September 1 – Day of Remembrance of Species Exterminated by humanity

    04 Sep 2021

    On this day, in 1914, at the Cincinnati Zoo, USA, died the last migratory pigeon – the most massive species of animals ever destroyed by man. “What’s so special about it?” – the reader can ask after the statistics resulted nearby. The fact is that the story of the destruction of the wandering pigeon most vividly shows us the colossal scale of our extravagance and carelessness. And it was not the ancient savages who destroyed this species of bird but the seemingly civilized people of the 19th century.

    The sixth mass extinction of species (Holocene extinction), which is ongoing right now, is catastrophic because of its unprecedented speed. According to some estimates, up to 150 species of living organisms are extinct every day.

    The migratory pigeon is a breed of wild pigeon that previously inhabited North America en masse. Until the XIX century, it was the most numerous bird species, with a total population of 3-5 billion. The migratory pigeon was distributed throughout North America from the Pacific coast to the Atlantic coast. The birds were kept in huge flocks. For example, a nesting colony of pigeons in Wisconsin occupied all the trees in the forest on an area of ​​2200 km2. The total number of colonies was 160 million individuals. One tree sometimes had up to a hundred nests. However, the welfare of this species ended quickly enough. Initially, the population declined gradually from 1800 to 1870, but from 1870 to 1890, it gained catastrophic proportions. The main reason for the extinction of the species was commercial capture and slaughter for meat. The Americans began mass hunting of migratory pigeons in the early XVII century. At the same time, real massacres were arranged. Birds were shot, caught with nets, knocked to the ground with sticks, cut down trees with nests. Back in 1881 in New York Park was an entertaining hunt for pigeons, and thirty years later, the species disappeared from the face of the planet. The last mass nesting of pigeons was observed in 1883, the last pigeon in the wild was destroyed in 1899, and finally, the last (in the complete sense of the word) bird “Martha” (Martha), died at the Cincinnati Zoo (USA) on September 1. 1914. This sad date reminds us that the animals we are accustomed to, which we recklessly exploit and destroy their habitats, can be added to the black list of extinct species tomorrow.

    Indian cheetah, Aral sturgeon, Aral salmon, European tarpan, South African quagga zebra, wingless loon, migratory pigeon, Carolingian parrot, white-billed woodpecker, Eskimo crested grebe, European ibis, mountain goat, and mountain goat ostrich epiornis, ostrich moa, European lion, big-horned deer, cave bear, cave lion, hairy rhinoceros, mammoth… The last Turanian tiger was killed in the late 1950s; in the 1970s, the last white Arabian antelopes were demolished, Marta-Maria states.

    Mammoth. Disappeared 10 thousand years ago

    It became extinct about 10,000 years ago during the last ice age. According to scientists, a significant and even decisive role in this extinction was played by Upper Paleolithic hunters. European lion

    European lion. Disappeared around 100 AD

    He was a contemporary of the ancient Greeks and Romans. They were met in the modern Balkans, Italy, France, Spain, Portugal. Among the Greeks, Romans, and Macedonians, the lion was a popular object of hunting and was often used in gladiatorial battles. By the beginning of the first millennium, European lions were virtually extinct. The last member of the species was killed in Greece around 100 AD. e. Moa

    Moa. Disappeared in the XVI-XVIII centuries

    More than ten species of large, ostrich-like, flightless birds inhabited the islands of New Zealand. The most giant birds (members of the genus Dinornis) had a height of 3.6 m and a weight of a quarter of a ton. In the unique nature of New Zealand, where there were almost no mammals (except for three species of bats, one of which disappeared in 1965), moa occupied an ecological niche of large rats. The number of moa began to decline steadily after the arrival of the first settlers on the island. People actively hunted these not very graceful birds. As a result, the last representatives of the Moa became extinct in the 16th-18th centuries.

    Epiornis. The bird disappeared at the turn of the XVII-XVIII centuries

    Madagascar analogs of moa, the largest birds on the Earth. Prior to the settlement of Madagascar by humans, the Epiornis had no serious enemies – apparently, except for crocodiles. But these majestic birds repeated the fate of the New Zealand moa: only bones, fragments of giant eggs, and folk tales remain in the memory of them. The last epiornis were destroyed by human at the turn of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

    Ure. Disappeared in 1627

    The aurochs (Bos primigenius), or ure – the wild bull, the ancestor of modern cattle, lived in Europe. Bulls were actively hunted for meat and skin. The last herd was observed in the Masovian forests (Poland). The last individual was not killed on the hunt; she died in 1627 in the woods near Yaktorov. It is believed that it happened due to a disease that affected a small, genetically weak and isolated population of the last animals of this genus. The fate of the aurochs was almost followed by a bison, but at the last moment these species were saved.

    The dodo (Raphus cucullatus). Disappeared in 1680.

    The dodo, a bird known to all since childhood, one of the heroes of the book “Alice in Wonderland”. A flightless bird with a large beak, weighing 20-25 kg and 1 m tall. He lived on the island of Mauritius. European colonists exterminated it for its delicious meat, and pigs, cats, and monkeys brought in by humans destroyed drone nests on the ground. In 1680 the last bird was killed. All that is left of the dodo is a description, an image and several skeletons, one of which can be seen in the Darwin Museum in Moscow. The dormouse has become a symbol of species extinction as a result of careless barbaric interference in a balanced ecosystem. The Jersey Wildlife Trust, founded by renowned naturalist Gerald Darrell and whose main task is to protect endangered species, has even chosen the drone as its emblem. Steller’s cow

    Steller’s sea cow. Destroyed in 1768, just 27 years after its discovery

    This large sedentary aquatic animal up to 10 m long was discovered in 1741 by Georg Steller. The animal was almost not afraid of people and was ruthlessly destroyed. Subcutaneous fat and sea cow meat were mainly used. In just 27 years since its discovery (in 1768), Steller’s cow was completely destroyed. Here is such a sad record of human greed and recklessness. The skeleton of a sea cow can be seen in the zoological museum of MSU. Wingless loon

    Wingless loon. Destroyed in 1844

    This wonderful bird was exterminated in the middle of the XIX century. Due to the weak development of the wings, it could not fly, walked poorly on land, but dived well and swam, back in the XVI century. Icelanders used whole birds to fill whole boats with them, killing birds for meat and the famous down. Later, when loons became a rarity, they were caught for sale to collectors. In 1844, the last two individuals of the species were killed, since then no more reports of these birds have been received. Falkland Fox, or Antarctic wolf

    Falkland Fox. Destroyed in 1876

    Before the advent of man, was the only land predator in the Falkland Islands. This species was discovered by English Captain John Strong in 1692; was officially described in 1792. In 1833, when Charles Darwin visited the Falkland Islands, Canis antarcticus (then called the Falkland Fox) was quite common here, but even then Darwin predicted the extinction of a species whose numbers were steadily declining due to uncontrolled shooting. The thick fluffy fur of this fox was in great demand. From the 1860s, when Scottish colonists arrived on the islands, foxes began to be shot and poisoned en masse as a threat to sheep herds. The absence of forests on the islands and the credulity of this predator, which had no natural enemies, quickly led to its destruction. The last Falkland fox was killed in 1876 in West Falkland. All that is left of it at the moment are 11 specimens in the museums of London, Stockholm, Brussels and Leiden.

    Quagga. Disappeared in 1883

    Quagga is a strange even-toed ungulate, a subspecies of zebra that lived in southern Africa. In front it had a striped color, like a zebra, and behind – a rotten color, like a horse. The local population destroyed the quagga for its strong skin. Interestingly, the quagga was domesticated by humans to protect herds, because much earlier than other domestic animals, it noticed the approach of predators and warned its owners with a loud cry of “kuaha”, from which it got its name. However, the need for hunting prevailed. The last wild individual died in 1878, and in the Amsterdam Zoo Quagga existed until 1883. Tarpan

    Tarpan. Disappeared in 1918

    Tarpan – an extinct ancestor of the modern horse – in the XVIII-XIX centuries was widespread in the steppes of Ukraine, the European part of Russia, a number of European countries and in modern Kazakhstan. There were two subspecies of tarpans: forest and steppe. The forest lived in the forest-steppes, and the steppe – in the steppes of Europe. The animals had a long thick pile, which allowed them to survive the cold winters, strong hooves that did not require horseshoes, fast legs. Tarpan in the language of the Turkic peoples means “to rush, to fly forward.” People killed tarpans for their delicious meat. In 1918 the last (steppe) tarpan died in a manor near Myrhorod in Poltava province. Now the skull of this tarpan is stored in the Zoological Museum of Moscow State University, and the skeleton – in the Zoological Institute of the Academy of Sciences of St. Petersburg. Tasmanian wolf

    Tasmanian wolf. Disappeared in 1936

    The marsupial wolf (thylacine) was one of the largest marsupial predators. In length tilatsin reached 100-130 cm, together with the tail – 150-180 cm; height at withers – 60 cm, weight – 20-25 kg. The elongated mouth could open very wide, at 120°. The last wild tilacin was killed on May 13, 1930, and in 1936 the last captive tilacin died of old age at a private zoo in Hobart. It is thought that the marsupial wolf may have survived in the deaf forests of Tasmania. From time to time there are reports of the discovery of this species. In March 2005, the Australian magazine “The Bulletin” offered a $ 1.25 million reward to anyone who caught a live thylacine, but no individual was caught or even photographed. Turanian tiger

    Caspian tiger. The last time this animal was seen was in 1968

    This subspecies of tiger, which has long lived in Central Asia, is now considered almost extinct. The locals, as a rule, did not consider tigers particularly dangerous to human life and put up with the existence of these animals near their villages. Russian settlers’ development of this region had the most negative effect on the size of the tiger population in Central Asia. The Russian administration of the area has made significant efforts to destroy these predators. It is a well-known case that on February 27, 1883, the Chief of Staff of the Turkestan Military District, at the request of the inhabitants of Mitsk, ordered a raid on the tigers that appeared between Tashkent and Chinaz and the destruction of dangerous predators. For this purpose, regular military units were used – the 12th Turkestan Battalion. However, this was not the main thing: the mass cultivation of floodplains in the Central Asian rivers left tigers without their primary food base – wild animals (wild boars, roe deer) that lived there in the thirties of the twentieth century. Tigers were still found on the banks of the Amu Darya in the Tiger Beam Reserve in Tajikistan (near the border with Afghanistan). The Caspian tiger was last seen in 1968. And this is just a drop in the ocean of sad stories.

    The potential resurrection of the species

    Today, more than 1,532 passenger pigeon skins (along with 16 skeletons) exist, spread across many institutions worldwide. It has been suggested that the passenger pigeon should be revived when available technology allows it (a concept termed “de-extinction”), using genetic material from such specimens.

    In 2003, the Pyrenean ibex (a subspecies of the Spanish ibex) was the first extinct animal to be cloned back to life; the clone lived for only seven minutes before dying of lung defects.

    A hindrance to cloning the passenger pigeon is the fact that the DNA of museum specimens has been contaminated and fragmented due to exposure to heat and oxygen. American geneticist George M. Church has proposed that the passenger pigeon genome can be reconstructed by piecing together DNA fragments from different specimens. The next step would be to splice these genes into the stem cells of rock pigeons (or band-tailed pigeons), which would then be transformed into egg and sperm cells, and placed into the eggs of rock pigeons, resulting in rock pigeons bearing passenger pigeon sperm and eggs. The offspring of these would have passenger pigeon traits and would be further bred to favor unique features of the extinct species.

    The general idea of re-creating extinct species has been criticized since the significant funds needed could be spent on conserving currently threatened species and habitats and because conservation efforts might be viewed as less urgent. In the case of the passenger pigeon, since it was very social, it is unlikely that enough birds could be created for revival to be successful. It is unclear whether there is enough appropriate habitat left for its reintroduction. Furthermore, the parent pigeons that would raise the cloned passenger pigeons would belong to a different species, with another way of rearing young.

    Unexplored connections that we broke

    Humanity destroys living beings directly – during hunting, deforestation, and without noticing it – during environmental pollution and destruction of habitats of living organisms. Shallowing of rivers, pollution of their sewage destroys fish, after deforestation their four-legged and feathered inhabitants disappear, and how many small inhabitants of the forest – insects and other invertebrates – are left without their homes.

    For a long time, people did not pay attention to the impoverishment of wildlife. It was thought that there would be enough forests forever, hunting animals would never move. But now the picture has changed dramatically: many areas have been left without forests, many animals have been destroyed. It has become clear that nature cannot be exploited thoughtlessly; it needs attention and protection.

    Many animals and plants that were previously considered unhealthy or even harmful were later found very valuable. An illustrative example is venomous snakes. Their uncontrolled capture, let alone extermination, is now strictly prohibited, and strict restrictions are imposed on their capture. The fact is that snake venom is an essential raw material for the manufacture of medicines.

    There are many unexplored connections between its individual components in wildlife, and clumsy, reckless interference with these connections is of no use. Humans must be guided by the rule “do no harm!” in relation to living organisms- animals, plants, fungi. Everything that was created by nature has the same right to exist as we humans. Such an ethical attitude is needed to save life on our common planet. I hope we don’t have to blush so much again for our unrestrained temper, and there are no more plaques with sad inscriptions: “In memory of the last Wisconsin wandering pigeon killed in Babcon in September 1899. This species became extinct due to the greed and carelessness of man.

    Read here about big problems of big animals – how our ancestors managed to extinct entire species.

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