The Ukrainian war crisis, forcing millions of people to leave their homes and becoming refugees without a family base or secure income in strange parts of the world…businesses to close…a major gas crisis in Europe, oil prices shooting up, rising inflation, food security in many countries being affected by resulting wheat (and other) shortages.  

Even as far away as South Africa, we feel the effects with the exorbitant oil and gas price increases during the worst electricity cuts in years with a cold, wet winter looming.  The small light in our economy’s tunnel that was international export is being hampered by embargos on exports to Russia (causing pear prices to fall through the bottom and this after farmers looked forward to a bumper crop, the best in a while after terrible draughts…).  Wheat prices will certainly rise due to increase in global demand meaning our own population and probably many others in countries worse off than ours who are dependent on daily government subsidised bread will suffer under yet another long, harsh sentence without having committed any crime.

How do we prioritise our home planet, mother earth, when the greedy and power hungry are threatening our livelihoods? In Chinua Achebe’s words; ‘when things fall apart’ around us?

I look this week towards a humble, rather drab looking (as birds go, that is) local bird species – the Sociable Weavers – for inspiration.  One of the few bird species who do not build a nucleus nest for their little family of mom, dad and baby, but has a rather large sense of community spirit. They build family estates, so to speak! It is like a massive apartment block which can be occupied by up to 100 families around the year. Fun facts about this bird are that they are found in South Africa and Namibia and South West Botswana. Despite the extreme conditions, droughts and encroachment on their habitat, these birds are found in great abundance and there is little concern about their survival, unlike many other bird species today.   Their colonies can be up to 500 strong and nests can reach up to 4 meters in height!  It looks like a giant haystack. Some of these nest structures can even be 100 years old.

The large nest is made from a myriad of smaller nesting chambers, all lined with soft materials like fluff, hair, feathers, etc. 


There are many benefits to this co-habitation agreement, namely:

  1. Location security: They choose either poles (yes even telephone poles) or trees with sparse branches so that snakes and other predators cannot easily reach them.
  2. Energy saving: In winter, especially on the escarpment of the Kalahari and Namibian desert areas where these birds live, temperatures drop to below zero on winter nights and rise to over 40 degrees Celsius in summer.  By roosting together when cold, the insulation translates into significant energy savings, which reduces their demand for food and enhances their ability to survive in the cold.  When very hot, they roost in individual chambers…. keeping comfortable and cool. 
  3. Inclusivity across species: They are inclusive little folk and even allow birds from other species to roost there like lovebirds, chats, finches, African pygmy falcons and even certain owl species, to name a few.  The opportunistic bigger guys like eagles roost and nest in the penthouse – on top of the nest!
  4. Family values: Sociable Weavers react by breeding as soon as there is a rain downpour, whether in or out of the usual ‘breeding season’. Breeding pairs can have up to five chicks each and older siblings help raise the young ones.  
  5. Food security and circular economy: There have also been reports that all the inhabitants, even different species, help with feeding the community. The Weavers live in very dry areas and do not need any water to survive but get all the needed hydration from eating insects, which forms about 80% of their diet.  In turn, their dropping underneath the nest acts as a food source for the grateful scarab beetle (also called dung beetle).  Dung removal and burial by dung beetles result in ecological benefits such as soil aeration and fertilization; improved nutrient cycling and uptake by plants, increase in pasture quality, biological control of pest flies and intestinal parasites and secondary seed dispersal.


In short, there are many lessons to be learnt from the humble Sociable Weaver.  The one that stands out for me is that, when things are tough, it is not a time to look inward and isolate yourself but in fact the opposite; reach out, collaborate, find a way to work together for the sustainable survival of our species and our home planet.  There is no planet B.