The Circle of Life


Patuxent Research Refuge

Sonam Ahluwalia on the natural order

As a Biologist and Environmentalist, the circle of life is a concept we study and understand; however, when observing this phenomena first hand, the concept unfolds emotional dimensions. When we view nature, we do not always think about the interdependency of living creatures or how one must die for another to live. At Patuxent, I am challenged to contemplate beyond the observation stage and question the way nature works. However, I cannot inquire the reason for the circle of life because the answer is always natural order. As a refuge, we allow nature to continue its course, until a particular species undergoes injustice due to human impact. At this point, we attempt to rectify the negative impact by providing habitats or personally restoring their numbers in controlled environments.

The image above displays an example of a bird nest box to help replenish the blue bird and chickadee populations. Volunteers check these boxes weekly to record the success of the nest boxes. Behind the visitor center we check a nest box with five tree swallows. One day we heard faint screams and rushed to the box to find a black rat snake with a filled belly inside the box. This pierced my heart because I had watched these baby birds grow, reaching flight stage. However, I had to remind myself that the snake’s role is a predator and nature assigns roles.

At Patuxent Research Refuge, one of the research projects includes whooping cranes, an endangered species. Whooping cranes are large, light-weight birds about five feet tall and fifteen pounds, with a wing span of eight feet. Approximately fifty years ago there were only a handful of whooping cranes left in the world. However, the refuge has revived the population to about six hundred cranes presently. The refuge breeds the cranes and carefully manages the health of the birds in order to release it into the wild. When the chicks are born, sibling rivalry intensifies. The natural instinct of the siblings is to fight until one dies; therefore, only one chick is grown per crane couple. Once again, the natural order may not make sense, but there remains an abstract reason for this reaction which we as humans may or may not figure out.