Reflecting on extinction

Reflecting on extinction

Terry Tempest Williams writes:

On the 50th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act, I am thinking about extinction and what that means for a creature, a living being, to vanish from existence. Say their names: great auk, passenger pigeon, Carolina parakeet, Steller’s sea cow, Caribbean monk seal, Great Plains wolf, Puerto Rican long-nosed bat, Maryland darter, Utah lake sculpin, Labrador duck, heath hen, Bachman’s warbler, Xerces blue butterfly, Wyoming toad, and Panamanian golden frog—all extinct beginning in the 1800s to present.

Imagine an individual animal or insect or plant—alone—reaching, wandering, wondering, if they are the last of the living members of their kind. Certainly, they must know, sense, or fear this fact. What must it be like to surrender to one’s isolation by way of howl or cry or flight or bloom to attract a response, a glimmer or glint of kin?

The Sixth Extinction is upon us. It is true, species extinction has been a natural part of the Earth’s evolutionary history, as evidenced with the disappearance of dinosaurs in the Cretaceous Era, 65 million years ago, to the extinctions of the great megafauna such as mammoths and mastodons in the late Pleistocene Era who inhabited the last ice age some 10,000 years ago. But scientists today report an accelerated loss of biodiversity 1,000 times faster than the natural rate of approximately one to five species annually.

Now on the brink of extinction in North America are the red wolf, wood bison, grizzly bear, black-footed ferret, California condor, ocelot, Florida manatee, northern fur seal, loggerhead turtle, green sea turtle, giant sea bass, Oregon spotted frog, O‘ahu tree snail, rusty-patched bumblebee, Hine’s emerald dragonfly, Kirtland warbler, Eskimo curlew, wood stork, willow flycatcher, North Atlantic right whale, beluga whale, and elkhorn coral.

Loneliness inhabits my body as I whisper the names of the extinct and endangered, something better to do in a circle as ceremony, as we pay our respects and contemplate their lives together. How are we to survive without our companion species on Planet Earth? We are not above them or below them—but side by side—fellow creatures caught in a web of uncertainty in this era of the Anthropocene where our human footprint lands heavy on the Earth. [Continue reading…]

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