Imagine a time, say the time of your great great grandchildren, or even further off, some few hundreds of years or more from now, about the length of time that separates us from the first colonies in the new world. That doesn’t seem too long ago, perhaps because some of us can trace our own ancestors back that far, and also because we know so much about the early years of the country that those years and those peoples don’t seem that far away.
But don’t we all have the feeling that time is speeding up and that in a few centuries’ time things will have changed so much that we will be as complete strangers to the people alive then? Our history, man’s history goes back some tens of thousands of years, and during all those years, as we learn more about them, we see that there was much that we shared with our predecessors.
Take just one example. We shared many of the same wild animals. The rhino cave pictures of 30,000 years ago were of the same rhinos we know. I wonder, however, what will be the experiences of those that follow us in a few hundred years?
Will they have any familiarity at all with the large vertebrate populations that we have grown up with, even if for many of us our knowledge has come principally from books (Kipling’s The Jungle Book, his Just So Stories) and of course the National Geographic Specials?
Or will all such large animals, so important in so many respect to our own childhood, by that time be extinct, and perhaps even absent from the lives and experiences of the children then. Will our large animal species, those that are still with us, be then no more present and alive than the wooly mammoths and dinosaurs of our own prehistory?
For the extinction of the large and comfortable and unthreatening animal friends of our childhood now seems inevitable. One looks at these pictures and says it can’t be. These creatures are part of us.
What wild animals, if any, will share the lives of those who follow us in a few hundred years?
I began to think about all this as I read a summary of The Living Planet Report of 2014, that which would annually measure the impact of human activity on the entire planet, including the endangered large animal species, those pictured above and others.
Here is a summary of the Report:
The state of the world’s biodiversity appears worse than ever. Population sizes of vertebrate species measured by the LPI have halved over the last 40 years.The Living Planet Index (LPI) shows a decline of 52 per cent between 1970 and 2010. In other words, the number of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish across the globe is, on average, about half the size it was 40 years ago.
Biodiversity is declining in both temperate and tropical regions, but the decline is greater in the tropics. The tropicalLPI shows a 56 per cent reduction in 3,811 populations of 1,638 species from 1970 to 2010. The 6,569 populations of 1,606 species in the temperateLPI declined by 36 per cent over the same period. Latin America shows the most dramatic decline – a fall of 83 per cent.Habitat loss and degradation, and exploitation through hunting and fishing, are the primary causes of decline.Climate change is the next most common primary threat, and is likely to put more pressure on populations in the future.Terrestrial species declined by 39 per cent between 1970 and 2010, a trend that shows no sign of slowing down. The loss of habitat to make way for human land use – particularly for agriculture, urban development and energy production – continues to be a major threat, compounded by hunting.The LPI for freshwater species shows an average decline of 76 per cent. The main threats to freshwater species are habitat loss and fragmentation, pollution and invasive species. Changes to water levels and freshwater system connectivity – for example through irrigation and hydropower dams – have a major impact on freshwater habitats.Marine species declined 39 per cent between 1970 and 2010. The period from 1970 through to the mid-1980s experienced the steepest decline, after which there was some stability, before another recent period of decline. The steepest declines can be seen in the tropics and the Southern Ocean – species in decline include marine turtles, many sharks, and large migratory seabirds like the wandering albatross.
So what are we to conclude from all this? Certainly that our world in important respects is becoming a much poorer place. For even today as adults we know little of the large endangered species, that were so loved and so much a part of our lives as children. So “poorer” in this respect.
Just as we’ve created year round a nearly constant air quality and air temperature environment, about 70 degrees F with air filters in every room, so we have, although not in most instances by choice, created, or at least allowed to flourish, being in most instances powerless to stop them, not large animal species, but small, tiny animal and insect populations, that now share in huge numbers our very own perfectly fashioned to our own desires living spaces.
Some of these of course are our dogs and cats, and others those that provide us with food and/or essential services, such as pigs and chickens, cows and horses. These we long ago willingly allowed to come in with us and they’ve remained close to us through all the intervening years.
Others, for whom there was never any love, or real attachment on our part, simply and aggressively imposed themselves upon us, and we were powerless to stop them
In Tampa where I live, in addition to our Siamese cat, Abby, we most unwillingly share our spaces, and have for some time now, with unknown numbers of birds (the least disagreeable of the lot), squirrels, lizards, termites, spiders, and cockroaches (the most disagreeable), to mention just those that we see most often.
During the few centuries still to come, between us and our descendants, what will happen to these small animal and insect populations that are surviving right along with us right now?
Will we have eliminated them as being nothing more than pests, of no value, like the weeds I’m presently pulling our of my raised beds? And then will there be only our dogs and cats, probably great friends also to our descendants, as well as all those that remain at the later time useful and profitable? Although given how rapidly things are changing they may not.
But even more important, will all the endangered large animal species, not to mention all the fabulous wild creatures that are or have ever been, will they all be no more? And isn’t this what is happening right now, while we watch it happen? Isn’t this a good part of what the Living Planet Index is telling us? And we don’t hear it?