appears wild parrots have been documented in London since 1855. But then at that time you could buy elephants in London. The Victorians loved their wacky pets.)
This idea of ‘London parakeets’ stayed with me for a while. The movement of non-native species into a new environment is fascinating. Already we are seeing an increase of octopus numbers in the waters around southern Britain -where previously it had been too cold. Presumably other marine species aren’t too far behind.
And if London has had its own population of parrots for one and a half centuries, how long before we consider them ‘native’? Where is the cut off point for that? I actually wrote a mediocre 350 word short story for a competition -exactly 350 words including the title- on my lunch break one day about this very idea. (It didn’t even get shortlisted but you can read it here if you like.)
The chaos of species distribution has always been problematic for conservation. For example, polar bears are pretty much just bears. They’ve only been in the Arctic for a few thousand years. I don’t really care about them. If you want me to donate to your Arctic charity tell me something about the plight of the narwhal instead.
“Preserving” an environment for “generations to come” is simply not an option in the twenty first century and it’s likely that it was always an overly simplistic goal. It appears conservation is beginning to embrace this pragmatism. This from a biologist at the University of York:
Another fear is the creation of “unnatural” communities, but this is not particularly relevant in today’s world. A philosophy of conserving communities as they are, or restoring them to some specified or imagined historical state, is no longer credible. The transport of species has already altered biological communities permanently. Whatever we do, species will continue to be moved for agriculture, horticulture, forestry, the pet trade, medicine – and by accident.
I like where this is going. As previously mentioned my default cosmology is “pantheism with sparkles”. If your worldview involves a sacred relationship with the biosphere then at some stage you have to get your head around the realisation that it has no platonic, fixed, “correct” state. Thinking there is an idealised, astral version of the biosphere is a pastoral delusion.
So perhaps instead we can lean into this curve?
It would be safe to say that a majority of totem animals have a physical representation that their human counterparts are at least passingly familiar with. Totem animals can often serve as a way to amplify or enhance your relationship to your immediate environment. This is both fine and worthy. And even when you’re not engaging in this way, animal ‘wisdom’ at its most superficial level is about matching a trait or behaviour displayed in the wild to a lesson in your own life.
But are we missing a trick here?
What wisdom might the hypothetical octopus vulgaris (britannicus) have to offer us? Should we not be looking for wisdom gained from navigating massive upheaval, possibly migrating and ultimately finding success? Are the great white sharks presumably swimming off the coast of Wales right now better teachers for the modern age than a few bears that turned white?
How much of successful adaptation is just persistence, is just hustle? Of being apocryphally set free in Hyde Park by a rockstar and thinking to yourself shit this is a bit fucking cold but I might as well get on with it: let’s build a nest and have lots of sex?
Refugee animal teachers can cultivate within us the number 1 most effective habit. (Click and read. Mandatory. Flawless advice.) And so I present to you London Parakeet:
Totem spirit of thriving during an apocalypse.