• Otter Views: Forgotten Species

    by Tom Stevens

    Reviews were mixed as planet Earth marked its Day this week.

    On the hopeful side of the ledger, many world policymakers now acknowledge the global climate change that scientists and Al Gore have been warning about for decades. As evidence, a group of nations with Arctic frontage are currently considering rules to safeguard fisheries and other resources newly exposed by melting polar ice. That’s a first.

    Also encouraging, in a weird way, is China’s grudging and belated recognition that it faces a few pollution challenges. Discovering 16,000 dead pigs in your biggest city’s water supply will do that. China’s official media have even begun posting air quality warnings on days when citizens cannot see their own feet. This is a good start.

    Even the world’s foremost, and least apologetic, polluter is showing flickers of environmental awareness.  In an astonishing development last week, citizens of the deep red U.S. state of Nebraska voiced their fear that a proposed crude oil pipeline would endanger their aquifer. Similar worries motivated activists in deep blue California to sue the federal government for too hastily approving shale oil “fracking” plans for the Central Coast.

    So, some good news, or at least, some indications of sentience. On the other hand, the recession-whacked Eurozone recently abandoned its promising cap-and-trade carbon tax system. And in the developing world as elsewhere, rapacious mineral mining, deforestation, coal burning, species decimation and overfishing continue apace, further depleting a once beautiful and bountiful planet.

    If there is an up side to any of this, it may be that these despoliations are at last being recognized. For instance, governments that formerly countenanced the lucrative body parts trade in vanishing species like whales, sharks, dolphins, elephants, walruses, gorillas, rhinos, tigers and black bears now face growing condemnation.

    But what about vanishing species that were not recognized? Take the naugas, for example. When was the last time you heard about them? These shy, slow-witted ground dwellers were hunted to extinction in our lifetime to satisfy a decadent nation’s lust for recliner chairs and mock leather accessories. But did Cher foreswear her naugahyde playsuits? Did you read one syllable in Smithsonian about “The Plight of the Nauga?”

    And what about the mos? No one misses them. Yet these gentle, flightless birds gave their lives – nay, their entire species – so that movie stars and pedicurists could wear puffy mo “hair” sweaters over their naugahyde playsuits.

    It seems incredible now, but the naugahyde and mohair craze came and went in a single generation, taking these poor doomed creatures with it. We won’t again see the nauga padding happily through the forest, snuffling for berries; no more the torpid mo, blinking in the rain. Even their by-products are vanishing. To see anything made of naugahyde or mohair these days, you have to go to the Salvation Army store, and get there early.

    And what about The Plight of the Shoe Tree? Lacking the grandeur of such showy forest titans as redwoods and mahogany, these endangered, low-growing closet dwellers have gotten precious little media coverage until now. I’ll bet you can’t remember the last time you channel surfed the news and saw hundreds of protesters, arms interlocked, facing down a line of bulldozers and chanting: “Save the Shoe Tree Forests!”

    While on the subject of endangered forests, whatever happened to balsa wood? There was that one big raft Thor Heyerdahl built for Kon Tiki, then a few years of model glider kits, but I haven’t seen anything made of balsa for a long time. Another species once prominent in gliding but now facing extinction is the humble skeet. Wobbling slightly and emitting their plaintive, whirring cries, vast flocks of skeet once glided over America in sky-darkening numbers. But today? Just look around.

    Another once-populous airborne species was the boomerang, a native Australian flyer that migrated as far as Honolulu in my youth. There, friends and I launched many of these colorful, winged avians skyward by hand, but they never came back as promised. We also lost many species of kite in the same way.

    Things needn’t end like this for other, more familiar species if we simply act now. Most of us have already sworn off sable coats, elephant foot umbrella stands, and libido potions made from powdered rhinoceros horn. We can do the same for other species whose by-products are today heedlessly traded on world markets: the rat-tail combs, gooseneck handlebars, and cat’s eye marbles still bought and sold in the millions, or at least, the high hundreds.

    In these enlightened times, do we still need ducktail haircuts, ox blood loafers and hound’s tooth sport coats? Can’t we find humane, eco-friendly alternatives to the fish eye lens, the rabbit ear antenna, and the dog leg fairway?

    I think you know the answer.


    posted to Cedar Street Times on April 26, 2013

    Topics: Otter Views


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