A Word In Edgewise: Are We Doomed To Repeat?


Having just finished Joel Greenberg’s A Feathered River Across the Sky: The Passenger Pigeon’s Flight to Extinction, I happened upon an article about the ecological impact of large predator loss.

The California mountain lion, noted Science, influences even river courses and butterflies. By consuming mule and Columbian black-tailed deer, they preserve forest vegetation from unsustainable foraging. As a consequence, sufficient larval food plants remain for butterfly populations to prosper.

Large numbers of thirsty deer also decimate vegetation whose roots prevent riverbank erosion, while their trampling hooves weaken denuded ground risking overflow and flooding.

The self-serving reasoning that human hunters can take the carnivores’ place ignores the fact that restricted hunting seasons and limited access cannot replace carnivores’ day-in, day-out full terrain predation. But killing large carnivores isn’t the whole problem. Anything big, rare, and braggable is at risk.

Hunter Corey Knowlton, for $350,000, recently won the Dallas Safari Club’s auction to hunt an African black rhino, traveling to Namibia for what he calls a “conservation hunt.” The theory is that his money will go to help the deceased’s 5,000 remaining kin.

Might that money be better applied toward promoting eco-tourism so that many visitors might experience live animals in the wild? Does the license permit killing animals of breeding age? The black rhino requires a 16-month gestation and calves stay by their mothers two to four years. Unmolested, they can live 35-40 relatively peaceful years. Presumably Knowlton has not paid nearly half a million dollars to bag the most elderly and decrepit specimen.

As Joel Greenberg demonstrated in his book on the extinction of the passenger pigeon, a bird that numbered in the billions, man can take creatures in any numbers and reduce them to zero. Will one more rhino make any difference? And what will be the rationale of the next hunter who feels it is his right to render a unique animal dead?

Unwilling to accept that man had eradicated the passenger pigeon, wild theories were proposed including their having packed up and flown to Australia. The black rhino can neither fly nor swim. We know where they are and what’s being done for and to them. As Pogo Possum said: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

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