Mother Nature Is Snapping Back

The headline caught my eye: “Hippo eats dwarf.”
The news item out of Bangkok reads, “A hippopotamus swallowed a circus dwarf in a ‘freak accident’ in northern Thailand.” Od, the dwarf, bounced sideways from his trampoline and was gulped down by a hippo which, as luck had it, was “yawning” while waiting to appear in the next act.
The vets concluded that Hilda the Hippo suffers from a gag reflex that caused her to gulp poor Od right down. Meanwhile, more than 1000 spectators applauded wildly, apparently believing Hilda’s engorgement of Od was a part of the act.
Like those 1000 misinformed circus-goers, most of humanity is missing Mother Nature’s message. Not me… I’ve concluded that Hilda is just one of Mother Nature’s messengers. Hurricane Katrina was another. When you are paying $1.50 for an orange next month, you might consider that California’s big freeze is yet another missive from “Mom.”
Love him or hate, Al Gore has been running around trying to warn us with his movie, “An Inconvenient Truth.” That truth is that we’re messing with Mother Nature and she’s getting steamed up. More extreme storms, we’re told by our scientists, will be one result. I’ve begun to believe them.
So far, however, neither Gore nor any scientists have warned us of carnivorous hippos. Hilda came as a surprise, not least to Od, who — I predict — will one day be remembered as the first death in the coming clash between mankind and the animals. The National Science Foundation or the Centers for Disease Control or one of the geniuses on our college campuses should have predicted this. Consider the evidence.
• Deer are taking the offensive everywhere. As suburban sprawl and retail malls replace forests and farms, deer have begun hurling themselves at our cars in ever-increasing numbers. When will we recognize that Bambi is Mother Nature’s version of Al Qaida’s suicide bomber?
• As the polar icecap melts, polar bears are ranging ever-farther south. If seals become scarce… well, most Americans now carry about as much blubber as any walrus. Duh.
• All kinds of other critters, from cougars to coyotes, have been quietly expanding their ranges. Wild pigs are popping out of the woods all the way from Oregon in the west to towns like Tamaqua in eastern Pennsylvania.
Given that half of all American homes are currently equipped with an AK-47 or its functional equivalent, we can probably handle these critter-incursions with a minimum of casualties on our side.
The real threat is from Mother Nature’s stealth bombers. Of course, I’m referring to viruses. I just finished reading John M. Barry’s 2004 book, The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History. Most experts put the 1918-19 death toll at somewhere between 20 and 40 million. Barry believes it was several times higher, maybe as high as 100 million. With no Centers for Disease Control in those days, the statistics just can’t tell the whole story.
What we know for sure is that viruses, and especially the flu virus, evolve at a dizzying pace, That’s why last year’s flu shot is no help this year. When a flu virus accomplishes two things — the virulence of the 1918 edition and the ability to leap from person to person — the result will be another pandemic. With six billion-plus people cramming the planet, our species is a sort of smorgasbord, laid out for that bug when it arrives.
When that happens, we’ll know that “Mom” has stopped sending warnings and has gone to war.
Meanwhile, nobody can convince me — or Od, be he in heaven or hell — that Hilda was just yawning. No sir.


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