A fascinating multi-species future

Keith Hudson

In about 20 years’ time, well over 90 different forest-dwelling lemur species — which we consider beautiful and charming — will have become extinct on Madagascar, 17 having already become so.  Millions of people on millions . . . of subsequent occasions in future years, when looking at videos of these creatures will deeply regret their passing and wonder why we did not prevent it.

We could not prevent their extinction because our species, just like every other species insist that our food production is far more important than any other species.  If it were not for other factors which, thankfully, are now gradually bringing our world over-population to an end (e.g. water shortages, among other things) then, without any doubt at all, man would have extinguished every other life-form on earth if necessary in order to survive.

We have extinguished something like 220 species of birds and mammals (out of a total of about 10,000 species of birds and 5,000 species of mammals) by killing them directly for food or by reducing their natural habitats as we extended our food growing.  The extinctions so far are the product of the agricultural revolution of 8,000 years ago and nothing at all to do with our more recent industrialised methods.

These latter methods are hurtful, of course — particularly of the pollution of the environment — but nowhere near the main reason.  Indeed, it is only the scientific part of the industrial revolution which actually informs us of the extinctions we are causing.  If we’d remained agricultural we’d have been blissfully (if that is the right word for countryside workers!) unaware.

More specifically, what caused the extinctions of other animal species are the ‘rogue’ animals that man — purposefully or inadvertently — took along with him as he migrated around the world and settled into new habitats.  Such rogue species are mice, rats, cats, goats, pigs, mosquitoes and other insects, not to mention a vast array of viruses and bacteria that don’t harm us but kill other species.

It depends on the sizes of the places we migrated into as to how much damage we have done to the resident species.  For example, when modern man started to settle in the small Hawaiian Islands, 70 species of birds have been lost, whereas only one has been lost in the whole of Europe.  Madagascar, although a much larger island than any in the Hawaii archipelago is, nevertheless more like, an Hawaiian example than, say Africa, where relatively few species, such as the lowland gorilla and the highland gorilla, are in danger.

As a possible compensation in the future, many modern zookeepers in the advanced countries are now attempting to save wkirld species even as they are in danger in their original habitats.  If they can maintain a large enough repertoire in the zoos and breed carefully between it is possible that species can be re-wilded into their original habitats onece our population has been reduced.  The fifficulty here is how they are going to train the first few few into how to catch food and maintain themselves, soemething they would have learned from their parents in the wirld.

Also, biologists are making sure that they take DNA samples of species that are in danger, and freeze them in liquid nitrogen against the day when they might possibly be recreated, but here there are also great difficulties and it may not be possible.  Hitherto, it has not yet been possible to recreae the mammoth even though its DNA is now well-known and there are elephants available as surrogate mothers to carry the foetuses.

But one day, as biology advances —  it will no doubt be possible to stimulate the formation of brand new species  even though, at present — almost 150 years since Wallace and Darwin published their theory of evolution — it is still not known exactly how new species originate.  Altogether a fascinating future awaits our species once we have reduced the worst excesses of the agricultural revolution and the maximization of food growing which has produced the gross over-population of one species,

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