Comment by Kip Hansen – March 17, 2023
The conservation world, and the world in general, is crazy about the issue of extinction. Desperate to prevent these extinctions (of which there are very few examples except on small islands [pdf]) societies are hampered by laws and regulations that do little to actually protect the target species, but rather to protect their so-called habitats (which are not the same thing).
The mandated protection of the habitat of the Northern Spotted Owl was famous, leading to massive disruption to the logging industry in the US Pacific Northwest. It is now recognized that the decline of the howler owl was more likely caused by competition with the barred owl, which is the Darwinian winner. (here too).
Of course, polar bears have been in the news lately. From the 1950s to the 1970s, polar bear populations were in decline, according to the peoples living in polar bear country. Why? Polar bears have been shot by humans…not just for self-defense (polar bears can be very dangerous and don’t make good neighbors), but for sport and for their pelts, to decorate government offices and wooden cabins, polar bear heads to mount on the walls of the great white hunter dudes.
Then there are the big cats and predators – worldwide. The killing of tigers, cougars, lynx, snow tigers, jaguars, leopards, bears – you get the idea. Much of these killings are out of fear – tigers attack and kill people in India and Southeast Asia. But again, much of this has been done in the past and is still being done in the present for sports and trophies. In addition, Sino-Asian folk medicine drives a market for different body parts of the same animals – this encourages their hunting by local hunters – poor hunters – who can make a lot of money selling parts of a single tiger – and so they do , protected or not.
As is well known, the passenger pigeon, which was booming in amazing numbers in the eastern United States, was being hunted to extinction by the late 18th century.
Another historical threat to species has been commercial value. Beavers because of their soft and warm skins, which served as the basic material for the huge beaver hat craze in Europe at the time). Whales of all kinds for their blubber to make whale oil lamps. seals for their bacon and for their skins. Pictured here is a harp seal pup that can be beaten to death by hundreds of thousands each year. Despite the scale of the kills, the harp seal remains on the IUCN Red List as Least Concern.
In the United States, the American bison is a well-known example, hunted to near extinction. The situation is similar with the subspecies known as the wood bison (Bison Bison Athabascae). The vast herds of plains bison were hunted for their meat and skin. Many legends surround the bison, both among European settlers and among “Native American” tribal peoples. Not all of them represent actual history.
An example of Killing to Extinction is the near extinction of the northern elephant seal in California. If you haven’t seen a male elephant seal in the wild, you really are missing out. “The giant male northern elephant seal typically weighs 1,500–2,300 kg (3,300–5,100 lb) and measures 4–5 m (13–16 ft), although some males can weigh up to 3,700 kg (8,200 lb).” [ wiki ) There is a Live Rookery Cam available at the website of the Friends of the Elephant Seal.
Soumya Karlamangla, who writes for the California Today newsletter of the New York Times (why they have such a newsletter is a question we might ask), gives us some of the details in a 16 March 2023 piece titled: How California’s Elephant Seals Made a Remarkable Recovery.
“The seals were hunted so much for their blubber, coveted by humans as a source of fuel, that between 1884 and 1892, not a single northern elephant seal was seen anywhere in the world, according to the National Park Service.
Then a small colony of elephant seals was found on Guadalupe Island off the coast of Baja California in Mexico. After laws were enacted in Mexico and the United States banned hunting of elephant seals [ in the early 20th century – around 1930] this colony – estimated to have dwindled to fewer than 100 individuals – was able to continue to multiply and the population recovered.”
Today the estimated population size (2020) is 175,000.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) currently reports:
“The northern elephant seal has recovered from extinction and population growth is expected to continue for decades to come. Because of its large and increasing population, growing range, and lack of foreseeable threats, the northern elephant seal is listed as Least Concern…Northern elephant seals were a major target for commercial seal hunting, and the population was almost wiped out by the hunt in 1818. 1869. Due to their pelagic nature, the fact that most animals spend 80% or more of their lives at sea and do not all return to their colonies at the same time, a few individuals were able to survive the mass slaughter at colony sites. By 1890 only a group of about 100 animals was known (Bartholomew and Hubbs 1990). After a slow recovery in the early 1900s, northern elephant seals recolonized formerly used areas in the 1980s. The total population size in 2010 was estimated at 210,000 to 239,000 animals (Lowry et al. 2014)”
How to protect and encourage recovery from near-extinctions?
At least for mammals and birds, the answer is so simple that it can be overlooked:
Stop killing them on purpose
This should always be the first action for endangered species. And it’s often enough as long as species recovery is on nature’s agenda. We cannot regain a Darwinian species that is being lost. We can prolong its decline, but as Darwin taught, the survivors and nonsurvivors do not survive.
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After all the societal shock caused by Darwin’s theories, and the use of those theories to bash religion and philosophy (quite inappropriately, as it turns out), the only field of science that should be hit hardest is the environmental sciences. But even now, environmentalists don’t seem to understand the most fundamental principle of Darwinism: the survivors survive to breed and produce more of their kind. As it always was.
Foolish attempts are made to try to protect Darwinian losers – those species that don’t quite fit in anymore. Darwinian losers decay and species better adapted to current conditions thrive and take their place in the world.
Do not think so? Think of the Save the Red Wolf! effort which, because it is not a species (or even true subspecies), will never be successful in the wild. (my setting here)
I’m not saying there shouldn’t be habitat conservation efforts, but there should be wide-ranging efforts coupled with protecting wilderness, wild lands, etc. Never should there be the idiocy seen in the snail spider incident. After all the fighting, the Supreme Court ruled that efforts to save the slug-necked bird were unnecessary due to “subsequent discovery of other natural populations.”
Thank you for reading.
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