Towards the end of 2015, the world got its first photo footage of a living Omura’s whale off the coast of Madagascar, a mammal that up until that very moment had evaded what is surely humanity’s most awesome of vain inventions: the camera. The camera has existed for roughly 199 years and during that time it has been unsuccessful at capturing a living picture of one of the largest mammals on the face of the planet. Isn’t it extraordinary that in a world seemingly so small and so explored that any animal, never mind a whale, can go unphotographed over the course of two industrial centuries? Extraordinary indeed.
There seems to be no limit to the unfound depths of Planet Earth and recently a delegation was sent to the edges of the Amazon Jungle to prove that there are still pockets of humanity that live in a state of undiscovered, tribal isolation. Flying over never-before-seen territory, videos were taken of human beings staring up at alien flying machines with awe and fear, with bow and arrow on the ready if those who flew nearby dared land and attack. We did not. I am happy to say that we spared them their dignity.
Uncontacted peoples in the Amazon. Similar tribes are believed to also exist in central Africa and New Guinea.
How much longer will the undiscovered remain undiscovered? Well, according to a 2011 National Geographic article, it is estimated that 86% of the world’s species are unfound – a phenomenal number considering the fact that I can Google to find that very answer, and then Google further to find the very depths of jungles and deserts that have never before been visited. Mozambique’s Mount Mabu, the “Google forest”, was only discovered in 2005 by Google Earth and exploring it in the years that followed revealed countless new species never before recorded in that big book of animals.
The Google Forest. Northern Mozambique.
When I last road tripped through the depths of Southern Africa, there were times when I was sure that I was the first to arrive. Namibia is brilliant for that; the sense of mystery harvested when road tripping through humanless terrain is a feeling like no other. It reaches back to our Darwinian past when we confidently pushed deeper into the unknown, into the bush veld of yesteryear’s undiscovered. It’s that very feeling that Southern Africa still offers so much of; it keeps new generations of hipster explorers jetting to our shores in the hope that they too, at a very minimum, can discover the Indiana Jones within.
It must be explained here: I often suffer from the anxiety of exhausted exploration, that everywhere I go might already be spoilt, ploughed backwards or cut away, farmed or mined. But that’s not an anxiety that should scare me. Because it is not actually true. Not true yet at least. The world is still larger than we think it is and it is only because of topography and fast flying jets that we are fooled into thinking that London and Cape Town are friendly neighbours with everything in between seen and conquered.
Masai Mara, Kenya. Halfwayish between Cape Town and London.
Perhaps my anxiety is misplaced then. It is not that there is nothing left to explore because there is – and it is not that the world is tiny and small because it is not. Rather it is this: it is the anxiety that those who eventually do explore it will not care for it. Of course, as humans our track record is not a good one. So, I will leave you with this conservationist tongue twister to consider the next time you go exploring in a wilderness near you:
When there comes a time when there is nothing left to explore, we must make deadly sure that that which was explored is preserved as if it was never explored at all. Finding the unexplored is not our greatest challenge, but rather it is this: it is preserving the already explored for future exploration.
This is what I should be doing right now instead of writing this effing blog but there’s no waves in Muizenberg today and I am as bored as hell.