Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories charmed Victorian readers with tales such as how the leopard got his spots. In re-reading this childhood classic, I was struck with the idea of Kipling’s whimsy being a parable for climate change adaptation and coping techniques. So…
Adaptation in the Mara River Basin paired with Kipling’s Words
“There was sand and sandy-coloured rock and ‘sclusively tufts of sandy-yellowish grass. The Giraffe and the Zebra and the Eland and the Koodoo and the Hartebeest lived there; and they were ‘sclusively sand-yellow-brownish all over, but the Leopard, he was the ‘sclusivest sandiest-yellowest-brownest of them all.
An Ethiopian with bows and arrows (a ‘sclusively greyish-brownish-yellowish man he was then), lived on the High Veldt with the Leopard, and the two used to hunt together – the Ethiopian with his bows and arrows, and the Leopard ‘sclusively with his teeth and claws.
… The Giraffe and the Eland and the Koodoo and the Quagga and all the rest of them… learned to avoid anything that looked like a Leopard or an Ethiopian and bit by bit… they went away…. They scuttled for days and days and days till they came to a great forest, ‘sclusively full of trees and bushes and stripy,speckly, patchy-blatchy shadows, and there they hid….
Then [the Ethiopian and the leopard] met Baviaan, — the dog-headed, barking Baboon, who is Quite the Wisest Animal in All South Africa. Said Leopard to Baviaan (and it was a very hot day), Where has all the game gone?”
And Baviaan winked. He knew….
Then said Baviaan, “The aboriginal Fauna has joined the aboriginal Flora because it was high time for a change, and my advice to you Ethiopian, is to change as soon as you can.” ….
[The Ethiopian then said,] “The long and the little of it is that we don’t match our backgrounds. I’m going to take Baviaan’s advice He told me I ought to change, and as I’ve nothing to change except my skin. I’m going to change that … to a nice working blackish-brownish colour with a little purple in it, and touches of slaty-blue. It will be the very thing for hiding in hollows and behind trees….”
“Umm…, I’ll take spots, then, said the Leopard…. The Ethiopian put his five fingers close together (there was plenty of black left on his new skin still) and pressed them all over the Leopard… “Now you are a beauty! Said the Ethiopian. “You can lie out on the bare ground and look like a heap of pebbles. You can lie out on the naked rocks and look like a piece of pudding-stone. You can lie out on a leafy branch and look like sunshine sifting through the leaves, and you can lie aright across the centre of a path and look like nothing in particular. Think of that and purr!”
So they went away and lived happily ever afterward, Best Beloved. That is all.”
All photos © Alison M. Jones.