Fragilecologies

Saving Species Today Keeps Extinction Away

January 1, 1996
By Michael Glantz

Fragilecologies By Michael GlantzToday we seem to have a love affair going on with dinosaurs. Godzilla and Jurassic Park, among other movies, have whetted an interest in life on earth millions of years ago. Reflecting that interest is the fact that American businesses are making lots of money using dinosaurs as the theme for their products, from toys to computer games to clothing for kids.

Researchers are spending considerable time, energy, and even computing power on trying to identify what it was that brought about the extinction of the dinosaurs. Scientists have suggested that a comet hit the earth 65 million years ago, sending up large quantities of dust into the atmosphere, thereby cooling down temperatures sharply and quickly. An inability to adjust to such rapid and drastic environmental changes, they say, brought about the demise of the dinosaurs.

Far Side cartoonist Gary Larson put forth his view on what happened to dinosaurs: He suggested they disappeared because they had taken up smoking cigarettes.

Today, there are many species that are similar to the dinosaur: the elephant, the rhinoceros, the hippopotamus, the manatee, dolphins, sharks, iguanas, lizards, armadillos, kangaroos, and so forth. They are being hunted to extinction. They have been hunted for their tusks, skins, teeth, and for hunting entertainment.

This suggests a paradox to me. On the one hand we "worship" the ancient dinosaurs and animals, while on the other hand we are in the process of exterminating animals (not to mention plant species) in our own time.

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If dinosaurs lived

How would we have treated dinosaurs, had they survived until now? Would they be on the endangered species list? Would poachers be as active in hunting down dinosaurs as they are today with other animals? To what extent would society at large really care about the fate of the dinosaurs? Would it be left to "bleeding heart" environmentalists to lead the fight to preserve them — even if only in Jurassic-like theme parks?

I have the feeling that, had dinosaurs survived until the twentieth century, we would have hunted them to extinction by the 1990s, had they not already been killed off tens of millions of years ago by a comet-related climate change. The same debates going on now between those who seek to preserve various animals, species, or natural areas and those who want to hunt them would likely have gone on over how to deal with dinosaurs, if indeed there were any left to save.

Zoo and videos

Civilization seems to find it totally acceptable to replace animals in the wild with representatives of their species in zoos. And, with the advent of video cameras and VCRs, it may come to pass that it will suffice for most people to see the animals that are presently under the threat of extinction on video film and not in zoo parks or in nature reserves. Even better, perhaps before the extinction of animals that appear to be survivors of the dinosaur era, like the rhino and the alligator, some inventor will develop a way to put the smells of the natural environment onto videos (sort of a video version of "scratch and sniff") so that we can get the full, simulated effect of having visited a zoo without leaving our living room couches.

Today, lots of animals and plants are threatened with extinction and, as with the dinosaurs, we know that "extinction is forever." We've come to love many of these animals, and honor them as, for example, in the stuffed animals we buy for our kids, or in movies such as "The Lion King." Why can't we show the same level of interest in — and compassion for — the real thing, while they still roam the earth? It's not too late for many species.

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