"Extinction!"

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THE POLITICS OF EXTINCTION
by Lewis Regenstein


   
The "discovery" of America by "civilized" Europeans doomed much of its wildlife. When the American colonists arrived in South Carolina, they found a land, as one of them wrote in 1709, filled with endless numbers of Panthers, Tigers, Wolves and other Beasts of Prey" that filled the night with "the dismal sounds and most hideous noise. But the settlers wasted little time in wiping out the native wildlife. Those include Elk, Buffalo, Deer, and wild pigeons "in flocks so dense they blotted out the sun." The great flocks of parakeets that filled the air were completely gone and the Carolina parakeet is now extinct. Even the prolific deer were eliminated, with over 64,000 deerskins being shipped to England by the Carolina Colony in 1699 alone. (The deer found today in South Carolina were transplanted from elsewhere to provide targets for hunters.)

   In the West, the North primitive Indians appreciated the necessity of conserving wildlife, their primitive hunting tools somewhat limited their ability to destroy. In a letter to President Franklin Pierce, Chief Sealth of the Duwamish Tribe in the state of Washington pleaded with the white conquerors to preserve and cherish the land they were about to take from him:

How can you buy or sell the sky--the warmth of the land? The idea is strange to us. Yet we do not own the freshness of the air or the sparkle of the water. How can you buy them from us? Every shining pine needle, every shore, every mist in the dark woods, every clearing and humming insect is holy in the memory and experience of my people. If I decide to accept your offer to buy our land, I will make one condition. The white man must treat the   beasts of this land as his brothers. I am a savage and do not understand any other way. I have seen a thousand rotting Buffaloes on the prairies left by the white man who shot them from a passing train. What is man without the beasts? If all the beasts were gone, man would die from the great loneliness of the spirit, for whatever happens to the beast also happens to man. All things are connected. Whatever befalls the earth, befalls the sons of the earth. One thing we know--GOD is the same. This earth is precious to Him. Even the white man cannot be exempt from this common destiny.

   In retrospect, Chief Sealth's words were remarkably insightful. It soon became apparent that no animal, no matter how powerful or abundant, was safe from the white man's destructiveness. The world need not and cannot afford to lose any more species. Yet the present situation is more critical than at any other period in recorded history, We are on the verge of losing forever most, if not all our wildlife. It is our hope that by singling out those who currently engage in killing off the world's wildlife, and pointing out those with the power and responsibility for protecting threatened species, that pressure can be brought to bear to save a few of these animals. If not, then at least we will know who is to blame for their destruction. Everyone who reads this knows what is happening, and must share part of the guilt for its continuation.

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