In his first technical book, The Bird: Its Form and Function (1906), William Beebe wrote the following oft-quoted statement: “The beauty and genius of a work of art may be reconceived, though its first material expression be destroyed; a vanished harmony may yet again inspire the composer; but when the last individual of a race of living things breathes no more, another heaven and another earth must pass before such a one can be again.”
Today marks the 100th anniversary of the most popular Passenger Pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius) in history: Martha. She was named after George Washington’s wife, and resided at Cincinnati Zoo until her death from old age at 1 PM, 1st of September 1914. The breeding attempts of the Zoo were in vain; and by 1910, Martha was the sole survivor of her kind. The last known wild bird was killed in Ohio in 1900. A reward of $1000 was even offered to find a mate for Martha but there were no more male Passenger Pigeons to be found.
In the online database of the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, there are about 828 extinct species of known plants and animals; 272 of these are mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians. Ectopistes migratorius is just one of them. Working in conservation, we are usually pelted with bad news about dwindling populations, vanishing habitats, and policies that are detrimental to conservation. Good news are far and few between. Martha’s death is important, not only because she was the last of her kind but more so because the demise of her kind was brought about by humans in so short a time. It took only decades for possibly the most abundant species of bird to dwindle to one individual.
But what if there is a possibility to bring extinct species back to life? It is a given that it will be long difficult process; it is given that there is a need to explore the ecological implications of what can be called ‘reintroduction’; this effort will have to be in addition to what we’ve already been doing (in situ conservation, policy-lobbying, awareness, etc). Should we give it a chance?
NB: The objective of this blog is merely to inform, and ask a question. The author is not endorsing revive&restore (http://longnow.org/revive/). An account about the Passenger Pigeons can be found at: http://www.si.edu/Encyclopedia_SI/nmnh/passpig.htm.