I’ve just been watching the BBC documentary series “Last Chance to See” where revered British comedian Stephen Fry and Mark Carwardine travel the world in search of wildlife that is on the brink of extinction.  This is a follow-up series to the original show of the same name that was filmed in 1989.  The 2009 edition revisits the animals that they sought 20 years ago in the hope that they still exist.  And thankfully most of them do.  The kakapo (a large flightless parrot from New Zealand), the Aye -Aye (a strange-looking lemur), the Amazonian manatee, the Komodo Dragon, and the Blue whale, are all present and accounted for (though to various precarious degrees).  This new installment included several new subjects and excluded a few old ones, but two of the members of the original bunch could not make an appearance due to extinction; the unfortunate Yangtze river dolphin, a freshwater dolphin from China which is listed as “functionally extinct“, meaning that they are extremely, extremely rare and that if they exist in the wild it is unlikely that it is in numbers sufficient enough to sustain a healthy population, and the Northern White Rhino, also believed to be extinct in the wild.

I enjoyed the series, as I am in general a fan of both nature documentaries and Stephen Fry (who is by all accounts a good sport and charming).  However I went into it disturbed, much as I left.  The title itself is disturbing – “Last Chance to See” : that there should be a last chance to see an animal before there are none left from an entire species, the idea (no, the inevitability) that within my lifetime some of these animals will cease to exist…..

Extinction is nothing new, and it certainly cannot be asserted that it is a human caused phenomenon.  However according to scientists the current rate of extinction (appx. 200 species a day) is about 1000 times the “natural” rates of extinction, constituting a “mass extinction of life” (Protect Nature for World Economic Security, Warns UN biodiversity chief, guardian.co.uk, Mon. 16 Aug. 2010).  Humans have contributed to this extreme rise in the rate of extinction by destroying vast amounts of habitats, pollution,  unsustainable hunting/fishing/agricultural practices, and by contributing to climate change.

In light of this scientific data it seems inevitable that indeed there will be a point at which there is a last chance to see many different species.  Right now an entire population of something is dying out forever.  The Yangtze river dolphin is the first cetacean extinction in modern history that is due undeniably to human influence.  The Green movement is currently popular and so in spite of our inherently destructive nature human population for once seem semi-in agreement that something has got to give.  This is entirely because the effects of our policy of exploitation of the natural world are finally beginning to effect us.  So now it is time to do something, now is the time to change. Buy a hybrid car, and bring your reusable bag to the grocery store.

I don’t know about you, but I have a feeling that it’s too late (certainly the Northern White rhino and the Yangtze river dolphin must feel that way).  We may have waited just a bit too long and now for all the “sacrifice” and wishing and hoping that drives the Green movement, there may not be anything that will save us in the end.  And it would serve us right.  I just wish that the rest of the planet didn’t have to go down with us.

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