Irish Examiner View: Clutching at swans while eagles inspire

Over the last while, since the pandemic emptied many of our cities, a very different pace of life has changed our perspective on many, many things.
Irish Examiner View: Clutching at swans while eagles inspire
Over recent weeks, two white-tailed sea eagle chicks have hatched in Glengarriff Nature Reserve, County Cork. This species of bird has been absent from this part of the world for over 100 years

Over the last while, since the pandemic emptied many of our cities, a very different pace of life has changed our perspective on many, many things.

City air is much cleaner, because traffic is greatly reduced. So clean, so invigorating, that it has encouraged many cities, even the spectacularly-polluted Milan, to renew efforts to expel cars, so that choking pollution might be reduced permanently.

Another coronavirus consequence are the myriad stories about wildlife reclaiming cities and particularly urban fringes.

There are, indeed, growing populations of wild boar in some European cities, Berlin especially, but after a short honeymoon, their incredible destructiveness will move them from novelty to pest status.

There are raccoons in New York; wild turkeys in a park in Oakland, California; orcas venturing further up Vancouver’s Burrell Inlet than usual; dolphins returning in greater numbers to the Italian port of Cagliari. Deer move freely through some Japanese cities.

Sightings of otters in Dublin City and Cork City centres are almost daily. As we retreat, the rest of nature advances.

Another coronavirus consequence is our gnawing need for, at this moment of crisis and deepening loneliness, good news.

This has, predictably, played out though social media. Many of these well-intentioned stories show we crave good news as avidly as animals need new, human-lite habitats. They also show how powerfully seductive the lure of anonymous online affirmation can be.

One example — there are many — of this feel-good, emotional posting, suggests swans have ‘returned’ to Venice’s canals. The swans are permanent residents, yet the post has attracted more than a million ‘likes’.

The widely-shared story about a group of elephants staggering through a village in Yunnan, China, after getting drunk on corn wine and, later, passing out in a tea garden, is, like so many drinking stories, a heavily embroidered fantasy.

It did not happen.

The author of the Venice swans fake fantasy — if that is not an oxymoron — when made aware of the error, declined to remove it.

“It’s a personal record for me, and I would not like to delete it,” she, according to National Geographic, said.

There is, indeed, nothing as powerful or dangerous as self-delusion.

Confronting this indifference to fake news, this need-cum-vulnerability, seems yet another obligation for our post-pandemic to-do list, a list that lengthens by the hour.

Despite all this clutching at swans, nature does show how resilient it can be and that if given even half a chance, it will recolonise areas it has disappeared from.

Over recent weeks, two white-tailed sea eagle chicks have hatched in Glengarriff Nature Reserve, in County Cork.

The chicks’ parents are two of the 100 chicks brought to Ireland from Norway, between 2007 and 2011, to try to re-establish a species absent from this part of the world for over a century.

In a world distracted by folderols about elephants and swans, this achievement is one of real value and substance.

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