The Age of Endlings

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We can only imagine the loneliness of the last of a species. But can we be immune to the consequence of the loss?

Living on the edge Few, if any, pure Asiatic wild buffalo survive in the wild
Living on the edge Few, if any, pure Asiatic wild buffalo survive in the wild
Photo: Getty Images
Jay Mazoomdaar
Jay Mazoomdaar, Independent Journalist

REMEMBER UNCAS in The Last of The Mohicans? His death marked the end of a tribe on which James Cooper developed his theme of great loss. The Mohicans were an imaginary tribe based on the Mohegans and Mahicans who still survive in two autonomous reservations of the US. But dozens of plant and animal species go extinct every day. Few are recorded, even noticed. The last of a species — the endling — is identified in still fewer cases.

Much has been written about Truganini, the last surviving Tasmanian Aboriginal, whose tribe was exterminated by the Europeans who colonised Australia at the end of the 18th century. Truganini became an endling in 1874, three years before her lonely death. Around the same time, another nameless endling passed away thousands of miles away. But if you never heard of the Quagga, it is not your fault.

Final countdown The last Tasmanian tiger in the Hobart zoo
Final countdown The last Tasmanian tiger in the Hobart zoo

Imagine a half-zebra with the stripes in the front fading in the middle to disappear into a plain brown coat in the rear. Once abundant in the grassland of South Africa, the Quagga was hunted to extinction for its hide and meat nearly 130 years ago. By the 1870s, the wild stock disappeared and zoo specimens became rare. The Quagga endling died at Amsterdam’s Artis Royal Zoo in 1883.

Martha the pigeon and Incas the parakeet died in the Cincinnati zoo in 1914 and 1918 respectively. Martha’s death marked the extinction of the Passenger Pigeon, a species that crowded the continent in billions till the new world was discovered. Incas was the last Carolina Parakeet, North America’s only parrot species.

The Heath Hen, a majestic grouse and a variant of the Greater Prairie Chicken, was nearly extirpated due to poaching by the end of the 19th century. The endling — named Booming Ben — lived alone for four years in a small Massachusetts island called Martha’s Vineyard until a forest fire killed it in 1932.

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