HomeOpinion & AnalysisThe dung beetle gets my vote

The dung beetle gets my vote


I managed to hook my wife by employing others to convince her that I was “a real dog”. However, once married, I was expected to prove that I was not. Women are strange. They are very interested in a man of questionable reputation, but once married, the husband must be absolutely above reproach.

By Chris Greenland

So, to prove that I was rehabilitated, I would do the chocolate and flowers thing. I would also sing to her and recite poetry. This would include terms of endearment in different languages like — “Je t’aime” “Te amo”; “my liefling”; and round it off with “isigiqathuvi yami”. Since she did not understand isiNdebele, she naturally assumed that isigiqathuvi yami meant something endearing like the other terms. It actually means “my pooh/crap roller”, i.e., dung beetle.

I was in very serious trouble when she eventually found out. But she has forgiven me. Like me, she has come to have the highest regard and love for the little creature that is referred to — the dung beetle, Scarabaeus viettei, chitutandove in Shona.

I first came across these wonderful creatures when, as a toddler, my granny would allow me to help her collect cow dung. This would be thoroughly hand-mixed and spread on the floor and walls of her hut. I don’t think there has been a happier toddler in the history of mankind. In the process we would have to pick out the dung beetles from the dung.

It is very difficult to explain how enrapturing the dung beetle was to my young mind, hungry for knowledge, exploring so diverse a world. The dung beetle is an insect, but he is not small and pesky. He does not sting, bite or give you a rash. No, he is beautiful to look at, ranging in colour from solid black to an admixture of other royal shades like emerald green and ermine.

With his armour-plated body and articulated limbs, he radiates quiet dignity and immense strength. He is a picture of indestructibility. However, he is completely non-aggressive, never seeking to threaten or destroy. And, despite being built like a tank, he can fly.

I was mesmerised at how this wonderful creature would get to work, rolling a ball of dung, with single-minded purposefulness. The fact that he would do it going backwards, and that he was never deterred by the enormous size of the ball, made a huge impression on my hungry mind and other sensibilities. From day one I knew that the dung beetle was special, very special indeed. Some idea of how special this creature is can be gleaned from:

“Dung beetles play a remarkable role in agriculture. By burying and consuming dung, they improve nutrient recycling and soil structure. They also protect livestock, such as cattle, by removing the dung which, if left, could provide habitat for pests such as flies. Therefore, many countries have introduced the creature for the benefit of animal husbandry. In developing countries, the beetle is especially important as an adjunct for improving standards of hygiene.

The American Institute of Biological Sciences reports that dung beetles save the United States cattle industry an estimated
$380 million annually through burying above-ground livestock faeces.

In Australia, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) commissioned the Australian Dung Beetle Project (1965-1985) which, led by Dr George Bornemissza, sought to introduce species of dung beetles from South Africa and Europe. The successful introduction of 23 species was made, most notably Onthophagus gazella and Euoniticellus intermedius, which have resulted in the improvement of the quality and fertility of Australian cattle pastures, along with a reduction in the population of pestilent bush flies by around 90%.

An application has been made by Landcare Research to import up to 11 species of dung beetle into New Zealand. As well as improving pasture soils, the Dung Beetle Release Strategy Group say that it results in a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from the agricultural sector.

Like many other insects, the (dried) dung beetle, called qianglang (蜣蜋) in Chinese, is used in Chinese herbal medicine. It is recorded in the “Insect section”

(蟲部) of the Compendium of Materia Medica, where it is recommended for the cure of 10 diseases.” [1]
Pooh, crap, or whatever you want to call it, is a reality. You can’t wish it away. It is everywhere, produced by all creatures, all of the time.

What goes in, must come out. Were it not for the dung beetle, the planet would be drowning in it. So while the elephant trumpets triumphantly, the buffalo bellows, the springbok pronks, the male impala fights over dominance, the male lion struts about marking territory, and man goes about polluting the planet … this little unpretentious creature quietly goes about its business of cleaning it all up. The dung beetle is the world’s sanitation department. It invented the concept of recycling.

The dung beetle gets my vote. It gets my vote on any number of counts; solid good looks, functional construction, efficient, effective, non-aggressive, unassuming and diamond-hard functional integrity. Which other creature embodies all these qualities and attributes? Which other creature can match the dung beetle on a cost/benefit or any other benefit test? Whatever cliché test you may wish to employ — making a difference, adding value — this little fellow is champion!

At the moment the cockerel (jongwe) is the symbol of the ruling Zanu PF party in my birth country, Zimbabwe. Our national symbol is the “Zimbabwe Bird”, a mystical bird conspicuous by its absence from the general scheme of things. The cockerel is the epitome of a self-centred, self-serving culture. It has produced nothing to be proud of. We need the service culture of the dung beetle. The cockerel contributes little to the general welfare of its environment. It struts about lording it over others. It will crow loud and long. It is difficult to understand about what. Certainly its highly aggressive micro sex sessions are nothing to crow about.

I vote that the Zimbabwe bird, which appears to have been chased off by the Zanu PF cockerel in any event, should be immediately replaced by the dung beetle as Zimbabwe’s national animal. Even symbolically the dung beetle is the obvious choice. Zimbabwe is in it. Proverbially, it is in deep crap … 90% unemployment, politically-inspired violence, just for starters. It has got there, largely on account of the uncaring self-serving, aggressive culture, epitomised by the cockerel. It now needs the only creature on the planet that has the skills to turn our crappy situation completely around to that which is wholesome and beautiful. It really is a no-brainer.

Let us recognise this little creature for what it is. Let us accord it the recognition that it deserves. Let us show our appreciation. Let us open our minds and let it in.

As our collective psyche becomes imbued with this incredible creature, we will begin to understand. We will be concerned with truth; truth about physical and mental pollution, the well-being of our planet and its creatures. We will set a new vision.

Our mission statement will change. Our core values will change forever. We will commit to the common good as world citizens.
So vote with me that the dung beetle be adopted as our national animal, and that its picture be proudly festooned on all official flags and plaques, as our national emblem.

l Chris N Greenland is a retired judge of the High Court in Zimbabwe and South Africa. He has also worked under and been an expert adviser to three different governments in South Africa, Botswana and Namibia.

Recent Posts

Stories you will enjoy

Recommended reading