BOOKS: Arapawa — Once Upon an Island

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, October 2001:
Arapawa–Once Upon An Island by Betty Rowe
Halcyon Press (C.P.O. Box 360, Aukland, New Zealand), 1988. 186
pages, paperback.
How to order Arapawa– Once Upon An Island is a mystery.
<Amazon.com> has no record of either the title or the author–but we
know that Betty Rowe and her book exist, as for several years we
have been sending ANIMAL PEOPLE to Rowe c/o the Arapawa Wildlife
Sanctuary, Lily Valley, Private Bag, Picton 412, New Zealand.
Several months ago she responded, sending an e-mail, which
arrived without a return address, and a copy of the book. Though 13
years old, the book so directly addresses current ecological issues
that it might have been written yesterday.


“We live on an island in the Marlborough Sounds, at the top
of the South Island,” Rowe explained in her e-mail. “We moved to
New Zealand 30 years ago, and have lived on the island for 28 of
those years. We were delighted to find wild goats, sheep, and pigs
running around. Because of the unusual markings on the sheep, we
finally managed to get some scientists to have a look at them. The
scientists were excited about the sheep,” an ancient Spanish variety
descended from animals left by Captain James Cook in 1777, “but when
they saw the goats and pigs, they had a fit. They called for the
extermination of the animals,” whose placement on Arapawa was less
clearly mentioned by Cook in his journals, “and we got into a very
heavy situation with the powers that be,” including three round-ups
of goats for export to private property on the mainland just before
government gunners arrived to kill them.
“My research brought to light the fact that the goats were of
the Old English breed, now extinct in England,” Rowe said. “The
pigs are exactly like those found on Ossawbaw Island off the coast of
Georgia. We started a sanctuary to protect the goats and pigs, and
the Rare Breeds Trust of New Zealand has taken an interest in their
survival. The Department of Conservation does not lend us any
support. We fund it all ourselves.
“Also in the bay where we live are the extremely rare
Hector’s dolphins,” Rowe mentioned. “There is a small pod of about
40, with five births last year. We are trying to have our bay made
into a Hector’s dolphin sanctuary, ” as otherwise a proposed mussel
farm could ruin the habitat.
There is currently just one protected site for Hector’s
dolphins, elsewhere along the South Island coast. They have no
protected habitat along the North Island, whose resident pod has
fewer than 100 members. Protecting the waters around Arapawa would
seem to be a logical way to ensure that in the event of catastrophe
hitting the existing sanctuary, such as an oil tanker sinking
nearby, Hector’s dolphin would not go extinct.
But this would oblige the New Zealand Department of
Conserv-ation to recognize the concerns and expertise of the Rowe
family, three generations of whom now reside nearby, after
emigrating from New Jersey when Betty Rowe’s sons and daughter were
in their early teens.
Rowe thought at first that the “Knowledgeables,” as she
mocks them, could be dissuaded from their zeal to kill the goats and
pigs merely by proving the animals’ rarity and longtime coexistence
with the Ara-pawa native wildlife. Later she hoped public opinion
and protest could do it –or a change of parties in power.
But as Farley Mowat wrote in Never Cry Wolf (1959), and Rowe
quotes, “Whenever and wherever men engage in the mindless slaughter
of animals (including other men), they attempt to justify their acts
by attributing the most vicious or revolting qualities to those they
would destroy. The less reason there is for the slaughter, the
greater the campaign of vilification.”
“‘Exotic’ is a label created to discriminate against a
species. It is racism in natural history,” recently wrote
Evolutionary Ecology Research Journal editor Michael Rosenzweig, who
is a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University
of Arizona. His remarks have created quite a stir among the
Knowledge-ables. But Rowe saw that at least 25 years ago. It was
her own struggle to adapt to New Zealand as an “introduced species,”
she believes, that sensitized her to the plight of the feral
animals. Eventually she also saw similar discrimination in the
processes of denial that allowed her family to raise domestic sheep
and eat meat, while trying to save the rare breeds, so she left the
family business, at great emotional cost, and became a vegetarian.
The feral livestock of Ara-pawa are vilified as scapegoats
for all the damage done by the ranched herds of the mainland–like
the feral cats of Macquarie Island, now exterminated, and Ascension
Island, soon to be exterminated, under a plan pushed by the
Baroness Scotland of Asthal and the Royal Society for the Protection
of Birds; like the tahrs of interior New Zealand and Table Mountain,
South Africa; and like countless other feral species on other
islands and mainland “island habitats.”
In each instance, conservationists hope that if feral
species are extirpated, scarce native species will recover.
Sometimes this happens. Yet often the real reason for the loss of
the native species turns out to be that the island habitats were just
their last refuge at the least hospitable edge of their former range,
after the rest was cultivated or developed. The island habitats must
be kept ever after as quasi-zoos, as any change will doom the native
occupants. The extirpated “exotic” species should more properly have
been seen as better adapted successors to habitat that the struggling
natives could not hold for long under any circumstance.

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