What do you think?
Rate this book
222 pages, Paperback
First published January 1, 1990
Of the endangered animals that Douglas Adams and Mark Carwardine set out to see, one seems to have gone for good during the intervening two decades. We have noew lost our last chance to see the Yangtze river dolhpin. Or hear it, which is more to the point, for the river dolphin lived ina world where seeing was pretty much out of the question anyway: a murky, muddy river in which sonar came splendidly into its own -- until the arrival of massive noise pollution by boat engines.
The loss of the river dolphin is a tragedy, and some of the other wonderful characters in this book cannot be far behind. In his Last Word, Mark Carwardine reflects on why we should care when species, or shole major groups of animals and plants go extinct. He deals with the usual arguments:Every animal and plant is an integral part of its environment: even Komodo dragons have a major role to play in maintaining the ecological stability of their delicate island homes. If they disappear, so could many other species. And consercation is very much in time with our own survival. Animals and plants provide us with life-saving drugs and food, they pollinate crops and provide important ingredients for many industrial processes.
Yes, yes, he would say that kind of thing, it's expected of him. But the pity that we need to justify conservation on such human-centered, utilitarian grounds. To borrow an analogy I once used in a different context, it's a bit like justifying music on the grounds that it's good exercise for the violinist's right arm. Surely the real justification for saving these magnificent creatures is the one with which Mark rounds off the book, and which he obviously prefers:There is one last reason for caring, and I believe that no other is necessary. It is certainly the reason why so many people have devoted their lives to protecting the likes of rhinos, parakeets, kakapos and dolphins. And it is simply this: the world would be a poorer, darker, lonelier place without them.
He [Douglas Adams] saw with his own eyes how quickly such painstaking edifices of evolutionary artifice can be torn down and tossed to oblivion. He tried to do something about it. So should we, if only to honour the memory of this unrepeatable specimen of Homo Sapiens. For once, the specific name is well deserved.
There are approximately 3,000 Komodo dragons left in the world. The number is declining and they’re listed as “Vulnerable”.
Adams and Carwardine were lucky to see one of the 22 Northern White Rhinoceros alive in the 1980s. The last male died earlier this year (2018). There are only two females left. Scientists are trying to create an embryo to keep the species going. This animal is considered “Functionally Extinct”. Humans poached them for their horns.
The Kakapo, a flightless parrot who once ranged free of predators in New Zealand, had 149 known individuals in April 2018. That’s up from 40 in the late 1980s. Humans were the cause of their decline. They are “Critically Endangered” and kept on predator-free islands in an effort to save them.
Unfortunately, the Baiji Dolphin, who last lived in the filthy Yangtze River, is classified as “Functionally Extinct”. The last known dolphin, “Qi-Qi”, died in captivity in 2002. Again, humans were the cause of their disappearance by clogging the river with boat engines that chewed them up, noise that disoriented them, and poisonous chemicals.
Ramosmania Rodriguesi is a wild coffee tree thought to be extinct until 1979, when one was found on the island of Rodrigues in the Indian Ocean. The Kew Gardens successfully got a plant cutting to bear viable seeds in 2003. It is still listed as “Critically Endangered”.