Climate Variability and Livelihood Diversification in Northern Ethiopia – A Case Study of Lasta and Beyeda Districts

By Zerihun B. Weldegebriel, Addis Ababa University, and Martin Prowse, Lund University

Prowse

Land degradation (gullies) formed due to extreme climatic events flooding in Lasta district (C) Zerihun B. Weldegebriel and Martin Prowse .

Ethiopia is currently facing the worst drought in its modern history, resurrecting the world’s collective memory of the tragedy of the 1980s. But such severe meteorological conditions may not be so rare in the future: the observed and projected impacts of changing climatic conditions in Ethiopia point towards a considerable worsening of food security status for many smallholder households. The following quote from a smallholder farmer in Lasta District, Northern Ethiopia, encapsulates the predicaments that millions of smallholder farmers in the country are facing:

“In recent years, the gamen [a local term for high temperatures] is becoming unbearable and we all are suffering from the extreme heat. We [the elders] spend time with our flocks of sheep in tree shades yearning for the belg [short] rains to give us some respite from the long dry spells which seem to stay forever.”

In our paper, recently published in The Geographical Journal, we provide empirical evidence of the perceptions of smallholder farmers towards climate variability and the forms of adaptation strategies employed in two districts in Northern Ethiopia. We argue that assessing smallholders’ perceptions of climate variability and existing diversification strategies is a good first step to understanding what works best in terms of successful adaptation to climate change. Perceptions and associated adaptation practices can be an important input for adaptation policy since strategies are mostly the result of long-term experiences and assessment of risks in their day-to-day production and consumption decisions.

We find that smallholders perceived increased temperatures, erratic rainfall patterns and increased extreme weather events in the last two to three decades. While meteorological records support the claims of an increase in temperature, claims of an overall reduction in rainfall are not reflected in the records. But this is mainly because the highly variable belg rains (short rains) are compensated for by more stable kiremet rains (long rains).

In view of the perceived changes in the climate, the article looked into the types and viability of the adaptation strategies pursued. Two major approaches were identified – diversification within agriculture and diversification outside agriculture. Most of the adaptation within agriculture comes through demonstration effects from state-led schemes whilst diversification away from farming (both off-farm and non-farm activities) is mainly wage labour differentiated by wealth group (with the poorest doing piecework on neighbours’ land and working on public works schemes whilst wealthier households seek formal-sector employment in nearby towns and further afield). In a nut shell, diversification away from agriculture is highly seasonal and largely follows a piecework/public works  or wage labour path. Smallholders are constrained in their ability to enter self-employment due to a lack of regular demand, skills, finance as well as cultural attitudes.

There are subtle but important differences between the two districts that highlight the role of both climatic and non-climatic factors in adaptive capacity. This is particularly interesting for geographers as it highlights the spatio-temporal differences that play a role in determining both perception and adaption to climate variability and change (see Weber, 2016). For instance, farmers in Lasta perceive greater changes in the climate than those in Beyeda. We also find that smallholders in Lasta have diversified their livelihoods to a much greater extent. But this has at least as much to do with the proximity to urban opportunities and a construction boom in the nearby town (triggered by public investments) as changing climatic conditions.

Overall, our limited data from Northern Ethiopia suggests that diversification is occurring mainly through wage labour: international, national and regional for wealthier households, local piecework and on public works schemes for poorer households. In this context, policymakers could do worse than look more at how urban-rural connections can support smallholders’ adaptation efforts.

About the authors

Zerihun B. Weldegebriel is an Assistant Professor of Development Studies at Addis Ababa University, Centre for African and Oriental Studies, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Martin Prowse is an Associate Senior Lecturer at Lund University, Department of Human Geography, Lund, Sweden           

References

books_icon Weber, E. U. 2016. What shapes perceptions of climate change? New research since 2010. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change, 7(1), 125–134.

60-world2 Embassy of the United States US response to the Ethiopian Drought 2015-2016 http://ethiopia.usembassy.gov/u.s.-response-to-the-ethiopian-drought.html

Mortgaged lives: when lives become numbers

By Melissa García-Lamarca and María Kaika, University of Manchester, UK

shutterstock_306279413

Eviction Foreclosure Mortgage Poverty Vector Design. Image Credit: iluistrator via Shutterstock

In early May 2014, the Bank of England issued a warning: the increase in gross mortgage lending combined with a rise in UK housing prices place the country’s financial stability under serious threat. Indeed, the running figure for mortgage debt in the UK is alarming, sitting at over £1 trillion, as mortgage lending only continues to expand.

But the UK is not alone. While data from the European Mortgage Federation from 2014 reported the ratio of outstanding residential loans to disposable income for the UK at 116.4%, this figure was even higher in other advanced European economies: 237.4% in Denmark; 197,3% in the Netherlands; and 135% in Sweden.

At the aftermath of the US subprime mortgage crisis, the risk that escalating mortgage debt poses on the global economy has received increasing attention. However, the risk at the household level – the ‘lived’ dimension of the financialisation of housing – remains largely off the radar of both academic research and policy making (with a few notable exceptions like Desmond 2012).

In our recent paper titled “Mortgaged lives”*: the biopolitics of debt and housing financialisation, we consider mortgages as a tool that engineers an intimate relationship between global financial markets, and the bodies and lives of the workforce. Drawing upon ethnographic research and in-depth interviews with people affected by mortgage debt defaults in Spain, we show how mortgage contracts connect not only a person’s current and future income into global speculative financial strategies, but also tie the practices of everyday life into the very heart of financial markets. In other words, as housing becomes financialised, so does life itself. This process affects not only access to housing, but also the ability to care for oneself and others, perceptions of self-esteem, social status, class, citizenship and belonging in society.

By linking the changes in macro-economic processes that made mortgage credit broadly available to the experience of living a “Mortgaged Life”, our work explains how interest rates, the fluctuation of real estate prices and currency exchange rates became factors determining not only access to housing, but the very conditions and (im)possibilities of life. It shows how people begin to realise that they had never really been homeowners or middle class. Just a proletariat indebted for life to their creditors.

As the impact of mortgage debt defaults cuts across borders, educational, income, status, gender and age groups, there is urgent need to focus beyond the macro-economics of mortgage lending and into their personal, family, health and community impacts. This is of particular importance as products like 100% mortgages are reappearing on the market in the UK, and mortgaged homeownership continues to extend across the world as an increasingly common way to access housing.

For the time being, a continuous rise in housing prices, relative economic stability, low interest rates and relatively low unemployment keep mortgage defaults at bay in the European north. However, the combination of escalating housing prices, rock-bottom interest rates and extensive mortgage lending is a potentially explosive mixture not only financially, but also socially. Our paper seeks to highlight this reality, and to call for deeper attention and action.

*The paper (and blog post) borrows its title from the title of Ada Colau and Adrià Alemany’s (2012) book Mortgaged lives: From the housing bubble to the right to housing.

About the authors: Melissa García-Lamarca is a PhD candidate in Human Geography at the University of Manchester and María Kaika is Professor of Human Geography at the same university.

books_icon Colau A and Alemany A 2012 Mortaged lives: From the housing bubble to the right to housing available online https://libcom.org/files/mortgagedlives.pdf [open access]

60-world2 Council of mortgage lenders 2016 Market commentary May 2016. available online at: http://www.hypo.org/Content/Default.asp?PageID=524

60-world2 Cunliffe J 2014 Speech: Momentum in the housing market: affordability, indebtedness and risks Bank of England Available online at: www.bankofengland.co.uk/publications/Pages/speeches/default.aspx

60-world2 Jamei M 2016 European mortgage federation: the voice of the European Mortgage Industry. Available online at: https://www.cml.org.uk/news/news-and-views/market-commentary-may-2016/

books_icon García-Lamarca, M. and Kaika, M. (2016), ‘Mortgaged lives’: the biopolitics of debt and housing financialisation. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 41: 313–327. doi: 10.1111/tran.12126 [open access]

60-world2 Osborne H 2016 Barclays 100% mortgage: how much does it really help homebuyers? Available online at:  http://www.theguardian.com/money/2016/may/04/barclays-100-per-cent-mortgage-how-much-does-it-really-help-homebuyers

Geographers and the ‘beepocalypse’

Kate Whiston, University of Nottingham

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Amidst the buzz of the Great British Bee Count, which is currently in full swing, a recent article in Geography Compass, by Watson and Stallins (2016), has looked at the process of knowledge production about honey bees, evaluating the various oppositional approaches to theorising honey bee decline. As animal geographers repeatedly reinforce, animals and plants are inextricably linked to human lives, the honey bee providing a good example of human-animal entanglement. By examining honey bee populations, it is also evident, as geographers have contended, that our attempts to define, categorise, and control the non-human are constantly defied by the contingent nature of the natural world. Human-insect and human-plant relationships, however, Watson and Stallins (2016) stress, have been neglected in geographical literature. It is, therefore, necessary to investigate the role of the ‘more-than-human’ in order to inform our use of anthropogenic spaces. In the example of the honey bee, it is vital that we understand the dynamics of bee populations in order to inform agricultural land-use, due to the implications for both agricultural sustainability and human health.

The western or European honey bee (Apis mellifera) is semi-domesticated, beekeeping being practised on a range of scales, from the hobby apiarist to industrial bee farmers. The honey bee, wild or otherwise, is an important constituent of our ecosystems, worldwide; it is the chief pollinator of more than a third of global produce, including many fruits, vegetables, nuts, and spices. In America, an estimated $12 billion of crop value is directly attributable to honey bees, generating $168 billion for the global economy (Watson and Stallins, 2016). Recent global decline in honey bee populations have variously been described as an ‘environmental crisis’, the ‘beepocalypse’, and a ‘planetary ethical catastrophe’ (Watson and Stallins, 2016). This has, therefore, caused concern in the media, as well as amongst the scientific community, agricultural businesses, and environmentalists.

In Britain alone, 20 species of bee have vanished entirely, and a further quarter are on the red list of threatened species (FoE, 2016a [online]). This concern about low bee numbers has led to the Great British Bee Count, an annual event which attempts to enlist the public in a national bee population survey. The campaign portrays the bee as our ‘friend’, as important to our ecosystems, and vital to the economy. The event, organised by Friends of the Earth, runs from May 19th to June 20th, and last year saw over 100,000 recorded sightings (FoE, 2016b [online]). However, surveys have indicated that only 33% of the British public can correctly identify the honey bee from a line-up of other bee species (FoE, 2016b [online])! It is, therefore, not surprising that environmentalists have got a bee in their bonnet about this subject.

Watson and Stallins’ (2016) article focuses on Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) – a little-understood cause of honey bee population decline – which has become sort of a ‘buzz word’ amongst scientists and agriculturalists. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), CCD is the formation of a ‘dead colony’, in which the queen is still alive but there are no adult bees to keep the colony going (USDA, 2016 [online]).  Whilst scientists have yet to agree on a cause of CCD, there are many suggested factors, involving both human and non-human actors. Amongst the anthropogenic causes are neonicotinoids (pesticides), climate change, pollution, changes in demand for certain luxury crops, and land-use changes associated with intensification of monocultures for industrial agriculture. The more-than-human is also partly to blame for bee population decline; pathogens, pests, viruses, and predation by other insects also pose threats to our black and yellow friends. The latter has, in fact, been in the news of late, the arrival of Asian hornets in Britain threatening bee populations (Boyle, 2016 [online]). A perhaps more discrete migrant than the people of Kent, Surrey, Sussex, and Devon were expecting, the hornets, originally from the Far East, have made their way over from France. They can eat up to 50 honey bees per day, and are also potentially deadly to humans, causing both DEFRA and the National Bee Unit to express a desire for the hornets to buzz off (Boyle, 2016 [online]).

Knowledge about honey bee population decline, Watson and Stallins (2016) state, is produced by scientists, the agricultural industry, environmentalists, and the media. They identify three ‘narratives’ or claims made about the causes of CCD, which work in opposition to each other. The first approach, the “Ecological Conservation Narrative”, stresses the causal primacy of the influence of industrial agriculture causing the proliferation of monocultures at the expense of vegetation diversity. The second approach, the “Reductionist Regulatory Narrative”, prioritises isolating the main cause – which it claims is the use of pesticides – over any historical analysis, or use of historical trends to predict future populations. The third and final narrative is the “Socioecological Complexity Narrative”, which recognises the complex combination of social and ecological causes. Watson and Stallins (2016), advocate a pluralistic approach that combines all three narratives and recognises the continuum of social and ecological causality of bee population decline. It is also, they argue, important to be sensitive to variations over space and time; it is impossible to have a rigid approach to such a fluid and complex ecological phenomenon.

It is hard to understand the sheer importance of honey bees to our ecosystems and economies, these tiny little creatures appearing so mundane in our day-to-day encounters with nature. They really are busy little bees, more so than they are often given credit for, and they are so closely intertwined with our lives that it would be a real cause for concern if the ‘beepocalypse’ was to become a reality.

Wbooks_iconatson, K. and Stallins, J.A. (2016). “Honey Bees and Colony Collapse Disorder: A Pluralistic Reframing”, Geography Compass, 10(5):222-236.

60-world2Boyle, D. (2016). “Deadly Asian Hornets that devour bees and can kill humans arrive”, The Telegraph Online, 18th May, 2016. Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/05/18/deadly-asian-hornets-that-devour-bees-and-can-kill-humans-arrive/

60-world2FoE, (2016a). “About the Great British Bee Count”, Friends of the Earth. Available at: https://www.foe.co.uk/page/great-british-bee-count-about

60-world2FoE, (2016b). “Get involved with the Great British Bee Count”, 19th May, 2016. Available at: http://blueandgreentomorrow.com/2016/05/19/get-involved-great-british-bee-count/

60-world2USDA, (2016). “ARS Honey Bee Health and Colony Collapse Disorder”, United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service. Available at: http://www.ars.usda.gov/News/docs.htm?docid=15572

 

Building ‘holistic’ community resilience in global cities? Still a complex matter…

Amita Bhakta, Loughborough University

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A resilient city: The Nairobi skyline. Image credit: Lmwangi available via commons.wikimedia.org (Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 license)

In a changing world with changing global and local environments, becoming ‘resilient’ is a phrase that is being used with greater frequently, particularly when it comes to our communities within the cities in which we live. But, what does it mean to be resilient anyway, and who should be involved?

The Guardian this week reported on the 37 cities to complete the final list of members of the Rockerfeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities programme, from Nairobi to Manchester and Honolulu. In this article, Herd and Mutiga (2016) call for a collaboration of all cities in the world to come together to build effective resilience against longer term threats and disasters by making ‘blueprints’.

In their timely article on resilience and communities in The Geographical Journal, Robinson and Carson (2016) call for interdisciplinary action.  The complexities of what it is to be resilient are ever more prevalent, with a growing list of categories of factors for communities to consider: economic resilience, resilience against things nature throws at them, having resilient social capital and skills to utilise in communities that allow different sources of power to exercise, among others. Yet, with resilience itself being such a complex term, shrouded at times with a lack of clarity on what it should be focussed upon, the 100 Resilient Cities programme needs to ensure that a wide range of understandings and meanings of resilience are incorporated in any plans. These 100 cities all come from different parts of the world, meaning different environments with different risks and threats. Effective resilience, whatever it means to these 100 cities and all communities within and beyond them, can be achieved, but only if a cohesive and ‘resilient’ approach to resilience itself is maintained with as many key actors as possible involved, who have strong understandings of the cities in which we live, and respect and integrate each other’s needs for and meanings of resilience.

books_icon Robinson, G. M. and Carson, D. A. (2016), Resilient communities: transitions, pathways and resourcefulness. The Geographical Journal, 182: 114–122. doi: 10.1111/geoj.12144

60-world2 Herd M and Mutiga M 100 Resilient Cities announces hundredth member, but ‘work is only just beginning’

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Journal metrics and linguistic hegemony

Geo: Geography and Environment

Geography is a uniquely international discipline. It is concerned with describing and explaining the world in all its infinite variety. Geographical societies and university departments can be found in all corners of the globe, and the discipline’s practitioners often build careers on internationally collaborative research focused on distant places. Why, then, is the world of geographical publishing and performance measurement so skewed towards the publishing cultures of North America and northwest Europe?

3774886804_5a91f00511_o Source: Flickr Commons

This is the question which arises from a recent paper in Geo: Geography and Environment by Michael Meadows, Ton Dietz and Christian Vandermotten. The authors note the rise and the apparent embedding of a metrics culture in higher education (see for example recent discussions about the role of metrics in the UK’s assessment exercises for research and teaching). Metrics, such as journal impact factors and personal H-index values, have not only become popular…

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Climate change: adaptation, science, and the media

By Joseph J. Bailey,  University of Nottingham, UK.

One is never short of media coverage on climate change, but there has been a flurry recently in relation to its purported role in the ‘sinking’ of several islands in the Solomon Islands, following a publication by Australian researchers (Albert et al., 2016). Dramatic headlines included: “Five Pacific islands lost to rising seas as climate change hits” (The Guardian, 2016a) and “After the Pacific Ocean swallows villages and five Solomon Islands, a study blames climate change” (The Washington Post, 2016), to list just two. Such headlines would lead anyone to think that climate change had solely caused the sea levels to rise and destroy these islands and, therefore, that climate change sank the islands. Perhaps not, though.

The Guardian was quick to release a subsequent article: “Headlines ‘exaggerated’ climate link to sinking of Pacific islands” (The Guardian, 2016b) after they spoke to the paper’s lead author, who identified that many headlines were “certainly pushing things a bit towards the ‘climate change has made islands vanish’ angle”. The Solomon Islands’ sea level rise is above average because of a range of factors, including natural climatic cycles and increases in the strength of the trade winds. These changes are operating alongside global warming which does indeed increase average global sea levels but also increases the intensity of these trade winds, as outlined in the article. It is a complicated climatic system that has been simplified and widely misrepresented in the media to varying extents.

Taking the line ashore. A villager in his canoe takes the line ashore at Halavo, Nggela (Florida) Island, Solomon Islands. Source: This photograph, which has not been edited, was taken by Jenny Scott and downloaded from Flickr (link to photograph) for non-commercial use on this blog under a Creative Commons 2.0 License.

Interestingly, all of this happened about one week after Lord Krebs wrote an article for The Conversation about media responsibility in reporting climate change, and the need for scientists to engage with the media to support more accurate reporting (Krebs, 2016). The issues discussed and articles referenced by Lord Krebs are potentially of a more serious nature than the case of sea level rise affecting the Solomon Islands. However, despite differences in the seriousness of the misrepresentation and simplification of the science between Lord Krebs’ examples and the more recent reports surrounding the Solomon Islands, there is overlap in the associated issues and questions raised. Namely: how can the public and politicians fully understand the science and respond to it in the face of inaccurate and pervasive media reports? Furthermore, if people are not clear on the science of climate change, how does this affect our resilience and willingness to adapt to probable changes in the future?

A recent article in Geography Compass explores climate change adaptation in much detail (Eisenhauer, 2016). Climate change adaptation describes the process whereby people seek to decrease the risks and impacts of climate change through societal and economic strategies, for example (details). The paper focusses on pathways, which describe “alternative trajectories of development” (p. 209), in the context of climate change adaptation because such adaptations are part of continual change towards desirable socio-ecological conditions. Four approaches to pathways are proposed and discussed. They aim to fill the current gap between usable knowledge and action that the paper identifies. In particular, these actions generally relate to governance or development. The importance of local people in adaptation planning is also highlighted.

Discussion of this gap between usable knowledge and action, and attempts to address it, is important because the creation of knowledge is one thing, but identifying which aspects of it are of the greatest relevance and usefulness for the task at hand is another. Subsequent dissemination to stakeholders must then follow, and is it here that the media has great potential. But, as we have seen time and time again, including only this month, knowledge can be misrepresented or simplified to the point where it is no longer presents what the authors intended. Some simplification is necessary to create readable news articles and, as the lead author of the Solomon Islands paper, Dr Simon Albert, told The Guardian, ‘dramatic’,  eye-catching headlines can attract readers and raise the profile of important issues. However, caution is required and a balance between a headline’s accuracy and ability to draw in readers must be struck.

Climate change is one of the most geographical issues, covering all aspects of the human, natural, and physical world, and the connections and interactions therein. The ability of communities to adapt will play a large role in determining its impacts in the future. It is vital that scientific findings are made to be usable and relevant for policy-makers and stakeholders so that effective strategies can be instigated. We have seen here the presentation of science and of geographic phenomena in the media can be inappropriate at times. This makes it difficult for people to be properly informed and make sound decisions about climate-related environmental changes. Additionally, the Solomon Islands coverage should be used as a cautionary example that not all environmental changes are because of climate change: the world is complicated. Communication between scientists and the media and, subsequently, between the media and observers to disseminate accurate and useful knowledge will no doubt be a key ingredient in the initiation of positive action.

 

REFERENCES

Albert, S. et al. (2016). Interactions between sea-level rise and wave exposure on reef island dynamics in the Solomon Islands. Environmental Research Letters, 11 (5).

Eisenhauer, D. C. (2016). Pathways to Climate Change Adaptation: Making Climate Change Action Political. Geography Compass, 10 (5), 207 – 221.

Krebs, J. (2016). Lord Krebs: scientists must challenge poor media reporting on climate change (online). The Conversation. Available at: https://theconversation.com/lord-krebs-scientists-must-challenge-poor-media-reporting-on-climate-change-58621 (last accessed 12th May 2016).

The Guardian (2016a). Five Pacific islands lost to rising seas as climate change hits (online). Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/may/10/five-pacific-islands-lost-rising-seas-climate-change (last accessed 12th May 2016).

The Guardian (2016b). Headlines ‘exaggerated’ climate link to sinking of Pacific islands (online). Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/may/10/headlines-exaggerated-climate-link-to-sinking-of-pacific-islands (last accessed 12th May 2016).

The Washington Post (2016). After the Pacific Ocean swallows villages and five Solomon Islands, a study blames climate change (online). Available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2016/05/09/after-the-pacific-ocean-swallows-villages-and-five-solomon-islands-a-study-blames-climate-change/ (last accessed 12th May 2016).

“I wanna be like you”: Animal geography and ‘The Jungle Book’ (2016)

Kate Whiston, University of Nottingham

The 'man cub'; not quite man, not quite wolf Source: Wikimedia Commons

The ‘man cub’; not quite man, not quite wolf
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Last month saw the release of Disney’s live action re-make of the well-loved classic, The Jungle Book.  Directed by Jon Favreau, the much-anticipated film has enjoyed tremendous early success in both the UK and America, topping the box office charts and breaking ticket-sales records. This modern twist on Rudyard Kipling’s iconic tale, is not only thoroughly entertaining, but also demonstrates some of the main themes explored by animal geographers, as well as those that Bear (2011) (yes, his name really is that apt!) has identified as being under-developed within the discipline.

The most prominent theme that runs throughout the film is the oft-debated, long-standing human-animal binary, placing nature in opposition to culture. Physically, the humans and animals are separated, the human village being distinct from the rest of the jungle. Each have their own place, geographically defined, keeping them separate rather than in constant competition for survival. The cognitive difference between humans and animals is much more heavily emphasised throughout the film. Man’s capacity for rational thought is widely cited as the main distinguishing feature between humans and animals. Let’s start with “man’s red flower”, the phrase used by the animals to describe ‘fire’. The ‘red flower’ stands for man’s superior intelligence and more civilised state; only humans know the secret of how to make it, and its devastating effects are feared by the animals, reinforcing human control over the jungle. Even King Louie, King of the Apes and “jungle V.I.P.”, is aware of the power this ability gives man. As he sings “I wanna be like you”, we are reminded, yet again, of the abyss that remains between man and beast, not only because he “desires man’s red fire”, but also because he wants to “walk like” and “talk like” humans too.

Mowgli’s character also serves to remind us of human-animal difference. His presence in the jungle, a boy living with the wolf pack, turns heads amongst the animals; he is, as geographers would put it, ‘out of place’. Even the wolves who raised Mowgli, and his trusty panther friend Bagheera, scorn some of his innately human ways of problem-solving, which they call ‘tricks’. Mowgli’s presence where he does not ‘belong’ is the reason that he becomes hunted by Shere Khan, and driven out of the jungle by the tiger. On his journey to the man village, Mowgli meets arguably the most loved animal in this story, Baloo the bear, who, after rescuing him from death by python (Kaa, to be precise), soon develops a close bond with him. Mowgli’s distinctly ‘human’ traits are further emphasised, Baloo exploiting his ‘tricks’ in order to help him harvest honey using a complex system of pulleys that only a man could make.

Mowgli and Baloo at Orlando Disney World Source: Wikimedia Commons

Mowgli and Baloo at Orlando Disney World
Source: Wikimedia Commons

After learning that Shere Khan was responsible for his father’s death, and that the tiger has also killed Akela, the leader of the wolf pack, taking charge of the jungle, Mowgli returns to confront Shere Kahn. Taking a burning branch with him from the man village, Mowgli pursues Shere Khan in order to save his wolf family and the rest of the jungle animals from his tyrannous reign. However, his act only further reinforces man’s superiority, as he inadvertently sets fire to the jungle, the fear in the animals’ eyes being a very poignant reminder that Mowgli is, despite his upbringing, a human. Even though, by slaying Shere Khan he helps the other animals, the film still emphasises that man – in this case, Mowgli – and animals are habitually in conflict, a conflict that is often resolved through hunting, slaughter, and the expression of human superiority.

Whilst Mowgli’s character creates a clear division between humans and animals, he also serves to blur the distinction, something which animal geographers argue is becoming more and more common. Being raised by wolves, Mowgli grows up to be one of the pack. He develops wolf-like behavioural traits and, as animal geographers would call it, undergoes a process of ‘becoming wolf’ through close cohabitation. This Deleuzian notion of ‘becoming’ is one which animal geographers have explored in order to explain close human-animal relationships that transcend the boundaries of ‘man’ and ‘beast’. Even the language used by the animals to describe Mowgli – ‘man cub’ – shows the ambiguous nature of his character, not quite man, but not quite wolf. Through living with the animals Mowgli learns to be sensitive to their needs, and develops a close understanding that animal geographers, such as Bear (2011), argue is so difficult to achieve.

Finally, The Jungle Book, also provides an insight into, what animal geographers argue, is an under-developed theme in animal geography, the individuality of animals. Bear (2011) stresses that most animal geography studies focus on groups of animals or whole species, rather than the individual. In his study of Angelica the octopus and her affective relationships with visitors to her aquarium, he poses that more can be learnt about human-animal relationships by studying individual animals, studies of groups of animals homogenising and concealing the individual. In The Jungle Book, whilst we still have groups of animals – such as the pack of wolves and the almost mythical herd of elephants – there are many characters who tell their own individual stories. Baloo the bear, Bagheera the panther, Shere Khan the tiger, and King Louie the gigantopithecus, each express their individuality and have different relationships with Mowgli and the other animals. This, in turn, affects the audience’s response to them; Baloo appears comical yet kind, Bagheera is brave and loyal, Shere Khan is cruel yet vulnerable, and King Louie is powerful and greedy. Interpret them as you will, but, whilst fictional and highly anthropomorphised, it is through these individual stories that the audience form an understanding of the human-animal relationships at play in the film.

Both as a thrilling piece of cinema, and as a demonstration of animal geography’s wider relevance, The Jungle Book is well-worth a watch!

 

books_iconBear, C. (2011) “Being Angelica? Exploring individual animal geographies”, Area, 43(3):297-304.

60-world2The Jungle Book 2016 IMDB listing http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3040964/