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Polar bears, hippos, and sharks, oh my... god
May 3, 2006 8:44 PM   Subscribe

What animals are endangered? (2006, updated from 2004) One in four mammals. One in three amphibians. Raw data and photos behind what others call the mass extinction crisis. Polar bears expected extinct in 25 years. In a little good news, Great Apes may be granted human rights in Spain (like the mountain gorilla -- all 660 that remain). In other news, without salmon, widespread bankruptcy expected in California's fishing industry. Me? I can only afford an electric sheep.
posted by salvia (41 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
It's odd to me there's not more empathy or concern for animals.... Back in history, deep-down inside, don't we have some sort of respect and admiration for these big creatures, if not mutual dependency? I'm thinking of hunting rituals right now...

If you want to weigh in on a project I'm working on, I'd love to know what animals you think are most important. (The project is in the United States but you can respond for wherever you live.) Which species are people most likely to want to restore out of that sense of respect, admiration, and mutual dependency? I'd like to track their population numbers and see if we can harness some of the "oh my god" energy into legislative action.

I don't know if it's crass to promote my AskMe question this way, and the timing was not planned -- I saw this was being released, decided to post it, then remembered my recent question.)
posted by salvia at 9:01 PM on May 3, 2006


Oh, snap, the apes link is boffed. Try this instead.
posted by salvia at 9:01 PM on May 3, 2006


You can't afford an electric sheep, unless you're very very rich. You'd be lucky to have an owl.

This is all happening prior to significant global warming. Our grandchildren will not know what the world was once like.
posted by wilful at 9:02 PM on May 3, 2006



posted by kliuless at 9:13 PM on May 3, 2006


focusing on charismatic megafauna is a useful plitical strategy, for funding and profile, but it's got little to do with the real problems of biodiversity.

Habitat maintenance and management is often boring, long term, invisible interventions. Spending megabucks to save one species is exciting, but often futile.
posted by wilful at 9:18 PM on May 3, 2006


It seems few people could pass the Voight-Kampff Empathy Test.
posted by missbossy at 9:20 PM on May 3, 2006


Cutbacks on salmon fishing in California? Damn, my Springtime just got less delicious.
posted by lekvar at 9:26 PM on May 3, 2006


Electric sheep?


Given that this is about biodiversity, you probably mean eclectic sheep.

posted by blahblahblah at 9:39 PM on May 3, 2006


Rachel Rosen killed my goat.
posted by loquacious at 9:51 PM on May 3, 2006


Lets see... global warming, mass extinction, over-population on the part of humans... hey didn't some dude have a plan to spread a plauge that would kill everyone in the third world so we could get their resources? Personally I'm in favor of birth control (taxing people who have children). Trust me, your kids are not worth humankind, despite how cute they may seem.
posted by j-urb at 10:42 PM on May 3, 2006


focusing on charismatic megafauna is a useful political strategy

This is one of my new favorite sentences.
posted by gsteff at 11:03 PM on May 3, 2006


.
posted by a louis wain cat at 11:14 PM on May 3, 2006


Actually it looks like polar bears are clawing their way back from endangered to potentially threatened. If, as this reports surmises, "summer sea ice decreases by 50-100% over the next 50-100 years", polar bear numbers will be the least of our worries.
posted by tellurian at 11:37 PM on May 3, 2006


One in four mammals. One in three amphibians. ...of the 40,177 species assessed using the IUCN Red List criteria

When I saw that, I thought at first that there were probably lots of mammals and amphibians going unexamined, so it wasn't that bad.

But, nope, reading the rest of the page, they're covering all the known species of mammals and amphibians.

It's that bad.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 11:47 PM on May 3, 2006


You see, though, saving them would result in an economic downturn.

Can't let that happen.
posted by sourwookie at 12:03 AM on May 4, 2006


It's a slippery slope, once we grant human rights to great apes, it's just a hop-skip-and-a-jump to lesser apes, and we know how god damn lazy they are.

tangentially: if great apes have 'human' rights, does that mean we can marry them?

And what about driver's licenses?
posted by delmoi at 12:45 AM on May 4, 2006


In a little good news, Great Apes may be granted human rights in Spain

Shh. Keep it quiet, or before you know it they'll all be abandoning their usual habitat for Marbella and the Costa Del Sol.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 1:05 AM on May 4, 2006


According to Darwinism If a species can't pay its way it becomes extinct. Evolution is moving towards an eternal and perfect eco system containing just 3 mammals, humans, Monsanto fed cattle and cats.
posted by piscatorius at 1:50 AM on May 4, 2006




Piscatorius, I'm pretty certain that Rattus norvegicus isn't going anywhere.
posted by Faint of Butt at 3:49 AM on May 4, 2006


Ah, the gratuitous PKD* reference.

* Dickheadfilter checking in
posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 4:58 AM on May 4, 2006


My ancestors survived the Cambrian, this little extinction is nothing. Man. Great-great-many-times-great-grandpa proto-chordate. Truly the greatest generation. Spielberg is probably making a movie about them right now.

(Honestly I'm not thrilled with the extinction threat. I know it's a fact of life on the planet - adapt or die - but it still sucks. I'd like my future offspring to know a frog or a tiger or a bandicoot from something other than a history book.)
posted by caution live frogs at 5:13 AM on May 4, 2006


I used to dream of electric sheep.

Right now, it looks like the Holocene extinction event will rival the Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction event, but at the rate we're going, we're going to manage to pull off another Permian, and end the Holocene period.

Heck, I'll note the Cenezoic era is the age of mammals. Given who's in power around the world, we'll have created the Ochizoic era.

It'll be the last one we'll name.
posted by eriko at 5:38 AM on May 4, 2006


I know it's a fact of life on the planet - adapt or die - but it still sucks.

I know that you already know this, but adaption takes place over geologic time, for the most part. Few species can adapt to the actions of short-sighted, thinking apes over a few hundred years.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 7:20 AM on May 4, 2006


As someone who lives in a salmon fishing port out here in CA, people are worried as hell. This is not going to be pleasant. Perhaps the worst part is that, for once, this is not at all the fault of the fisherman. Instead it's all do to big agrictulture getting water diverted from the Klamath, despite the howling protests of scientists saying that it was going to destroy the salmon populations. And look, they were right!

But biodiversity in general is terribly important to how ecosystems function - even the smallest rare species can matter a great deal. The last decade have witnessed an explosion of literature on that front, and googling about for biodiversity and ecosystem function can produce some useful insights. I would also recommend this excellent wikipedia article. These are things people need to know about.
posted by redbeard at 7:27 AM on May 4, 2006


Interesting thoughts salvia.
So did you/are you going to create a website?

Had to check out missbossy's reference to the the Voight-Kampff Empathy Test and I remembered where it came from, that marvelous flick, Blade Runner, and now know the original context, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, by Philip K. Dick.

The empathy issue is one worth examining in doing this research. For which animals do humans feel empathy and why? In my experience in NYC selling art (mostly sculpture from West Africa), folk art from India and pewter jewelry depicting animals, it's overwhelmingly for domestic cats.

There are numerous types of empathy tests, but none I know for humans feeling empathy for animals. " 'Emotional Empathy' is defined as one's vicarious experience of another's emotional experiences." Since emotions in humans are not yet better understood scientifically, it might be a while until the emotions of animals are explored in greater detail.

In a largely meat eating culture, having empathy for animals gets relegated a good deal of the time to feeling tenderness for pets, animals depicted in the media or teddy bears. Or animals are perceived in a utilitarian way.

A few weeks ago in NYC a coyote come to Central Park. It was a huge hullabaloo for a couple of days.

India is 42% strictly vegetarian, with a large percent of the non-vegetarians qualifying because they eat eggs. Perhaps because of their vegetarianism, I think Indians have long had a more peaceful co-existence with animals. I was impressed when I lived in the Indian countryside, that wild birds and forest animals would appear in restaurants to pick up the crumbs and nobody minded. Or that it was routine in the province of Bihar to feed a cobra that appeared in one's house, sleeping in a warm corner, a dish of milk and to feel honored the cobra came to stay.

However, in India there is little empathy for cats, perceived as dangerous to babies and mothers or dogs, usually feared because of rabies or disliked because they carry scabies and tapeworm. On the other hand, rats, snakes (especially cobras), elephants, tigers, lions, cows, monkeys, parrots are adored, often literally, as representatives of or associated with various Hindu deities.

I'm horribly allergic to animal fur and got a lot of love mileage out of a Flat Fido, which looked like the only and most beloved dog I had.
posted by nickyskye at 9:09 AM on May 4, 2006


In other news, at least 99.9 percent of all species of plants and animals that ever lived are now extinct.

The only difference is that, now, we are responsible for the extinctions and we can choose whether or not to do anything about it.
posted by driveler at 9:09 AM on May 4, 2006


Me, I'm saving up for an electric spider.
posted by kozad at 9:31 AM on May 4, 2006


Few species can adapt to the actions of short-sighted, thinking apes over a few hundred years. Yes!

We are animals with wallets.
(especially those in power)
posted by uni verse at 9:39 AM on May 4, 2006


"It's a slippery slope, once we grant human rights to great apes, it's just a hop-skip-and-a-jump to lesser apes, and we know how god damn lazy they are."

Funny. :) delmoi's comment reminds me of the great Talking Heads song "Animals" --

I know the animals...are laughing at us
....
They’re never there when you need them
They never come when you call them
....
They say they don’t need money
They’re living on nuts and berries
.....
They think they know what’s best
They’re making a fool of us
They ought to be more careful
They’re setting a bad example
They have untroubled lives
They think everything’s nice
They like to laugh at people
posted by salvia at 10:06 AM on May 4, 2006


Oh yes, a sad anecdote about animal extinction in India. A law was passed when I was living in a lovely apple orchard in Chijoga, Manali, that it was illegal for local hunters to kill the Monal, the colorful Himalayan pheasant. But it was not illegal to kill the "Curdi", which is the local name for the female of the same species. I wrote the Deputy Minister for the Environment and Forests at that time, Yuvraj Digvijay Singh of Gujerat, but nothing I know was ever done to change the law.
posted by nickyskye at 10:14 AM on May 4, 2006


“but at the rate we're going, we're going to manage to pull off another Permian, and end the Holocene period.”

That sucks. I love the Holocene period. It’s totally my favorite period.

I remember when that gorilla, Binti Jua, saved that three year old kid at Brookfield Zoo. I wasn’t in town at the time, but I saw the footage of her cradling the child and protecting him and that really hit me.
Some people said it could have been the result of conditioning. I don’t know that they saw the video, perhaps they didn’t have pets growing up, also, many people are idiots.
I wasn’t surprised really, just astonished that something I knew in the back of my head was so dramatically brought forth.

I’m with wilful - habitat maintenance isn’t media sexy, but it’s crucial. There seems to be a kind of introspective reality sort of denial of it that overlaps with animal empathy. Like you can eat money sorta thing. It’s a weird detachment that denies that there can be an understanding. And I say this as someone who likes hunting.*

*note: (not the beer guzzling, SUV driving, overkilling, Cheneyizing that passes for hunting)
posted by Smedleyman at 12:28 PM on May 4, 2006


/the point being I suppose I’ll kill (and eat) an animal, but I won’t eradicate all the animals or destroy everything that makes it possible for them to exist sorta thing.
posted by Smedleyman at 12:32 PM on May 4, 2006


Goodbye Holocene, hello Anthropocene.
posted by homunculus at 2:09 PM on May 4, 2006


Yeah, I'm with you Smedleyman. The weird detachment. That's why that book, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, so intrigues me. In the book, almost no animals are left, and even a toad or spider is practically the most valuable and fascinating thing in the world.

Speaking of weird detachment and lack of empathy, anyone else following the saga of low- and mid-frequency sonar? The US Navy was blasting sonar so "loud" that whales were thrashing at the surface to escape the noise, and one was found dead with bleeding around its brain and in its ears, if I remember correctly from reading an interview with Dr. Marsha Green. Green is working internationally to stop the use of this sonar, but NRDC had to sue the US Navy.
posted by salvia at 2:24 PM on May 4, 2006


/Space Merchants does a good (external) job of that salvia. Fred Pohl is underrated. Lives right by me too. Dick was from Chicago originaly as well.
...I should lay off the coffee, I’m full of facts today.
posted by Smedleyman at 4:01 PM on May 4, 2006


nickyskye, a friend and I have just started to work on the website (by which I mean, I just worked my way through a CSS tutorial, and my more-tech-savvy friend figured out SQL, and and now I'm looking to find animals and data sources, hence the AskMe).

Thanks for all the empathy references. Animal emotions, and empathy and altruism, are a really exciting, emerging field. I like the research from Frans de Waal's lab at Emory. Here's a speech about how some primates share our sense of empathy, reciprocity, and fairness. He was great on NPR (it's all good, but don't miss the commentary on politics and Katrina around 30:30).
posted by salvia at 6:55 PM on May 4, 2006


Optimus Chyme
I know that you already know this, but adaption takes place over geologic time, for the most part. Few species can adapt to the actions of short-sighted, thinking apes over a few hundred years.
And? Few creatures could have survived an asteroid smashing into Earth 65 million years ago. Those that could, did. Those that didn't, died. It's the same now. There's nothing intrinsically valuable about the creatures alive today, anymore than the species that lived on Earth over the last few billion years and died when they couldn't adapt.

driveler
The only difference is that, now, we are responsible for the extinctions and we can choose whether or not to do anything about it.
That's fair. We can indeed choose to do something about the extinctions, but let's not pretend that they're something special, as Optimus Chyme seems to be doing. Animals go extinct all the time, whether by slow changes in climate, geology, etc, or terrible catastrophes. What's happening now is special only in the we can choose, somewhat, what to do about it.
posted by Sangermaine at 9:32 PM on May 4, 2006


And? Few creatures could have survived an asteroid smashing into Earth 65 million years ago. Those that could, did. Those that didn't, died. It's the same now. There's nothing intrinsically valuable about the creatures alive today, anymore than the species that lived on Earth over the last few billion years and died when they couldn't adapt.

let's not pretend that they're something special, as Optimus Chyme seems to be doing


An asteroid killing every person on this planet would be morally neutral, nothing more than a freak catastrophe. A single person killing everyone on the planet and then himself would be unimaginably horrific. You see my point?
posted by Optimus Chyme at 10:27 PM on May 4, 2006


There's nothing intrinsically valuable about the creatures alive today

Sorry, couldn't let this part slide, specifically: the non-human creatures alive today are very important to us, even though we don't act like it. It's nearly impossible to predict which species are keystone species, whose extinction would cause grave damage to ecosystems that might not be repaired for thousands or tens of thousands of years. Fortunately for our dumb asses, most ecological systems have some redundancy built-in, but you can't pull blocks out of a Jenga tower indefinitely. Our quality of life depends on the scientific knowledge, exploitation of specific traits, and sheer aesthetic value that biodiversity provides. We fuck with it at our own risk.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 11:19 PM on May 4, 2006


you can't pull blocks out of a Jenga tower indefinitely

This is great. I'm going to borrow it.

let's not pretend that they're something special

They're only special in that we love some of them (check out Disney movies), we find some intriguing or delightful (the Nature Channel), they're entwined with some aspects of our culture (eg, Aesop's Fables), in the past some people survived only by eating them (eg, the fishing cultures on the North American Pacific Coast), and to some extent they ensure the continuity of ecosystems we depend on for our own survival.
posted by salvia at 8:26 AM on May 5, 2006


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