By Gene Twaronite
The last big extinction event was around 65 million years ago, when a giant asteroid wiped out the dinosaurs along with much of the rest of life on Earth. During the past few centuries, however, hundreds of species have vanished as a direct result of human activity, and the rate is accelerating. While not as messy or sudden as an asteroid, our hairy ape species seems hell-bent on creating the next big wave of extinctions.
According to one source, the total number of species threatened with extinction is nearly 17,000. Since we still don’t even know how many species of plants and animals are on the planet — it could be 3 million or 10 million — this number likely represents a fraction of the true number.
Some animals are so critically endangered that it’s hard to see how they’re going to make it. Take rhinos, for example. According to the website SaveTheRhino.Org, black rhinos have plummeted from an estimated population of 65,000 in 1970 to just 5,055 today. Asian species are even worse off with numbers only in the hundreds.
But try telling this to the millions of people who still believe that powdered rhino horn can cure everything from cancer to foot fungus — despite there being not a shred of scientific evidence that it serves any medical purpose at all. Powdered rhino horn remains an integral part of traditional Chinese pharmacy and can fetch tens of thousands of dollars per kilogram.
Desperate times require desperate solutions. Namibia, for example, was the first country to use “dehorning” as a means to protect their rhinos from poaching. On the face of it, it sounds pretty disgusting. What’s a rhino without its horns? But maybe it’s for their own good. Indeed, ever since Namibia began its program, no rhinos have been poached, though other countries have been less successful. Since the horns grow back over time, rhinos have to be monitored and dehorned every 12-24 months. For the Namibians, however, a rhino without horns is better than no rhino at all.
Recently a turtle conservancy in California employed a similar technique with two of its rare ploughshare tortoises, valued by exotic animal collectors for their beautiful golden domed shells. They disfigured their shells by branding them with identification markers, making them easier to track and less appealing to collectors, who often pay tens of thousands of dollars for an unblemished tortoise. They hope to brand all of the fewer than 700 specimens still alive in the world. Other rare tortoise species are likewise being uglified.
And, perhaps the idea of removing the source of the problem could be applied to other animals. Simply remove the tusks from elephants, for example, to keep them from being poached for ivory. They won’t like it very much, but it’s for their own good. Unfortunately, this approach wouldn’t work with some species such as endangered tigers as each of their body parts right down to their bones is valued for traditional folk medicine. On the other hand, with musk deer, which are killed for their musk glands, surgical removal just might work. And animals killed and threatened for their fur, such as spotted cats, fur seals, and South American otters, could be regularly shorn, which is probably a lot more difficult than it sounds. While the prospect of naked jaguars and otters running around isn’t exactly appealing, it’s, again, for their own good.
Of course, if we wish to remove the real source of the problem, perhaps we should start with us. Our human population of more than 7 billion is projected to reach 9.6 billion by the year 2050. This means that an additional 2.5 billion people will require more land, food, water, and other resources. Ironically, this isn’t only bad for other species, but for us as well. As species go extinct, we’ll lose a host of natural products used for real medicines, food, and building materials, along with the vital services that wild plants and animals provide, including air and water purification and pollination of our food crops.
As such, I propose that every fertile human being on the planet undergo a little operation — one much simpler than removing musk glands or horns — to keep us from reproducing. Maybe someday, when human numbers have returned to less harmful levels, we could allow a few of us to breed under carefully controlled conditions. Some of us might not like it very much, and achieving this goal will not be easy. But it’s for our own good.
©Gene Twaronite 2014
Gene Twaronite’s writing has appeared in numerous literary journals and magazines. He is the author of “The Family That Wasn’t,” “My Vacation in Hell,” and “Dragon Daily News.”
Follow Gene at TheTwaroniteZone.Com.
Tags: California, Chinese medicine, endangered animals, extinction, folk medicine, fur, Gene Twaronite, horns, musk deer, musk gland, Nambia, over population, people, rhinos, rigers, The Absurd Naturalist, turtles