Where Do Camels Belong? – Dr Ken Thompson – 13th April 2015.

Ken-ThompsonThe title of the talk did not give much away regard­ing the con­tent of the talk; in fact it was quite mis­lead­ing because we thought we were going to be given a lec­ture on the his­tory of the camel. How wrong we were. The title of the talk is in actual fact the title of Ken’s book which tells the story and sci­ence of invas­ive spe­cies. The ref­er­ence to the camel was just an intro­duc­tion to the talk.

When we think of camels we nat­ur­ally think of Egypt and the desert as being their nat­ural home but we are com­pletely wrong. We also think that there are only two spe­cies of camel namely the Dromedary (one hump) and the Bactrian (two hump) camel, but again we would be wrong. Lamas in South America are a form of camel, and there are camels in Australia. The first camels evolved in North America tens of mil­lions of years ago but became extinct.

Ken com­men­ted that we like to think that we have British anim­als and plants which are native to our coun­try and we like to pro­tect them at the expense of plants and anim­als intro­duced by man. However up until 8000 years ago Britain was part of Europe and was com­pletely covered by forest and no flowers grew because of the trees but anim­als moved freely over the large land mass.  It was also in the grip of an ice age, but when the tem­per­at­ure began to rise and melted the ice it caused the  sea-level to rise and Britain became sep­ar­ated from Europe. At this point Britain was pop­u­lated with all kinds of anim­als which had ori­gin­ated in Europe, includ­ing wolves, lynx and bears. Man began to de- forest the land to grow crops which he obtained from the coun­try around Iraq and the seeds that he impor­ted and planted also con­tained the seeds native flowers which we now call wild flowers or weeds, depend­ing on whether you are a farmer or a city dweller.

We like to think that any­thing that arrived here without human inter­ven­tion is native and with human assist­ance it is alien. Furthermore to help us in our defin­i­tion we decided that any­thing that was here before 1500 was native and any­thing that arrived after that date is alien.

Ken pro­jec­ted a very tempt­ing menu from his local pub for us to peruse and then pro­ceeded to cross out any­thing that was not native to Britain. From a very tempt­ing menu we were reduced to had­dock, pork, bacon and water cress. He poin­ted out that pigs weren’t actu­ally native to Britain but their ancestor, the wild boar was and there­fore qual­i­fied.

Hares and rab­bits were both intro­duced by man and look very sim­ilar. The hare lives above ground and the rabbit below. The hare is pro­tec­ted and the rabbit is regarded as vermin.

Ken sighted sev­eral instances where the law in this coun­try relat­ing to anim­als is ridicu­lous and described it as best like trying to drink tea with a fork or trying to make water run up hill. Apparently it is illegal to release a man­darin duck into the wild but in actual fact the man­darin duck is native to Britain.

Ken’s talk was both very edu­ca­tional and highly enter­tain­ing. He was faced with many ques­tions at the end which he dealt with in great detail. I for one will be look­ing for­ward to Ken’s next talk.

Readers may be inter­ested in vis­it­ing this web­site www.sciencenews.org/article/‘where-do-camels-belong’-explores-invasive-species