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Plaza de Mina is probably my favourite square in Cádiz, in a city full of pleasant squares, great and small. I like its benches shaded by leafy, old trees along with the fine houses and shops that look onto it.
Unlike most other squares in the city, it has a unique feature: a loud, almost unpleasant, squawking sound. A colony of green parrots has set up in its trees. Shy birds, if it wasn’t for the row they make, you wouldn’t know they were there. Being that sort of person, I quite enjoy it. Apart from the occasional flash of green plumage here and there, before they disappear among the heavy foliage, you hardly ever see them.
Imagine my pleasure when I saw three parrots on the ground before me the other day. Angelica and I were on a weekend trip into Europe’s oldest continually inhabited city. People have lived in Cádiz for over three thousand years.
Even better, the parrots didn’t immediately take to the air when I approached them with my camera. For the very first time I stood a chance of getting some excellent shots. But my joy was short-lived as I saw exactly why they didn’t seek shelter in the overhanging branches.
What took place in front of my eyes for next five to ten minutes was little short of amazing. Closer inspection revealed, while one of the birds lay on the ground, the other two were busy preening it. Or that’s how it seemed, till I noticed the bird flat on the earth was barely able to raise its head, which hung limply from its neck. It was dying. Its two fellows were trying to re-animate it by pecking gently at its plumage. Though keeping a wary eye on me, their own safety was taking second place to the well-being of their injured friend.
It soon became obvious their selfless mission was hopeless. Their friend’s fate was sealed. Nevertheless, they didn’t fly off till a young boy passed too close. He didn’t see them. By that time it didn’t matter. Their poor friend, who they’d stayed beside till his last tiny breath, had expired.
Perhaps we can learn something from this. Maybe the selfish gene that is thought by many of the fittest to be the driving force behind evolution – in other words: the survival of the fittest – though of vital importance, still isn’t the most important thing about us. Just maybe, altruism is just as important, or even more important to our survival. Maybe we have evolved to help those less able to survive, to survive. If every physically-flawed genius had been left to die by the wayside, Stephen Hawking would never have lived beyond his early twenties. The parrot that died may have had within its genes, some element that could’ve proved vital for the survival of its colony at some unknown point in the future.
If we don’t develop even further, into a society where those less able are enabled with the help of of us all, maybe our entire species is destined to not to survive. For us, and the planet we inhabit, to survive, we need to help each other, and learn to respect the environment we share with all other species.
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