Creatures Extinct or Threatened
Will it be Mankind's turn soon?
Can there be a word that conveys more emptiness, frustration and despair than this most final of judgements? To finally realize that a species - all species - will one day share a similar fate, to disappear from the universe and, apart from some traces left in the fossil record, or on the pages of decaying old tomes, will leave nothing of themselves behind. Like Margaret in Manley-Hopkin’s poem, “Goldengrove Unleaving,” (see below) who seems to be weeping over fallen goldenrod blooms, but is really crying bitterly over the fate of all things, including herself; do we sense our own certain demise as we read of another wonderful, unique creature lost to us forever? Do we, Homo sapiens, the thinking man, able to comprehend these heartbreaking losses; contemplate with remorse and agony that we have been responsible for so many extinctions of the creatures which have shared our world, and that our own tenure on the planet will almost certainly be cut short by our aberrant behaviour?
Yet, are we really responsible? Many philosophers, geneticists and other scientists would agree that man is responsible for the murderous extinction of species and for making his own environment become, day by day, less life sustaining for himself. Yet they would also add that he is as much driven by his hard-wired genetic plan as is any one-celled creature, blindly following evolution’s dictates.
Like so many of mankind quandaries: abortion, immigration, belief in a deity, the age of consent, and all the rest, which seem to divide the population, whether we have “free choice” or not is another argumentative area to which people constantly return. Regardless of what or whom is to blame, millions of life forms have burned brightly for a moment in time, only to return, sadly, to the matter- bank from which they sprung; from whence they go on to form part of newly evolving life.
Even in the last 500 years, about 100 singular and interesting creatures have gone off the map. Most have left in the last 100 years.
The list is long and misses much I am sure, as we have never really known all of the species there is in our world: even today, biologists are discovering new creatures and plants every year in the depths of the rainforests and in hidden mountain valleys.
How wonderful, though, to have observed mammals such as the Dodo, Auroch, Giant Fossa, the Giant Vampire Bat, the Falkland Island Wolf, the Madagascan Dwarf and Pygmy Hippopotamus, the terrifying Tasmanian Wolf and the Japanese Sea Lion. And subspecies like the Quagga; Bali, Javan and Caspian Tigers, (yes, our magnificent tigers are nearly all lost to us).
In North Africa we once would have found the Barbary and Cape Lions, the Atlas Bear, and Mexicans would have had the awe-inspiring sight of their own Grizzly Bear, the Mexican subspecies of those still roaming wilderness areas to the north. And so many more on the list, some names I recognise and so many not, that this adds an extra burden of sorrow, as I have no mental image of what these creatures looked like and how they lived.
Trying to focus on the whole history of extinctions is impossible as they would fill several volumes and call for lifetime study. But we can encompass those lost during the last ten years, or so, creatures who we now know will not be sharing much of the 3rd Millennium with us.
If size is a consideration, perhaps the animal most missed will be the West African Black Rhinoceros, last seen around 2006. Also because of their size, they are easy to record and we don’t believe there any left, in or out of captivity. Poaching sealed the demise of this Northern Cameroon native - we can still see bones and the evidence of the last creatures murdered for their horns to make powder so nasty little yellow creeps can get a hard-on. One of my pet furies is the way Orientals cause beautiful creatures to be murdered so they can harvest their organs, etc., to make quack medicine. Or gutless posturing idiots shoot them to nail their heads and hides to their walls.
Of the four Ibex species found in Portugal and Spain, two are now listed as extinct, the Iberian Ibex and the Portuguese Ibex. Still found in the mountains are the Credos and Bellete Ibex‘, not considered threatened for the moment.
Another creature getting - too late - a lot of publicity is the Baiji Dolphin, the playful chap that so entertained travellers on the Yangtze River in China - Grrr! Many nations were concerned when they failed to show up and two large expeditions were sent by ship, financed and staffed from 6 countries. After crossing and re-crossing 3500 kilometres’ of the Yangtze’s delta, they had to report that, as of 2006, the Dolphin was no more.
Spix’s Macaw was the first creature to go missing this Millennium. The Brazilian native was trapped for trade and lost its habitat due to logging, mining and other destruction around the Amazon. Some of the long living birds may still squawk-on in captivity for a while.
We have lost the Kama’o Thrush in Hawaii, two species of toad and one frog. Plus many species of insects which may or may not be recorded. Many other species are so denuded by hunting, loss of habitat and environmental changes that their tenure is unlikely to continue for long.
It seems things have come to the point where we are poised for the worst Mass Extinction since that of the Dinosaurs. Biologists say 20% of the world’s plants are threatened; one-fifth of all the vertebrates will soon be lost forever; only 10% of all the large fish in the world’s oceans remain! (that seems particularly scary); African lions have lost 90% of their number in just 20 years.
We are told by reliable sources that ONE HALF OF ALL SPECIES WILL BE EXTINCT BY THE YEAR 2100!
I wonder if Man will be one of the unlucky ones?
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) list animals extinct and threatened at various levels. Their website has very full details.
I had a quick look there after finishing this small article: (Hubpage articles are, of course, limited in scope, but should serve to impart brief information on subjects such as these and whet the appetites of readers who want to pursue the situation further).
The Dhole jumped from the pages: do you remember Kipling’s “Red Dog Dholes” in Jungle Stories? Now, the shy and rare creature is on the critical list and, being Asian, not easy to protect.
We have heard a lot about tigers lately and it wasn’t surprising to the Siberian Tiger on the critical list. Neither, so sadly, was seeing the Mountain Gorilla soon to be lost forever.
A sample from the also critical list is the African Forest Turtle (and many other turtles in danger to some degree), Darwin’s Fox, the Javan Rhino (soon to join its African cousin in obscurity), the Brazilian Merganser (a goose, I believe), the Gharial, and Vaquita…there are more.
More disturbing perhaps, in the category of Vulnerable are ALL the Lions, ALL the Polar Bears, the Cheetahs, Sloth Bears, Manatee and the Komodo Dragon, a creature of myth and legend.
It won’t be worth living in this world soon, if the point has not been passed already. Do take your grandchildren to zoos and travel to visit animals if you can, many more will soon be just memories, and that not for long…
to a young child
Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leaves, like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! as the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By & by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you will weep & know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sorrow's springs are the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It is the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.
--Gerard Manley Hopkins