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Eventually Everyone Runs Out of Time

by T.G. Goh

Time is different for everything. A rat can raise five litters in a year, but probably won't live long enough to see a second year. A blowfly can complete its life cycle in two months, and most of them die within the first week of their life. On the other end of the scale are long-lived things. Female elephants require almost two years of pregnancy before they are able to give birth, and a baby elephant takes 17 years to grow to adulthood. Trees can survive for hundreds of years; I've personally seen sturdy, productive Durian trees that have been planted four generations ago.

2 months. That is how long Bee-eater birds are on campus. They are seasonal and only arrive to breed. After that they are nowhere to be seen until the next year. An animal population takes time to colonise an environment and grow. Like Bee-eaters some are seasonal, coming from far away as migrants and leaving for their homeland after the season changes. Sometimes they follow rain patterns, only being active during the wetter months. Local populations can go extinct and reestablish themselves. It's actually harder than some assume to count the number of species on campus, since it's always changing. Is it on a scale of months in a year or is it in years in a decade? If we are looking for an animal on the wrong month, can we safely say that it is not there?

All these are examples of how life is not on the same time scale as Humans. We are only able to see our version of a time scale, with our frame of reference being in days, months, years and human lifespans. And that is the problem when humans manage wildlife and nature: We don't always consider that things are on vastly different time scales compared to us.

16 years. That is how long it would take a sapling to a grow to a fully grown Rain Tree. Bigger, sturdier rainforest trees can attain double the height and grow much slower than imported species such as the Rain Tree. But we really don't have the luxury of decades. If you tell us to show results of a greening program within a year, all we have to do is plant fast growing shrubs or bamboos. The problem will be superficially solved but the conservation aspect will be totally missed. Consider that a forest tree can live for hundreds or even thousands of years—it's in no hurry to grow faster to please humans. Should we plant for immediate results or should we play a longer game? 90 years. That is the time it takes to regenerate a forest from barren ground. We may have allowed the forest in Rimba Ilmu to regrow naturally for 40 years, but the lack of primary forest species prevents it from becoming a truly magnificent forest that mirrors those found in natural environments. 75 years. The average lifespan of a Malaysian. 4 months. That's how long the grant given to The RIMBA Project will last. We better start planting soon.

T.G. Goh is an entomologist based in the Museum of Zoology. He can frequently be seen walking around campus, ruminating on the state of biodiversity; it is from his shortcuts through untarred territories that he gets the inspiration for his columns. You can contact him at

#articles #opinions #tggoh

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