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Proteus - The Future Hanging On

The King Protea is our national flower. What better way to contribute to our youths education than by using our national flower.

Proteus was the Greek God who looked after Poseidon's seals. One of his powers was that he knew the future. For this reason many people searched for him to find out what their future held. But Proteus did not willingly part with this information. His favourite trick was to change shape and escape. Thus to obtain a prophesy from old Proteus you had to sneak up to him and grab tight. No matter what shape he took, be it a lion, snake, fire, dragon or water you had to hold tight lest he escape. If you outlasted him, he would foretell your future. Protea Atlas Logo

This mythology is apt for our national flower. In order to progress in the future one must hold onto what one has. We must ensure that we do not lose our plants and animals. We must not destroy our rivers, veld and mountains - either by over-development or ignorance. The first step to intelligent tinkering is to keep all the pieces safe. Progress requires that we must change our environment. But we must set some aside for the future.

What future? South Africa is experiencing a whirlwind of exciting changes. To some it is too fast. To some it is too slow. The speed is not as important as its being done correctly. And correctly means looking after the pieces. Those pieces - our plants, animals and environment - are precious resources. For them tourists come thousands of miles. To see some plants! To see some animals! To see our beautiful country! To see our interesting culture! From them we will develop horticultural varieties to please our nose and eyes and gardens. From them we will find food, medicines and materials for the future. With them we can educate and uplift our nation.

But the story does not end here. We are living in one of the hot spots in the world for plants. That is partly why ecotourism is such a major potential industry. However, we are also living in one of the mega-disaster areas of the world. The Cape Flora, especially in the southwestern Cape, is sitting on the brink of an extinction spasm unknown in human memory. It is up to us to stop it. We can. Our children may not be able to - if we lose it, it will not be there for them to save.

We must grasp old Proteus tightly. We must make sure that none of our proteas go extinct! About 100 of the 350 species of proteas are threatened with extinction. Almost one third: a mega-disaster is unfolding on our doorsteps. We must grasp tightly. Keep all the pieces. Hold on to what we have. We must conserve our future. No one will get medicines from extinct plants. Tourists will not visit an area that once was great. We hold the future in our hands. Like no other generation before or to come, the future is ours to decide.

Our children will say "they did it!" Lets hope we do it right. Lets hold on to Proteus. Lets use him to educate ourselves about conservation and our environment. If we hold on tight and never let go, who knows what he will reveal about our future.

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