This year, I have read a few books about species going extinct. Sam Turvey’s Witness to Extinction about the collapse of the Yangtze River Dolphin. Anne LaBastille’s Mama Poc about the end of the Guatamalan Giant Grebe. And George Schaller’s The Last Panda. An angry look at chinese and global efforts to save the Giant Panda. All of that coalesced into this little opinion piece.
Have you heard of the Yangtze River Dolphin? For the longest time, it used to be found along 1,700 kilometres of the middle and lower reaches of the mighty Chinese river. The Baiji, as it is known, was white finned, a little over two metres long, had poor eyesight and relied mainly on sonar for navigation. A few decades ago, as populations along the river grew, as shipping traffic rose, as more and more dams fragmenting the Baiji’s habitat came up, as fishing by increasingly impoverished Chinese intensified, Baiji numbers began to crash.
In late 2006, after an expedition failed to spot any Baiji in the river, it was declared “functionally extinct”. It was the first aquatic mammal to go extinct since the Japanese Sea Lion and the Caribbean Monk Seal in the 1950s. And it was the first Cetacean (whale) species in recorded human history to go extinct.
And, then, I argue that current modes of conservation are not working. And that perhaps what the earth needs is a independent watchdog for biodiversity, on the lines of Amnesty, that names and shames errant governments.
How does one fix this? And fast? In The Last Panda, his angry denunciation of Giant Panda conservation efforts by WWF and China, Schaller ends by wondering if we need a body that fights for biodiversity the way Amnesty fights for human rights. It’s an intriguing thought. An independent body that lobbies for biodiversity, and names and shames countries callous towards their biota, could (even partly) ensure that the interests of these species are factored in by policy makers.
This really is something that mankind needs to sort out fast. All species have as much of a claim to the planet as humans do. What is underway right now is nothing short of a genocide. With humans pushing other species off the planet.