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Thursday, October 02, 2008

Lessons from the Ecosphere

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Walski's reader perseverence forenote: The real point to this post will probably not be obvious to the reader, unless s/he reads it to the very end. It may be a bit difficult for some, but a bit of reading-patience and preseverence are required.

Walski had an interesting conversation with one of his cousins last night. This cousin of his works within the outdoor-activity industry, and once upon a time (not too long ago), worked and lived in Langkawi for a few years. Walski's cousin (a she, by the way) enjoys her outdoorsy work tremendously, and has lots of interesting stories to tell from time to time. 

This time around, the conversation with his cousin surrounded sharks and eagles.

Image taken from, hosting by PhotobucketOne of the tourism activities done up in Langkawi is eagle feeding. Langkawi, if you didn't already know, gets its name, in part, from the Brahminy Kite or Red-backed Sea-eagle. Walski's not sure what the eagle feeding activity entails, but he presumes that it involves taking a group of gullible tourists to a certain spot known as a hangout for the eagles, where food is thrown at the birds. Sounds like fun, huh? Well... Walski's cousin is dead set against the activity. She thinks it's both dangerous and damaging to the ecosystem. And for good reason.

One of the work-related activities Walski's cousin did up in Langkawi was kayaking. An observation she made is that in the areas where eagle-feeding is done, some kayakers have reported being harassed by eagles, to the extent that some have gotten gashes and scratches from the swooping eagles.

And why did the eagles swoop down on the kayakers? And why is Walski's cousin so against the practice of eagle-feeding?
(lessons NOT learned, and more, in the full post)

As Walski usually does on an annoyingly frequent basis, it is at this point that he digresses, somewhat. And so, we now turn our attention to sharks.

Image taken from, hosting by PhotobucketWalski's cousin recently did a two-month work exchange program stint in Hong Kong. During our conversation last night, the attention too turned to sharks, and on how shark feeding is an activity that's disallowed in Hong Kong. It's an activity which still raises controversy and is disallowed in many countries.

Shark feeding, unlike eagle feeding serves a different purpose - it's done to attract the sharks, rather than simply feeding them recreationally. But the principle remains the same - provide these natural predators with free food, and along they will come.

The problem arises when this feeding activity is carried out over a long period of time, and the predators adapt to it. Over a few generations, getting free food then somehow gets imprinted into their instinct genetic catalogue. And it doesn't only happen with predators, but with any species of animal.

Which is why if you see a sign that says "Don't Feed The Animals", it should be heeded. Providing animals with food they wouldn't ordinarily find simply messes with the animal's ecosystem in the long run.

Predators that are subjected to being provided free food are still basically predators - that part of their genetic imprint doesn't go away. And when the free food doesn't appear as expected, the predators start getting aggressive, and will attack humans. That's the reason for the eagle attacks on the kayakers, as well as (it is suspected) unprovoked shark attacks in shallow waters - the humans get mistaken for the free food that's provided for touristic purposes.

With all that out of the way, Walski will finally get to the point of this post - the NEP. The New Economic Policy, introduced after the May 13 race riots in Malaysia, as a temporary measure to equalize the level of wealth across the Malaysian racial landscape. It gave preference to the Malays in areas of scholarships, government contracts and several other areas, in hopes of giving the Malays a leg-up on life and for their economic survival.

Needless to say, what was intended as a temporary measure 39 years ago has since been transformed into a "birthright", no thanks in a big part from the NEP being politicized by UMNO, using it as a leverage to retain the support of the Malays. Walski won't get into how the NEP has been abused, and how it no longer serves its intended purpose.

You're probably wondering what the Langkawin Brahminy Kites, sharks and the NEP have in common, right?

The NEP is, to a great extent, like the free food that's given to predators like the eagles and sharks, and over a generation or two, gets imprinted into the psyche of the Malays. What was done to provide Malays as a temporary head-start now suddenly becomes a birthright of the Malays. An institutionalized crutch that many Malays now see as a right, regardless of whether or not they need said crutch.

What this crutch does, in turn, is to prevent the Malays from walking unaided, regardless of whether they need that crutch or not in the first place. And in the long run, this becomes damaging. Any attempt to take that crutch away will cause great anxiety.

Just imagine what a boring story Forest Gump would've been if little Forest had not broken free of the leg braces early in the story, allowing him to run unimpeded for the first time. While the leg braces did help strengthen the little boy early in life, Forest Gump would never have been able to realize his full potential if he had lived all his life relying on those braces.

It would be severely unfair and belittling to say that the Malays are inherrently inferior. And yet, insisting that the NEP be kept in its current form only points to this one non-fact. That insistance, unfortunately, is what UMNO continues to use as a bogeyman, in their attempt to retain support of the Malays. Cease supporting us, and they will take your crutch away... albeit in not so many words.

Like the predatory animals, human nature adapts to its environment. It's just the way things work, like it or not. The ecological lessons we can learn from sharks and eagles can sometimes equally apply to human beings as well. Remove the need to hunt for food, and the predators will eventually change their feeding habits. Similarly, remove the need to compete on equal footing, and what you eventually get is an entire generation growing up thinking certain things in life aren't necessary if you belong to a certain group. Simple things, like hard work, resiliance, and determination.

It sometimes boils down to the simple question of whether or not we wish to heed these lessons from the Ecosphere, or continue living in the la-la land of the status quo.