Schlagwort-Archive: South America

Species extinctions & pandemics: Will we survive or are we the next endangered species?


The author, Gerd Michael Müller, born in Zürich in 1962, traveled as a photo-journalist to more than 50 nations and lived in seven countries, including in the underground in South Africa during apartheid. In the 80 years he was a political activist at the youth riots in Zürich. Then he was involved in pioneering Wildlife & eco projects in Southern Africa and humanitarian projects elsewhere in the world. As early as 1993, Müller reported on the global climate change and in 1999 he founded the «Tourism & Environment Forum Switzerland». Through his humanitarian missions he got to know Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama and other figures of light. His book is an exciting mixture of political thriller, crazy social stories and travel reports – the highlights of his adventurous, wild nomadic life for reportage photography .

(please note that translation corrections are still in progress and images will follow soon)

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The Earth is suffering from three diseases: Species extinction, climate change and pandemics! This is as if the patient had liver cirrhosis, heart failure and kidney insufficiency at the same time. Consequently, there will be many complications: Even more wars, diseases, conflicts, natural disasters and civil wars if we do not get the population growth under control. Food shortages, distribution struggles and migration flows can already be seen as a consequence. If we do not change our behavior, it is very likely that the end of humanity is near and our population will largely collapse. This will not be the end of evolution, but certainly the end of an era as we know and love it! And it is also not excluded that with the big species extinction also our species will be wiped out to a large extent and the human being will become the planetary history.

The human being has raged on the planet earth and will ruin it soon completely. First we have wiped out the Pleistocene fauna in North America and in South America, then in Australia the large giant marsupials and birds, and when man populated Polynesia, the large megafauna elements disappeared all the way to New Zealand. When these are missing, it also has an impact on the entire fauna and flora. For example, in the last 10,000 years we have destroyed about half of the earth’s natural forest cover and altered the biosphere to the point that entire animal populations have been wiped out. Whereby the Red Lists show only a fraction, barely ten percent, of the species described, let alone of all species living on Earth. In other words, the 800 species that have been shown to have become extinct in the past 500 years do not represent the number of animals and species that have disappeared or are currently disappearing. We are losing many species in the last remaining primary forests long before we even discovered and scientifically described them.

Today we know that 78 percent of flying insects have declined in 40 years. In the near future, we will lose about one million species. First we changed vegetation and wildlife with agriculture and resource extraction, then we poisoned into the geosphere, first with CFCs, now with greenhouse gases. What do we need to do to stop the destruction of our planet? Well we would have to take a whole series of drastic measures. The pandemic gives us a foretaste of what awaits us, or rather, at the end of 2020, Switzerland should have taken stock of where it stands with regard to the protection of its biodiversity, to review the objectives achieved both in the Swiss biodiversity strategy and the global biodiversity convention: it says: „The conservation status of populations of National Priority Species will be improved by 2020 and extinction prevented as far as possible.“ But among birds alone, partridge, snipe, curlew, red-headed shrike and ortolan are extinct or present in tiny numbers as breeding birds by the end of the decade. Switzerland is on track for only one target of the biodiversity strategy, and that is forest biodiversity. For one third of the targets, the result is lower, for one third no progress can be seen, and for the last third, developments are going in the opposite direction. The picture is also almost congruent with the national strategy for the „Aichi“ biodiversity targets, which were agreed in 2010 as part of the Biodiversity Convention: Switzerland is on track for only one-fifth. For 35 percent of the targets, however, there is no progress at all.

The Swiss flora was one of the richest and most diverse in Europe. However, more than 700 plant species are considered to be threatened with extinction. Researchers from the „University of Bern“ and the Data and Information Center of the Swiss Flora have analyzed the results with the help of 400 volunteer botanists and visited and verified over 8000 old known sites of the 713 rarest and most endangered plant species in Switzerland between 2010 and 2016. This unique treasure trove of data has now been analyzed by the „University of Bern and the results published in the scientific journal „Conservation Letters“. In their „treasure hunt“, the botanists often came up empty-handed – 27% of the 8024 populations could not be recovered.

Species, which are classified by experts as most endangered, even lost 40% of their populations in comparison to the findings from the last 10 – 50 years. These figures are alarming and impressively document the decline of many endangered species in Switzerland. Particularly affected are plants from so-called ruderal sites – areas that are under constant human influence. The affected plant species include the marginal vegetation of agriculturally used or populated areas. These populations showed losses more than twice as large as species from forests or alpine meadows. The intensification of agriculture with a large use of fertilizers and herbicides, but also the loss of small structures such as rock piles and field margins are particularly affecting this species group. Plant species of water bodies, banks and bogs are similarly affected. Here, too, the causes are home-made, according to the researchers: water quality losses due to micropollutants and fertilizer pollution from agriculture, the loss of natural river dynamics due to river straightening, the use of rivers as a source of electricity, or the draining of moorland.

In Germany, 80,000 measurements were carried out by interdisciplinary working groups from Germany, Austria, Switzerland and the Netherlands as part of the „Jena“ experiment. They had sown different numbers of plant species on more than 500 experimental plots, ranging from monocultures to mixtures of 60 species. In addition to plants, all organisms occurring in the ecosystem were studied – in the soil and above it. In addition, the material cycles of carbon, nitrogen and nitrate and also the water cycle over the entire period of 15 years. In this way, the scientists were able to demonstrate how species diversity affects the capacity of the soil to absorb, store or release water. The Jena experiment showed for the first time how much the nitrogen cycle of a soil depends on many factors such as species diversity, microbiological organisms, the water cycle and plant interaction.

Species-rich meadows had higher productivity than species-poor meadows over the entire period of the „Jena Experiment“. Increased management intensity through additional fertilization and more frequent mowing achieved the same effect: if a farmer promotes and fertilizes certain species, he is on average consequently no more successful than nature. The biomass energy (bioenergy content) of species-rich meadows was significantly higher than that of species-poor meadows, but at the same time similar to many of today’s heavily subsidized species, such as Chinese reed. Species-rich areas had better carbon storage. The number of insects and other species was significantly higher. Interactions between species such as pollination occurred more frequently. Species-rich meadows transported surface water into the soil better. Species-rich ecosystems were more stable to disturbances, such as droughts or floods, than species-poor ecosystems.

In France, 80 percent of insects have been lost in the last 30 years. In Switzerland, the figure is about 60 percent, and in Germany, species loss is also dramatically high. In view of the rapid loss of biodiversity and the desolation of the cities, I have been asking myself for a long time why all the useless lawns in front of all rental and apartment buildings are not converted into gardens for inclined hobby gardeners and self-supporters among the residents, and especially the poorer people and those with a migration background and agricultural know-how could grow their food partly in front of the house. This would also counteract poverty a little and guarantee the survival of many families as well as be meaningful. Why should we all import food from Africa, China and Latin America when we could beautify our cities, increase biodiversity and counteract climate change with local cultivation. As soon as a blade of grass makes itself felt, the lawn robot is already there. Useless thuya hedges as far as the eye can see. Most people don’t know what to do with nature anymore. We should think about what our communities actually do with their communal areas. They create large cultivation structures instead of promoting small-scale, local cultivation.

The core problem we all face is that 80 million people are added to the population every year, and those just born now theoretically have a longer life expectancy, even in the developing world. By the end of the century, there will be eleven billion of us, so we will need even more living space and even more agriculture for food production. By totally transforming the earth’s surface for agriculture and feeding future generations, we are destroying the treasure troves of biodiversity for all eternity. It cannot be that we destroy alone with the cattle economy for the meat production whole species existence and important ecological systems irretrievably. A vegan diet is therefore becoming the supreme credo for the growing world population. And what about an even more important resource, drinking water? Through the use of pesticides, we are poisoning our drinking water, the rivers and the lakes – also in Switzerland. There is only one solution: to abandon pesticide-intensive cultivation and return to mixed crops, which have proven their worth over centuries and promoted biodiversity.

The palm oil industry has cut down more than half of the rainforest (the size of Germany) in the Indonesian provinces of Kalimantan and Sumatra in the last 30 years and is now starting to destroy the virgin forest on a grand scale in Papua New Guinea as well. The timber industry is happy about this, as are the oligarchy and the military. In the process, small farmers are inevitably expropriated, which is quite legal in Indonesia. The Indonesian parliament also recently passed a law that radically curtails national environmental, labor and social standards and provides for zero environmental impact assessments. Therefore, the progressively worded agreement is another illusory paper tiger that will lead to the worrying destruction of huge rainforest areas in Brazil, Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea. With the free trade agreement with Indonesia, Switzerland would legitimize this state of affairs and once again declare the completely insufficient eco-labels as standard.

1997: Hell Trip to the Drug Cartels of Colombia


The author, Gerd Michael Müller, born in Zürich in 1962, traveled as a photo-journalist to more than 50 nations and lived in seven countries, including in the underground in South Africa during apartheid. In the 80 years he was a political activist at the youth riots in Zürich. Then he was involved in pioneering Wildlife & eco projects in Southern Africa and humanitarian projects elsewhere in the world. As early as 1993, Müller reported on the global climate change and in 1999 he founded the «Tourism & Environment Forum Switzerland». Through his humanitarian missions he got to know Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama and other figures of light. His book is an exciting mixture of political thriller, crazy social stories and travel reports – the highlights of his adventurous, wild nomadic life for reportage photography .

(please note that translation corrections are still in progress and images will follow soon)

Few countries, like Colombia, are peppered with such imposing scenic diversity and unparalleled abundance of natural wonders as the fourth largest country in Latin America. The massless generosity of this paradisiacal gene bank of fauna and flora, spread between the Andes and the Amazon basin, is overwhelming. Unfortunately, when one hears or speaks of Colombia, one usually hears of drugs, murder and corruption. The guerrilla war of the „Farc“ (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia), is one of the longest and bloodiest civil wars apart from the Marxist terror of the „Shining Path“, the „Sender Luminoso“ in Peru.

The civil war in Colombia has officially ended but the fundamental problems of the country and the widespread cultivation of cocaine are far from solved. There is no longer an all-powerful Pablo Escobar, but there are more rival drug cartels that make life difficult for the farmers and the population. But for now, let’s take a look at the fascinating and, for most people, unknown, beautiful sides of Colombia.

In Bogota I met my professional colleague, the aviation journalist and military pilot Hans-Jörg Egger. Together we flew from the capital of Colombia in all directions in one week on behalf of Swissair. First to Letica in the border triangle of Brazil, Colombia and Peru in the south of the country in the middle of the Amazon jungle, then to Cartagena in the colonial pearl, with the magnificent colonial style buildings similar to Havana. We continued on to Cali, then the drug stronghold of Pablo Escobar, another destination was Villa Vicencio, also known as a drug transshipment point, and finally we flew up to the Caribbean island of San Andres, which lies off the coast of Nicaragua. Quite an ambitious program in one week. The purpose of the trip: We were to put together a travel itinerary for the annual Swissair VIP shareholders trip and reconnoiter the best places where ancient aircraft types still fly around. It was to be a fantastic vintage aviation trip. Let’s go.

The harbingers of the jungle begin less than 100 kilometers from Bogota, but to get there one must have conquered the grueling pass road of the Sierra Oriental at an altitude of 3700 meters above sea level and then mastered and survived the winding descent on narrow paths along abyssal canyons to a hundred meters above sea level. The sun is just sinking on the blood-red horizon above the steaming jungle, where tropical thunderstorms are violently raining down on the esmerald green jungle just before dusk, making the drive on the slippery pass road hell. After seven hours of driving we made it and arrived in Villa Vicencio.

After an interview with the airport director we board the silver fuselage of the DC-6, with which we fly through the lashing rain with loud propeller howling. The pilot’s forehead is also covered with thick beads of water, as it looks to him like difficult flying and landing conditions. Droning, the propeller engines fight against the dense cloud swaths of clouds that are quickly whizzing by. The view from the small round windows sweeps over the green jungle sea in the Amazon basin, the meandering river courses and island dots. Then the descent begins and we set down for landing, whereupon, relieved to have arrived undamaged, we roll with the old jalopy over the bumpy jungle runway of Leticia in the border triangle.

Rarely do the sunny sides of Colombian life and the splendor of the Andes and jungle state come to light. But anyone who fearlessly confronts the terra incognita in South America’s Garden of Eden, despite poverty and violence, will be magically drawn to Colombia’s magic and the fiery temperament of its people. The north of Colombia is dominated by the eastern, western and central cordilleras. Three massive Andean strands rising to 5000 meters with snow-capped peaks, are the topographic panopticon of the country. They contain fertile valleys with volcanic ash soils on which coffee plantations, vegetable and grain fields and fruit trees flourish, fragrant flowers and spice plants bloom.

In Amazonia, it’s as if time has stood still. Fitzgeraldo’s adventures revive on the mental horizon – thousands of dangers still lurk in the tropical rainforest. The Yaguas Indians are not a threat, although they still blow deadly poisoned arrows from their blowpipes when hunting animals and birds.  They never were, on the contrary they are the protectors of the jungle and defend it against the unwanted and destructive intruders. Unfortunately in vain. Visitors, however, after painting their faces with the green color of the Urucu tree, are mostly welcomed in a friendly manner, because they are a promising prey thanks to souvenir purchases.

Danger lurks more in the water and in the air than on the ground. Crocodiles and pirhanas prevent a cooling bath in the Amazon, parasites and malaria mosquitoes can quickly make your life miserable, poisonous spiders and insects can even make it hell, and then there is always a full concert here. Macaw parrots, howler monkeys, vultures, cormorants and ibises are always to be heard, an anaconda, a boa or a jaguar however one gets to see rarely. I was lucky enough to encounter two lazy jaguars that had made themselves comfortable under a shrub in the shade of the sultry heat. Those who set out with Capax under the expert guidance of the „Tarzan of Leticia“ were able to experience quite a bit and usually returned to civilization unscathed from the jungle expedition.

Along the Andean foothills, endless savannahs with cattle pastures spread out in the north, turning into desert-like areas like the Guajira Peninsula in the east. White sandy beaches line the coasts of the Caribbean islands of San Andres and Providencia off Nicaragua’s coast. More than 40 nature reserves and national parks covering a total of 10 million hectares, which represent a kind of genetic treasure chest and information bank on the development of our planet, bear witness to Colombia’s immense fauna and flora wealth. The primeval sites of Colombia’s colonial metropolises, the villages of the Yagua Indians near Leticia in the border triangle, the Caribbean flair of the vacation island of San Andres off the coast of Nicaragua and the simple dwellings of the farmers in the magnificent Amazonian refuges slowly come together to form a grandiose microcosm.

Cartagena is one of the most beautiful colonial relics in all of Latin America and the highest of all emotions for historians, architects and the culturally ambitious. It was once the most important port city on the continent for the slave trade and the seat of the then dreaded Inquisition Tribunal. A place of many tragedies and their heroes, of adventurers and their legends, rich in castles, monasteries and museums, all of which are World Heritage Sites.

Overlooked by the Andes, embraced by the jungle and swayed by the Caribbean and Pacific symphony of oceans, the life of Colombians simmers between happiness and despair, anger and impotence, oscillating from exuberant joie de vivre, carried by joyful dance music like the cumbia, to the deepest sadness over the victims of poverty, drug barons, corrupt politicians and tyrants. Colombians live, love and suffer life to the fullest. One is swept along, dives in, perhaps submerges and, with a little luck, emerges more comfortable. Although the tough peace negotiations have led to the disarmament of the „Farc“ and the cessation of their attacks on the military and the civilian population, the amnesty has not brought about any atonement, any admission of guilt, and no coming to terms with the atrocities committed by the guerrillas with regard to the numerous victim families.

On the other hand, the farmers were denied the necessary support for infrastructure (roads, electricity, water) in inaccessible regions, so that in many jungle regions they have no choice but to grow cocaine. In addition, the Colombian government is now clearing more and more virgin forest, not for an agrarian reform that would help the farmers, but solely for the exploitation of the timber industry, which is clogging up the narrow waterways, the only transport routes accessible by boat, with logs, making it impossible to transport other goods such as bananas, vegetables or fruit. Since there are no roads, no electricity and no local administration, the farmers are helplessly at the mercy of the drug cartels. Very few have an alternative to coca cultivation.

At the end of our Colombia trip, Hans-Jörg and I arrived at the airport in Bogota, as always in the last days, only shortly before departure. We had gotten used to the fact that just 15 minutes were enough to board the plane. This worked well with all Colombian flights, but the upcoming flight to Ecuador, was just a foreign flight. We had not thought about that and that the procedure would take much longer. When we arrived at the counter and learned that boarding was already completed, I showed the check-in counter employees two business cards and said: „Stop the airplaine, now immediately“ and just ran through the gate past the surprised securities out onto the airfield, Hans-Jörg gasped beside me, after all, we both had a lot of camera luggage around and in tow. Without being shot at, we ran towards the plane, which had closed all doors and was taxiing to the runway.

At the same time we saw a stair car racing towards the plane and the jet stopped. After a few dozen meters, we made it and were allowed to hurry up the stairs, whereupon the boarding door was opened and we could board. „Wow, what awesome action!“ Why did the plane stop, you ask? Well, one business card was that of the Colombian Minister of Aviation and the other, that of the Bogota Airport Director. Both of these people we had interviewed before. And so it happened that for us two Swiss journalists in Colombia, a commercial airliner on an international flight was stopped on the taxiway for departure so that the two VIPs could board.

Someone should try that in Zurich, Frankfurt or London. Since our boarding was already quite spectacular, we were also allowed to take turns in the third pilot seat in the cockpit of this plane and experience the flight to Quito with the pilots. There I became visibly aware for the first time of how fast it goes when two commercial airliners race toward each other at 700 kilometers per hour each. I was able to witness this during the spectacular landing approach in Quito, when a plane that had taken off from there was first a small dot that quickly grew larger and closer and seconds later flew very close and very fast past our cockpit. Even more blatant was the flight with the Equadorian military aircraft over the Andes, during which I was quite dazed as a result of the acceleration. I was not as fit as a military pilot after all! In any case, this was my most spectacular trip as an aviation journalist and Colombia is where I would like to return and spend much more time.

Guyana 1997/2003: From the jungle directly into space

French Guyane: Two monkey’s riding on a Tapir


The author, Gerd Michael Müller, born in Zürich in 1962, traveled as a photo-journalist to more than 50 nations and lived in seven countries, including in the underground in South Africa during apartheid. In the 80 years he was a political activist at the youth riots in Zürich. Then he was involved in pioneering Wildlife & eco projects in Southern Africa and humanitarian projects elsewhere in the world. As early as 1993, Müller reported on the global climate change and in 1999 he founded the «Tourism & Environment Forum Switzerland». Through his humanitarian missions he got to know Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama and other figures of light. His book is an exciting mixture of political thriller, crazy social stories and travel reports – the highlights of his adventurous, wild nomadic life for reportage photography .

(please note that translation corrections are still in progress and images will follow soon)

Thanks to the cooperation with the „AOM“, which connected the French Départements d’outre Mèr, i.e. French Guyana, Guadeloupe, Martinique, the South Seas or New Caledonia with Paris, I flew almost once a year to Cuba and was also briefly on Guadeloupe, three weeks in the South Seas, and now flying to French Guiana in the backyard of the Grande Nation, „where the pepper grows,“ where political prisoners have been exiled on an island and the European Space Agency (ESA) has set up shop in Kourou. The most exotic of all EU members is known at best through the movie „Papillon“, as a former penal colony, and so the image of French Guyana is also characterized by diffuse ideas and shimmering legends. Guyana’s reputation as a homicidal land populated with hosts of venomous insects, fearsome tarantulas, deadly snakes, meter-long aligators and piranhas is probably true, but beyond that, the land where Europe spills, evaporates and disappears into verdant jungle thickets is one of the most stable in the region.

„The most dangerous creature here is man, followed by wasps,“ puts into perspective Philippe Gilabert, founder of „CISAME“ (Centre Initiation Survie et Aventure au Millieu Equatorial), an idyllic camp located in the middle of the green hell after about 60 kilometers of pirogue travel upstream on the banks of the Approuague River near the Brazilian border. „Humans,“ Gilabert, a former „Legion Etrangere“ paratrooper and terrorism expert, tells us, „are the most harmful creature to the fragile ecocycle of the primary forest. Then would come the wasps, but they are a threat only to the unwary human, added the then 43-year-old Frenchman, who worked as a paratrooper and terrorism expert, ironically.

He and Manoel, a Karipuna jungle Indian must know, because they specialize in bringing the wild jungle closer to as many civilized people as possible (than they would like) and offering 10 days of survival training to the toughest. So the civilization-impaired first practices archery, trapping, climbing, canoeing, fishing, making fire and building dwellings before having their own experience of what it’s like to have to survive in the jungle. So the jungle experts show the civilization-weary how to survive in the jungle and nature-lovers what treasures and functions the primary forest has and why it is absolutely necessary to protect it worldwide.

Among the guests of Mirikitares, the camp of the river people, as the Karipunas call this place, are reservists of European and North American armed forces as well as executives of companies who want to get their top shots in shape here. Even ordinary tourists get excited about fulfilling their dream and plunging into a daring jungle adventure. The fact that this is not a purely macho world is proven by the growing number of women who come here and can often easily take on the men with survival training. Either way, everyone gets to know themselves and their limits or abilities. The commitment goes to the substance of the mental and manageable, the survival mode switches on and amazing, existential insights open up to you. You suddenly realize how small and inconspicuous, how vulnerable and alone you are. You become the hunter and the hunted. A unique experience.

Having barely escaped the rainforest unscathed, new habitats open up, at least in the imagination, on a galactic trip to the moon, revealed to curious travelers in Kourou, not far from Guyana’s capital Cayenne, at the European Aerospace Center the „Centre Spacial“ of the (ESA). So it is from here that the journey into space starts. The place itself offers nothing, except for the usual third-world view of the country’s class hierarchy. In the old town live the socially weakest, the Creoles, Indians and white unskilled workers, surrounded by out of place looking concrete buildings for the middle class and on the beach the splendid villas of the Europeans, the scientists and employees of the space station in nearby Kourou.  After visiting the European Union Space Station, I take a boat to Devil’s Island, made famous as a penal colony in the movie Papillon.

The three islands off the coast, Ille Royale, St. Jospeh and Ille Diable, where political prisoners were held for years in extreme conditions before ending up under the guillotine. Some, it is said here, would have preferred to be eaten by sharks while fleeing through the sea than to have to continue suffering the earthly torment settled here. Guyana’s highlights include the country’s Wild West, especially the picturesque colonial town of St. Laurent-du-Moroni, on the border river with Suriname, which is well worth a visit. The colorful mixture of peoples, including Indians, raven pirogue drivers, bustling Indo-Chinese and Hmongs who came here via France to flee the Pol Pot regime, as well as Haitian cloth merchants, Dominicans and Creoles of all shades, and a few whites, was and still is impressively diverse.

On the last evening before our departure, we, a small group of journalists from Switzerland, made a late night pilgrimage through the harbor district of the capital Ceyenne and we were already quite drunk after the humid happy rounds in some bars. Obviously one had observed us, because at a rather dark crossing, suddenly from all sides a few figures stepped from the house cracks rapidly towards us. I could just still warn my companions with a loud call, then someone sprayed me from behind coming, tear gas in the eyes, whereupon I could see nothing more and inhaled of course the irritant gas also coughing. I whirled around like a dervish and began to swing my camera equipment around to keep the three attackers at a distance, which I could only see very dimly. Then I broke through on one side and ran up the street until I was out of breath and out of reach of the gang. My colleagues were also lucky and still managed to fight back. With this adventure behind us, we left the country the next day and flew back to Switzerland.