Sunday, 1 June 2014

Quest for the Wild Canary 15: Conclusion - The Fortunate Islands?

Guanche Sanctuary, La Gomera
The human history of the islands is as complex, and in many ways as tragic, as the fate of its wildlife. The exact time when people first reached the islands is not clear, but seems to have been around 800 BC. From DNA analysis of ancient remains the population seems to have been related to the Berber people of North Africa. The date of colonisation is suspiciously close to the time when Phoenicians, originally from Tyre, were establishing colonies along the North African coast, of which the most famous was the arch-rival of Rome, Carthage. The Phoenicians were great navigors, whereas the locals seem to have been inland pastoralists, and although there were numerous conflicts with the incomers eventually a mixed Berber-Punic culture emerged. Presumably at some point around this time people reached and settled the islands, which are around 100km from the mainland at the closest point.

Thereafter, the islanders were more or less left to their own devices. With no native metal ores, they were forced to use only stone in tools, although their ancestors would have had an early Iron Age culture. They almost abandoned navigation, and only sailed between islands in sight of each other. They retained pottery, and grew barley and kept sheep, goats, and pigs. The remainder of their diet was seafood and native plants. There were occasional contacts during the Roman period, including this account from Pliny the Elder in the early first century AD:

[The island is] named Canaria [Gran Canaria], from its multitude of dogs of a huge size [two of these were brought back for Juba]. [Explorers] said that in this island there are traces of buildings; that while they all have an abundant supply of fruit and of birds of every kind, Canaria also abounds in palm-groves bearing dates and in conifers; that in addition to this there is a large supply of honey, and also papryus grows in the rivers, and sheat-fish; and that these islands are plagued with the rotting carcasses of monstrous creatures that are constantly being cast ashore by the sea.
The ‘monstrous creatures’ are undoubtedly cetacean carcases, which would also have supplied food to the endemic Ravens and Egyptian Vultures. The dates were the fruit of the Canary Date Palm, which is now widely planted around the world as an ornamental tree. Pliny the Elder, as well as being a pioneering natural historian and polymath, famously met his end during the eruption of Vesuvius that destroyed Pompeii.

With the fall of the Roman Empire the islands were again forgotten, except by the few reading old books, where they were referred to as the Fortunate Islands. The native culture eventually met its match in the first explorers from Portugal and Spain. At the time of first contact the native population was a few tens of thousands at most, mostly on the larger islands. The earliest contacts started in the early 14th century, and grew progressively more violent with slave raids from various governments (and also private individuals). The islanders resisted of course, and on Tenerife especially the Guanches held out for nearly a century, but the two sides were unevenly matched and there could be only one conclusion. The islands became a possession of the Spanish Crown, and also the main resupply point for ships crossing the Atlantic to the New World. In fact, the ferry terminal at La Gomera has a plaque commemorating that the port there was the last place that the ships of Christopher Columbus stopped at before setting off on his voyage of discovery. At that time (1492 of course) the conquest of the Canaries was still not complete – the last battle on Tenerife was fought in 1496.

In the centuries after the Spanish conquest, there was considerable intermarriage between colonists and the locals. This was almost all gender-biased towards Spanish men, with the result that although today native Canary islanders have considerable maternal descent from the Guanche (between 42% and 73% mtDNA) the Y-chromosomes are mostly of Spanish origin. During the Spanish conquest of the Americas the islands became the major supply stop for ships travelling to the New World, and many Canarians took part, contributing their own ancestry to the “Spanish” element in the mixed Hispanic/ Amerindian nations that succeeded the Spanish empire. Venezuela, Cuba, parts of Texas, and Puerto Rico all received large numbers of immigrants from the Canaries. In Puerto Rico, the Festival de las M├íscaras, held at the town of Hatillo, is held on 28th of December and is based on a Canary Island festival brought by the immigrants. Many old festivals, even those ‘officially’ dedicated to some incident in the Christian calendar, are based on pre-Christian customs, so it is possible that the festival includes some elements of Guanche culture. As a result of the emigration to the Caribbean, Canarian Spanish and Caribbean Spanish are very similar to each other. The Guanche language survives mainly in local place names and also some personal names in use on the islands.
In the 20th Century, one of the islands’ most significant figures for the outside world was that the latterly infamous General Franco was the islands’ military commander – a post he was assigned in 1936 to get him away from the government in Spain. It was not exactly successful, and within three years Franco was in total control of Spain after the deaths of perhaps 500,000 people in the Spanish Civil War, which ended in 1939. Unlike his fellow fascist dictators in Italy and Germany, he stayed in power until his death in 1975.

Today the islands have a population of around 2.1 million, and are recognized as an autonomous region of Spain. About one third of the economy is based on the 12 million tourists the islands receive each year, with the rest agriculture and construction. All this places considerable burdens on the environment, although steps are being taken to ameliorate this. El Hiero, the smallest and most westerly of the islands, is aiming to make its entire energy requirements based on renewables such as wind and solar energy within the next few years.

Well, this concludes my series on the Canaries. I hope you have enjoyed it, and it has given any visitors some ideas as to what to look for. Next time, I will return to Bristol Zoo, where some new developments have been taking place that I need to update you on.
(Guanche archaeological site from Wikipedia, other photos this post are mine)

Farewell from Fuerteventura
Postscript:Birds seen on Tenerife, Gomera and Fuerteventura, February 2014:
(Birds highlighted are taxa endemic either to the islands or Macaronesia)
Black-Necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis (F)
Cory’s Shearwater Calonectis diomedea (T - G)
Northern Gannet Morus bassanus (F)
Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis (T)
Little Egret Egretta garzetta (T, F)
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea (T,F)
Sacred Ibis Threskiornis aethipicus (F)
Eurasian Spoonbill Platelea leucorodia (F)
Ruddy Shelduck Tadorna ferruginea (F)
Eurasian Teal Anas crecca (T)
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos (T, F)
Gadwall Anas strepera (T)
Ring-Necked Duck Aythya collaris (F)
Canary Egyptian Vulture Neophron percnopterus majorensis (F)
Canary Common Buzzard Buteo buteu insularum (T,F)
Osprey Pandion haliaetus (T)
Macaronesian Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus granti (T)
Tenerife Kestrel Falco tinnunculus canariensis (T)
Fuerteventura Kestrel Falco tinnunculus dacotiae (F)
Barbary Falcon Falco pelegrinoides (T)
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus (T, F)
Eurasian Coot Fulica atra (T,F)

Houbara Bustard Chlamydotis undulata fuerteventurae (F)
Black-Winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus  (F)

Fuerteventura Stone Curlew Burhinus oedicnemus insularum (F)
Cream-Coloured Courser Cursorius cursor (F)
Little Ringed Plover Charadrius dubius (T,F)
Common Ringed Plover Charadrius hiaticula (F)
Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus (F)
Ruddy Turnstone Arenaria interpres (F)
Sanderling Calidris alba (F)
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos (T, F)
Green Sandpiper Tringa ochropus (F)
Spotted Redshank Tringa erythropus (F)
Common Greenshank Tringa nebularia (F)
Wood Sandpiper Tringa glareola (F)
Yellow-Legged Gull Larus michahellis atlantis (T, F)
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus (T, F)
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis (F)
Black-Bellied Sandgrouse Pterocles orientalis (F)
Feral Pigeon Columba livia (T, F)
Laurel Pigeon Columba junoniae (G)
Bolle’s Pigeon Columba bolli (G)
Eurasian Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto (T, G, F)
Pallid Swift Apus pallidus (T, F)
Plain Swift Apus unicolor (F)

Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops (F)
Canary Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos major canariensis (T)
Lesser Short-Toed Lark Calandrella rufescens polatzeki
House Martin Delichon urbicum (T)
Berthelot’s Pipit Anthus berthelotii (T, G, F)
White Wagtail Motacilla alba alba (F)
Canary Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea canariensis (T)
Tenerife Robin Erithacus (rubecula) superbus (T)
Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochrurus (F)
Fuerteventura Stonechat Saxicola dacotia (F)
Song Thrush Turdus philomelos (F)
Canary Blackbird Turdus merula cabrerae (T)
Blackcap Sylvia atricapilla heineken (T, F)
Sardinian Warbler Sylvia melanocephala leucogastra (F)
Spectacled Warbler Sylvia conspicillata orbitalis (T, F)
Common Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita (F)
Canary Chiffchaff Phylloscopus canariensis (T)
Yellow Browed Warbler Phylloscopus inornatus (F)
Canary Goldcrest Regulus regulus Teneriffae (G)
Tenerife Blue Tit Cyanistes teneriffae teneriffae (T)
African Blue Tit Cyanistes ultramarinus ultramarinus (F)

Great Grey Shrike Lanius excurbitor koenegi (T, F)

Common Raven Corvus corax tingitanus (T, F)
Spanish Sparrow Passer hispaniolensis (T, F)
Tenerife Common Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs canariensis (T)

Blue Chaffinch Fringilla teydea teydea (T)
Tenerife Linnet Carduelis cannabina meadewoldi (T)
Fuerteventura Linnet Carduelis cannabina harterti (F)
European Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis (F)
European Greenfinch Carduelis chloris (T)

Atlantic Canary Serinus canaria (T)
Trumpeter Finch Bucanetes githageneus amantum (F)
Corn Bunting Miliaria calandra (T)
Rose-Ringed Parakett Psittacula krameri (F)
Monk Parakeet Myiopsitta monachus (F)

Canary Speckled Wood
Canary Large White Pieris cheiranthi (T)
Small White Artogeia rapae (T, F)
Bath White Pontia daplidice (T)
African Grass Blue Zizeeria knysna (T)
Monarch Danaus plexippus (T, F)
Painted Lady Vanessa cardui (T, F)
Canary Speckled Wood Pararge xiphioides (T)

Sahara Bluetail Ischnura saharensis (F)
Vagrant Emperor Anax ephippiger (F)
Blue Emperor Anax imperator (T)
Broad Scarlet Crocothemis chrysostigma (F)
Red-Veined Darter Sympetrum fonscolombii (T)

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