Landscape Creature Feature: The Lion Mountain of Provence

Some background to the below video

Before we get to my video on the lion mountain, a bit of background. I like nature, and I like culture, and I think they’ve got a lot in common, and that they are also deeply intertwined. Because life imitates art, art can affect our attitudes to nature by reshaping the aesthetic. So, for example, art could champion the idea that all that really matters is human made stuff, while the other creations that go on out in nature are unimportant. Not a fan. Or it could take attitudes to nature that say that a field of sheep with a tightly cropped monocrop of grass and low biodiversity is the way to go. Again, not my bag. Or it could show a stag in a treeless Scottish highland landscape as if this is how nature should be. Once again, rewilders beg to differ. What if the aesthetic that art chose to showcase was based on concepts like sustainability and biodiversity, natural processes and intact ecosystems? This is why at the moment I’m very into the idea of a particular metaphor that I think harmonises culture and nature.

Dreamtime Landscape as Ecological Landscape

The indigenous hunter gatherer culture of Australia gives us the concept of the Dreamtime. Long ago, great animal beings emerged out of the dreaming, mysterious formlessness and shaped the landscape, and in doing so they established an order, and ways of doing things, and filled the world with a potent creativity that ensures that the landscape continues to be abundant. These animal beings became part of the landscape, their bodies becoming hills, rocks and mountains. However, if those landscape feature creatures were to be forgotten about and the patterns of activity they established were no longer followed, if people no longer continued to live on the land in the way that was established in the Dreamtime, the life giving potency of those Dreamtime beings would fade away and nature would cease to be so abundantly productive.

Now consider this as an ecological metaphor: long ago, ecosystem engineer animals evolved into being in deep evolutionary time and shaped the ecological landscape, and in doing so they established an order, because other animals evolved to fit around the impacts of these animals, inhabiting the niches that they created. As these impacts and niches remained constant over long periods of time, nature evolved to fill them to the fill, and a balance was established: a healthy ecosystem. So these ecosystem engineers have become features of the ecological landscape. However, if those ecosystem engineers, those keystone species, were to be lost from the system, balance would be lost and there would be a severe downgrading of biodiversity and ecosystem functioning.

In Aboriginal culture, it is seen as important to maintain the rock art that anchors the potency of the Dreamtime animal beings into the landscape. Well, going back to the idea that life imitates art and art shapes attitudes via the aesthetic, I think there is something in this, and that is what Rock Art 4 Rewilding is all about: the rock slab canvas is the landscape and the Earth pigment images of keystone creature is an affirmation of the importance of placing those animals back in our landscapes. I haven’t done my big cat painting yet, but it is in my to do list. (It will be a lynx – watch this space.) But I thought my video below on the Lion Mountain of Provence would be something to be going on with.

Apex Predators as Keystone Species

The importance of predators in maintaining the balance of an established ecosystem was first discovered by modern science in the case of rock pools, where the removal of the top predator – the starfish – lead to a complete collapse of the system, with a total loss of diversity, and only one species – the mussel – remaining. If you’re at all familiar with the topics of rewilding and trophic cascades, you’ll probably be familiar with the more well-known story of the wolves of Yellowstone in the US. Wolves were eradicated, and it had a massive effect on the place. Numbers of deer (known as elk in the US) went up, and they also moved around less and spent time in places that previously they had avoided out of fear of wolves. Coyotes became the apex predator, but their prey was smaller, so levels of smaller mammals dropped. The deer overgrazed, reducing the number of trees. The beavers who ate these trees had less food and less material for their dams and shelters, and their numbers dropped. Without the cohesive effect of tree roots, there was much erosion of river banks and the courses of rivers were changed, becoming less meandering, and less conducive to wildlife. The numbers of fish, insects, songbirds and amphibians also dropped. Species that were used to scavenging on wolf kills also suffered, such as bears, eagles and ravens.

A decision was made to reintroduce wolves, and everything I just mentioned was reversed. That the wolf creates the right kind of order and even, indirectly, changes the course of rivers, makes it seem just like one of those Australian Dreamtime totems that emerged in deep time and created the landscape and instituted the right way to live on the land.

The Lion Mountain

In the ecosystem of the African savannah, the role of apex predator is played by a collective of animals that include big cats like leopards and lions, as well as wild dogs and hyenas. And when it comes to the large African buffalo, it is only really the lion that can take them down. In some areas, buffalo are lions’ primary prey. Lions therefore play an important role, creating the necessary “landscape of fear” that keeps the heavy, hungry buffalo moving around. As a keystone species, lions are a feature of the ecological landscape. And that, at last, gets the background out of the way, so here’s the video:

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