I have at long last finished Jane Goodall’s book Hope for Animals and Their World. To start, I’ll quote the dedication in its entirety:
“This book is dedicated to the memory of Martha, the last passsenger pigeon–and to the last Miss Waldron’s colobus and the last Yangtze River dolphin. As we think of their lonely end, may we be inspired to work harder to prevent others suffering a similar fate.”
The book is subtitled “How Endangered Species Are Being Rescued From the Brink”. It tells the stories of many different animal species, and the remarkable people who have devoted their lives to saving them. In some cases, the animals became extinct in the wild when scientists captured the last known living examples of the species in order to create a captive breeding program. The goal, ideally, being to repopulate the species in the wild, or at the very least, to preserve the species even if it has to be in a zoo or a small nature preserve.
Dr. Goodall’s take on it is always overwhelmingly positive, but the stories are heartbreaking nonetheless. Time and again, the primary reason for the loss or near loss of a species is loss of habitat. And loss of habitat is due to human overpopulation. There are more immediate causes of animal extinction such as the accidental (or sometimes deliberate) introduction of non-native species which either outeat or outright prey on the native animals. Dogs, cats, and rats are most common. There are introduced poisons, such as lead and various pesticides. But these too go back to the issue of human overpopulation. I have no solution to that. I’m just stating the fact.
At the moment, I’ll confine myself to why Jane has hope. I personally don’t see much. I fear that one day all the magnificent animals on our planet will be confined in zoos. But not Jane. The last section of the book is called “The Nature of Hope”. She says she has four reasons for hope: our extraordinary intellect, the resilience of nature, the energy and commitment of young people, and the indomitable human spirit. In that section she also addresses the issue of why we should save endangered species anyway. And she says, we do it for love.
In that regard, I heard an oddly related snippet of an interview yesterday on NPR with Jeremy Rifkin, who has a new book called The Empathic Civilization. Rifkin is an economist and senior lecturer at the Wharton School of Business. His point is that our ability to connect with one another globally is broadening our identification with others beyond family, tribe, religion, and nation, making us the empathic civilization. And we increasingly embrace not only each other but the other species on our planet. I truly hope he is right.