It’s been silent here for a while. I started my stage, participated in various excursions and field experiences and also took 3 exams, so it’s been one hell of a month, and not only because the temperature here is rising at an alarming rate. Hopefully I’ll deliver some more content in the next days, but today I bring you one sad piece of news: Lonesome George is dead. Remember him? He was the last of his subspecies. Now, i’m not usually the one to think that every single existing variety of every single existing species should be preserved at any cost (I think many of these cases could be taxonomic inflation, which in my opinion is more harmful than good for environmental education and sensibilization), and I don’t think that the death of a single tortoise (that additionally didn’t want to mate with any other tortoise of different subspecies) will impact in any way the survival of the species as a whole. But I must admit I’ve always found the tale of the last Pinta tortoise and of the desperate (and sadly useless) efforts to make him reproduce very fascinating and inspiring. R.I.P. Lonesome George, and R.I.P. Chelonoidis nigra abingdoni, a now extinct subspecies.
Everyone seems to be talking about this story, and I can see why. Usually, I’m more for the protection of entire key ecosystems or group of organisms rather than single, extra-endangered species whose ecological niche is today pretty small and irrelevant, but I understand the importance that these species can have as symbols of environmental protection for common people. This story in particular seems to me really touching, although many people would probably consider Dryococelus australis, the “tree lobster” (actually a giant stick insect), an horrible animal that deserves to be extinct (and here lies the limit and the superficiality of many people’s environmentalism: protect it if it’s huge and famous, burn it if it’s not a vertebrate). This beautiful critter was wiped out by introduced rats on its native Lord Howe island, Australia, by 1930, and was thought to be lost forever. In 2001, however, the walking stick rose from the ashes: a dangerously small population of around 30 individuals was discovered living in one of the few bushes that grows on the hellish Ball’s Pyramid, a small volcano renmant in the middle of the Tasman sea, resembling a giant blade emerging from the depths of some lovecraftian underwater city. Those insects were the last of their kind, and they had survived for all that time on that forgotten rock. 4 animals were captured, only a couple survived, but it was enough: now there’s a relatively stable captive population, all descendants of those two insects, Adam and Eve, and currently there are plans to try to reintroduce the tree lobster to its native Lord Howe island, after more than 80 years. If Dryococelus australis went extinct, nobody would have noticed, and I don’t think there would have been any additional repercussions on the environment (maybe there were at the time it was first wiped out from Lord Howe, but I’m talking about new repercussions). It is however remarkable how this seemingly doomed bug, withouth the help of any environmental organization, scientist, or support from the general public, secretly clinged to life for more than 80 years on that forgotten rock, under a single bush, with a population of less than 30 individuals. Don’t you feel that such an incredible animal, such an incredible feat of durability against all the odds, deserves to live to see another day? Don’t you think it could be a symbol of biodiversity protection just as good, and probably even better, than the usual tigers, pandas and sea turtles?
Parasites aren’t really widely appreciated, and they can be annoying or even dangerous to people and environment. Most of the times, however, they’re just part of a balanced ecosystem, and they fill an important role of population control and selective pressure on many species. Also, they’re living organisms, like all the other species: why, from a conservation point of view, a tiger that brutally kills animal to survive deserves appreciation and protection, and a louse that sucks a little blood to survive can die out and nobody cares? The California Condor, Gymnogyps californianus, was saved from extinction thanks to captive breeding and reintroduction but its louse, Colpocephalum californici, was lost forever. Think about it, folks.