Species extinction

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Species extinction

Post  eddie on Fri Oct 14, 2011 2:49 pm

On Extinction by Melanie Challenger - review

A desperate plea for planetary responsibility

Kathleen Jamie
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 28 September 2011 10.00 BST


At risk: the black-browed albatross. Photograph: Arthur Morris/Corbis

Recently, an influential group of geologists called for the recognition of a new era: the Anthropocene, to acknowledge the impact of humans on the planet. It would be evidenced by radioactive material from atomic bomb tests, plastics pollution, increased carbon dioxide levels and human-induced mass extinctions.


On Extinction: How We Became Estranged from Nature
by Melanie Challenger

Of the extinctions, most will be of tiny creatures, many as yet unknown. A report in August put the number of our fellow species at 8.7 million, many of which will be gone before even being recorded. This kind of extinction is final, and terrible to contemplate. It's especially poignant if the species is large and familiar: the blue whale, say, or the albatross. When individuals die, what consoles us is the continuity of others. Extinction extinguishes continuity.

These are therefore both exciting and appalling times, if we accept that responsibility for the planet's welfare is devolving to us. It requires a shift in our understanding of ourselves, and requires us to investigate and understand our calamitous way of going about things. It's easier to look the other way, so Melanie Challenger is to be congratulated for taking it on. That said, there are surprisingly few animals in her book.

Divided into three "peregrinations", it opens in Cornwall, where the author has rented a cabin the better to consider these things. In West Penwith "the whole landscape expressed the once intimate but now almost entirely broken relationship of the inhabitants to the natural world". Here, as elsewhere on the planet, it's the demise of human economic activities which catches her attention. She's especially interested in industrial archaeology, and the affecting ruins of the Ding Dong tin mine are close by. You might argue that to call such relics evidence of "extinction" is a category mistake – they're evidence of human continuity and change – but I think the point she is interested in, and returns to all over the globe, is human rapacity. The industrial/technological era, the era in which we have become most "estranged from nature", has enabled us to pursue resources to extinction, or at least to economic unviability. Of course, this has happened before in human history, but now we know we're doing it.

This is valuable, but Challenger has a magpie mind. Along with the tin mines and Cornish moors, she lights upon her grandmother's house in Suffolk, flint weapons, jaw-bones found in Chinese caves, Roman occupation, types of Cornish fishing boat, grief, graves and wildflowers, among much else. A great number of people are name-checked. Although one can almost see the connections, it does become confusing.

Where industrial processes and extinction of species collided most spectacularly was in the case of 20th-century whaling; although happily, and despite our worst excesses, the great whales are not extinct. The book's second peregrination is to the Antarctic – Challenger had the great good fortune to travel there with the British Antarctic Survey. Here again it is the industrial relics which attract her attention. Few people will be fortunate enough to visit these places, and when Challenger does so, her writing is very effective. We are taken to the disused whaling station at Grytviken, where huge tanks and boilers lie rusting in the snow, but after only a few paragraphs we're swept away by digressions into Elgar, then to meet a first world war veteran who fought at Passchendaele, then to Marinetti and futurism, Nazi industrialisation, and so on, before being allowed back to the Antarctic. We can see the connection, but the tumult is too great.

The third journey takes us to the other pole, from Whitby via New York, north to Baffin Island, where Challenger finds Inuit people in full possession of the facts about their own lives; they know their traditional close-to-nature ways took a massive knock, that alcohol and violence are serious problems, that mineral extraction, not the land, will be their future, at least in the short term.

Challenger's privilege is great, her courage exemplary, and no one could doubt her passion. This book is an urgent attempt to understand how we got into this mess, and how we might go forward, knowing that we are capable of causing, and of feeling, great loss. Assiduous editing might have helped, because while Challenger has a good eye and a nice turn of phrase, there is a piling up of references that seems born more of anxiety than erudition.

She occasionally confesses to her own fear in a world of losses. Walking through the Antarctic snow, well aware she could not survive there without modern technological back-up, she laments having no landscape to which she is "truly native". Maybe she should choose one, slow down, and start to observe.

Kathleen Jamie's Findings is published by Sort of Books.

© 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved.


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Re: Species extinction

Post  eddie on Wed Nov 23, 2011 3:36 am

Poem of the week: Loop by Cliff Forshaw

This week's poem is a closely observed study of the astonishing, and now extinct, Tasmanian tiger, which also reveals a good deal about us

Carol Rumens
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 22 November 2011 16.07 GMT


'What we've got is what was shot' … A pair of Tasmanian tigers photographed before their extinction in the 1930s. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

This week's poem, "Loop", by Cliff Forshaw is the opening sonnet of a chapbook sequence, Tiger, published earlier this year by HappenStance.


Forshaw's subject is the Tasmanian tiger, more properly known as the thylacine, (from Thylacinus Cynocephalus, "the dog-headed pouched one"). Also known as the Tasmanian wolf, it was an extraordinary creature - not a tiger, not a wolf, but a golden-brown marsupial dog with tiger-like black stripes. It was able to move on two feet as well as four, and both genders had a pouch. In the case of the male, the pouch protected the scrotal sac as the animal moved through rough bush. Despite such useful design features, the thylacine became virtually extinct in Australia and New Guinea around 2,000 years ago.

The last thylacines found refuge in Tasmania, then they, too, disappeared, their widespread slaughter encouraged by bounties. The species was declared extinct in 1986. Nonetheless, there have been many reported sightings since, resulting in a campaign for its re-classification as rare and endangered. Meanwhile, the thylacine survives as Tasmania's national emblem and favourite icon: "Extinct, this creature's everywhere/ from CD sleeves to bottled beer" as another poem, "Barcode", puts it.

The poems in Tiger are sometimes elegiac, but more often jaunty, ironic snapshots that reveal the antics of homo sapiens in relation to the animal world. Their concern is with unvarnished actuality. The poet examines the thylacine as museum exhibit, and records recent desperate attempts at extracting the DNA from a preserved foetus so as to reconstitute the animal by cloning. The comically sad fact that so much has been done for the thylacine far too late in the day emerges to reinforce the title of the sequence, "Tiger", as a reminder of the species currently in particularly urgent need of protection.

"Loop" revisits the film of a captive thylacine made by the naturalist David Fleay in 1933. Fleay's own story is fascinating, and, in a moving tribute by his daughter Rosemay Fleay Thomson, you can read an account of the filming, as well as the subsequent heroic efforts, and disheartening near-miss, of the 1945-6 expedition.

Fleay was in pursuit of live animals, and his traps were humane, but the last line of the first stanza of "Loop" reminds us of the miserable deaths thylacines usually suffered at the hands of casual trappers. Later, the image of the living but captive animal coalesces with that of a creature killed and displayed as a trophy, hanging "stretched/ as if to take the measure of itself".

Even in the poem, the thylacine is elusive. Continually pacing, it ignores the camera or "gurns up close". The abortive movement of the caged animal is caught in the compression of a number of internal rhymes: "growls"/ "scowls", "gurns"/ "turns". The end-rhymes are assonantal, mostly, with only one full rhyme: "white"/ "light." The hardest-hitting rhymes occur on the first line of the sestet, reinforced by the caesurae. "You saw. You see. And what we've got is what was shot" leaves us in no doubt as to the double-meaning of "shot." The variability of the rhymes, and the push-pull effect of lines whose regularity is never guaranteed, help to reinforce a sense of tough vitality stringently checked.

The poem begins with a physical box, suggesting both the cage and the camera. And it summons further metaphorical cages devised in the effort to preserve or mimic life. The film itself becomes a "trap of light". The technique of stitching together "short clips" to make a continuous loop connects film to poetry, and perhaps the sonnet in particular, a form emphatic in its sections. From island to zoo to film to sonnet, the thylacine seems to move into ever-narrowing enclosure.

The poem juxtaposes the finality of the creature's extinction with the immortality traditionally conferred by art. "It's down. It's out" but at the same time "It's on its feet and born again". The analogy with "repetition compulsion" might go beyond cinematic technique to suggest not only the animal's trapped pacing, but the pattern-making instinct of the artist. A further shadow is cast by the fact that celluloid film, the very medium of "reincarnated light" which still gives grainy life to the unfortunate thylacine is now itself on the verge of extinction


Loop
62 seconds of the extinct Thylacine or Tasmanian Tiger on film

Within the box, it growls, it twists,
scowls through its repertoire of tricks,
ignores the camera — or gurns up close, turns
again, to flop, to gnaw that paw-trapped bone.

It paces out its trap of light; one hundred reps
while hindquarters zither bars of sun;
claws cage's mesh, hangs stretched
as if to take the measure of itself.

You saw. You see. And what we've got is what was shot:
short clips, fragments caught and stitched
together in a loop of black and white.

Nine lives? Not quite. It's down. It's out.
It's on its feet and born again. Like a repetition
compulsion, like… like reincarnated light.

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Re: Species extinction

Post  Constance on Thu Nov 24, 2011 12:00 am



Scientists have been searching for the baiji--Chinese river dolphin--to no avail. Native to the Yangtze river, it is most probably extinct.

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Re: Species extinction

Post  pinhedz on Thu Nov 24, 2011 1:37 am

This critter--the coelacanth--is remarkable for not being extinct. It was believed to be extinct 65 million years ago, until one was caught alive in 1938.

It's very fishy, except that instead of just fins, it has little arms and legs with fins at the end of them. So biologists thought it was an ancient link to land-based animals (actually, there are other fish--like the walking catfish--that can move around on land fairly well).


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Re: Species extinction

Post  eddie on Thu Nov 24, 2011 6:58 am


The Dodo reconstructed in line with modern research. (Wikipedia)

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Re: Species extinction

Post  Andy on Fri Dec 02, 2011 1:26 am

There's a dutch philosopher, I believe he's called Bas Harring but could be mistaken, who recently published a book in which he takes on a controversial point of view: if animal species go extinct, so let them.

I have only read about this in headlines because it is obviously controversial, especially from the perspective of ecologist movement-people. So I don't really know what line of argumentation he follows in this work.
But one might assume that the very notion of preventing species from going exctinct is an unnatural intervention by human kind in the natural and thus seemingly inevitable process of evolution.
99% or so of all species that ever were went extinct. Eventhough man may have a rather questionable impact upon the speed with which species are going extinct in modern times, this fact has barely any effect on that number. Most species went extinct long before modern man ever put a foot on this planet.

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Re: Species extinction

Post  eddie on Sun Jan 08, 2012 4:20 am


John James Audubon's colour plate of Carolina parrots in Birds of America. In Audubon's time, the only species of parrot native to the US, it is now extinct. Photograph: Christie's Images Limited 2011

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