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