Has the Extinction of Species Taught us Anything?
The passenger pigeon is among the most famous of American birds, but sadly this is due to it’s demise – the largest-scale human-caused extinction in history. Over a century ago, the last remaining birds that remained existed only in captivity. Similar to the critically endangered red wolf and Mexican gray wolf before their chance to reclaim the wild in the 1980s and 1990s. Unlike these lobos, the passenger pigeon didn’t get a second chance. The last male died in 1910, leaving “Martha,” a female, as a “barren relic of past abundance.” One hundred years ago this week, Martha, the very last pigeon of her kind, died in captivity at the Cincinnati Zoo.
Has the extinction of the passenger pigeon taught us anything? A compelling editorial in the New York Times asks this question in Saving Our Birds BY JOHN W. FITZPATRICK
“Preserving abundance in nature is ecologically just as important as rescuing rare species en route to extinction. The passenger pigeon taught us that even the most numerous species can undergo population collapses in astonishingly short periods of time. Cod fishermen of the North Atlantic learned the same painful lesson just two decades ago. It is far more effective and cost-efficient to conserve a species while it is abundant than to wait until it reaches the brink.”