I don’t recall why I became fascinated with the natural world but curiosity for creatures that did everything possible to escape my young explorer’s hands enveloped me from an early age – and I have the bite marks and scratches to remind me.
I read an article earlier this month about the official extinction of the Javan Rhino and wondered how many other animals had become extinct since I entered the world over 40 years ago. Had any of the wild pets that I had kept as a child or the species that I had studied at Leeds University become endangered in my lifetime? Certainly there had been a decline in the numbers of some of the once common birds like house sparrows and starling, and insects like bees and earwigs, and amphibian like frogs and newts, and mammals like water voles and hedgehogs….. Hold on a second, these were the animals that had first fascinated me with the natural world and were once common wild animals in Britain. What had happened and why hadn’t I noticed or become more concerned before?
We had studied the five known mass extinctions periods as zoology students and I was completely aware that natural evolution had occurred on this planet for nearly 4 billion years and would continue long after the humans became extinct, but more recently extinction events seem to be directly related to homo sapiens. Weren’t we just another part of the evolution process? Part of the sixth mass extinction event? Unlike the previous five events which were directly caused by physical forces causing global climate changes, the current extinction event is generally agreed to be caused by a single biotic – us! Unfortunately, there is nothing natural about the evolution process that the human race is causing and it is estimated that between 30,000 and 40,000 species a year are lost. For further reading please click here.
Without any hope of changing the entire world on my own and saving all the species currently on the endangered list, it is possible to make a difference. Many of the species are endangered because of loss of habitat and this has often been caused by the supply changes of large corporations. Annie Leonard of The Story of Stuff has highlighted this problems with a series of simple videos which are free to watch and distribute on the internet, and if we all took some time to investigate where our stuff comes from then we might be able to convince corporations of their environmental responsibilities. Firstly, watch these videos and share them with the people in your life. Be prepared that some people won’t agree with your views and opinions, but educating yourself will put you in a stronger position during open discussions. Secondly, make chooses what you buy and where you shop, but go a little further and contact those businesses that are in the supply chain and ask them to review their policies. Thirdly, conservationist need our support by highlighting the animals, plants and fungi on The UNCN Red List of Threatened Species – yes we need to save the fungi too! So find a species from last year’s 100 most endangered on the planet that you would like to save and start campaigning – but remember that the Javan Rhino needs to be crossed of this list now as it has sadly become extinct.
As a formal zoologist and one that hasn’t supported these environmental issues for the last ten years and who had become disheartened, I’ll select a range of species on the list and keep you updated on their status and conservation work. To answer my original question, approximately 1.2 million species have become extinct in my lifetime. Help save the diversity of species so that the next generations can be fascinated with the natural world, just like I was.
Or did the stand-up comedian George Carlin get it right?!
“We’re so self-important. So arrogant. Everybody’s going to save something now. Save the trees, save the bees, save the whales, save the snails. And the supreme arrogance? Save the planet! Are these people kidding? Save the planet? We don’t even know how to take care of ourselves; we haven’t learned how to care for one another. We’re gonna save the fuckin’ planet? . . . And, by the way, there’s nothing wrong with the planet in the first place. The planet is fine. The people are fucked! Compared with the people, the planet is doin’ great. It’s been here over four billion years . . . The planet isn’t goin’ anywhere, folks. We are! We’re goin’ away. Pack your shit, we’re goin’ away. And we won’t leave much of a trace. Thank God for that. Nothing left. Maybe a little Styrofoam. The planet will be here, and we’ll be gone. Another failed mutation; another closed-end biological mistake.”