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Norwich Bulletin - 5/9/2010

What Have We Done?

All the animals were put on this earth for a reason. Every one of them has a place in the ecological plan, and every time an animal goes extinct, we upset the applecart, so to speak. Whether by hunting, or because we have developed too much of mother nature’s world; we have driven countless species to extinction. This is certainly nothing we should be proud of and even though humankind knows better at this point, extinction of nature’s creatures, continues on. Here are the stories of some recently extinct animals.

The Quagga was a subspecies of the plains zebra that was striped only on the head, neck and front portion of its body. It also was not white, but a brown color in its upper parts. Strangely, it was named for the sound of its call! The Quagga lived in the drier parts of South Africa, on the grassy plain, where it was ruthlessly hunted down for meat and leather by South African farmers, and to protect their wild grass from being eaten, so they would have the food for their sheep and goats.

The last free Quaggas are said to have been caught in 1870. They did not successfully breed in captivity and in 1883 in the Amersterdam zoo, where she had lived since her capture in 1867, the last Quagga mare died. And sadly enough, no-one even realized they had become extinct until many years later.

The Passenger Pigeon was a common North American bird that lived in enormous migratory flocks, sometimes containing more than two billion birds! And so it was on of the most abundant birds in the world in the 19th century. And in the early part of the 20th century, it became extinct. There was habitat loss when the settlers started homesteading further inland; but the majority of loss came about when pigeon meat was commercialized as a cheap food for slaves and the poor, resulting in what can only be described as a hunting massacre.

And then the farmers decided that the large flocks were a threat. And so there were catastrophic declines in the late 1900 ‘s, and yet no-one thought to slow down the slaughter of these birds. On September 1, 1914, the last Passenger Pigeon, named Martha, died alone at the Cincinnati Zoo, and the tragedy was complete.

The Tasmanian Tiger (Thylacine), also known as the Tasmanian wolf, was known to be the largest carnivorous Marsupial of modern times. Native to Tasmania, it closely resembled a striped coyote. But there was no relation to either cat or dog in this mammal. Similar to the kangaroo, it had a pouch for carrying its young. These creatures were once found in open forests and grasslands, but toward the end of its known existence, they were confined to the dense rainforests due to human settlements.

They were hunted by the natives and the introduction of dingoes in Australia, also played a part in the Tasmanian Tiger’s demise. Little is known about the food habits or the breeding behavior of these nocturnal creatures, but in 1936, it was recognized that the Thylacine had become an endangered species. But as it often happens with man when it comes to recognizing the destruction of nature, it was too little, too late. Late that year, Benjamin, the last known Tasmanian Tiger died at the Hobart Zoo as a result of neglect. He was locked out of his sheltered sleeping quarters and exposed to freezing temperatures at night.

The Baiji River Dolphin was a twenty million year old river dolphin, making it one of our world’s oldest species. It was the first large mammal brought to extinction as a result of human destruction to their natural habitat and resources. As China industrialized and made heavy use of the river for fishing, transportation and hydroelectricity, they gave no thought to the creatures that lived in the river.

Industrial and residential waste flowed into the Yangtze. The riverbed was dredged and reinforced with concrete in many locations. Boats got bigger and fishermen also took their toll on the dolphin. In 2006, a search expedition of scientists from six different nations, desperately searched the Yangtze for some indication of the Dolphin’s existence. Their search was in vain. The last Baiji River Dolphin, rescued in 1980, died at the Institute of Hydrobiology in the City of Wuhan in July 02 2002.

And now, the saddest of all. The Caribbean Monk seal was the only species of seal to go extinct directly due to human causes. The seal was the first New World mammal to be discovered by Columbus on the coast of Santo Domingo in 1494. There is an account in his writings that Columbus ordered his crew to kill eight of the animals, which he referred to as “Sea wolves,” for food. That moment was the beginning of the end for the Monk Seal.

The people who followed hunted these creatures for their oil and the fishermen slaughtered them because they saw the seals as competition for the fish they were catching. These gentle creatures were sluggish on land and had no fear of man. They were curious and unaggressive and their behavior was rewarded with death. The last Caribbean Monk seal spotting was in 1952, but it was not until June 6, 2008, that they were officially declared extinct.

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