I was reminded of this by an memorial article about the fall of the once numerous passenger pigeon:
|- Birds of New York (New York State Museum. Memoir 12), Albany: University of the State of New York. Plates by Fuertes later reproduced in Birds of America (1917?) by Thomas Gilbert Pearson (1873-1943) et al.|
Dearly Beloved: 100 Years Ago the Last Passenger Pigeon Died
A hundred years ago, Martha died. At 1 p.m. on September 1, 1914, the last individual of a wild blue dove whose flocks once numbered billions and blackened the American skies for days fell over dead in her Cincinnati zoo cage.I don't want to see our world poorer for the loss of species after species, some relegated to spend their last gasps in zoos only to become extinct like the passenger pigeon. There are so many species of animals on the verge of extinction and while there has been some success with conservation and breeding programmes, there is the problem of small gene pools and rapid loss of environment. What we may find is that as we meld our world into some sort of convenience for ourselves, we lose the beauty of the natural world, and the diversity. Even our food is less diverse than it was a hundred years ago, thanks to companies like Monsanto and practices such as genetic modification of crops. In our race for 'progress' and 'the future', we may find that in actuality, we have shortchanged not only the planet but also our future upon it. The Earth will turn until the Sun expands and envelops it, many aeons into the future. We talk about the end of days, but it is not the Earth that will end, but our time on it. Through our manipulation of the environment, we may find that the world ends not in the bang of nuclear war or in the fury of powerful weapons, but rather in the proverbial whimper of starvation and loss of, yes, environment.
With the magnitude of her race's extinction, the American story - which is particularly the story of people on the land - ripped deeper into loss.
Almost no part of early American life went untouched by the passenger pigeon. Nearly 40 percent of all North American birds were passenger pigeons. The fact that most people today never heard of them shows how quickly we get accustomed to poverty.
Not confused with the city pigeon (an invasive species from England), the passenger pigeon was our continent's blue-winged exclamation - sleek, larger than a mourning dove, incredibly beautiful with an hourglass neck, iridescent blue body, apple breast, and white underside. In their billions - and they needed huge numbers to survive - they migrated north and south, creating their own wind and weather.
For more about the wholesale slaughter of these birds that went on for so long, you may want to check out a book called A Feathered River Across the Sky by Joel Greenberg, reviewed in a Guardian article.