Sometimes I think my favorite animal is the buffalo. Really, it’s grizzly bears, but whenever I see a picture of a buffalo it crosses my mind that, Hey, maybe that furry, dumb, humongous-headed thing really is my favorite. In the eighth grade I won an art contest with a picture of a buffalo – no tracing! – and my drawing was printed on our class shirts. (I was a real artist back then, only a couple steps away from cutting my own ear off, probably.)
Anyway, I don’t bring this up so you will ask me to design your next company logo (…though, if you ask, I will…); I bring it up because of, you know, what happened to the buffalo.
What happened to them is precisely annihilation. I mean, once white settlers came into the picture, we started a mammoth-murdering spree. Started going positively open season on them, video-game style.
Scientists estimate (I don’t know how: fossils? wizardry?) that before 1600, there were upwards of 60 million bison in North America. In the 1800s, after humanity went all bovine Rambo up on those Great Plains, that number decreased to, get this, 541 bison. That means we killed, literally, 99.999 percent of the buffalo on the continent.
In the nick of time, folks wised up and said, “Maybe we shouldn’t kill all of these animals,” so they mostly stopped. Today, there are about 350,000 buffalo in North America, though most are not wild.
It’s hard to call this a success story, but it demonstrates at least that mankind, when properly motivated, can prevent extinctions.
The reason I say all this is because extinctions are happening everyday, and it’s directly the fault of humans. Here’s one of the most startling statistics I’ve heard in a while. You might want to sit down for this. Between 1970 and 2010, the population of the world’s vertebrate animals (that’s mammals, birds, fish, and pretty much everything except insects and sea urchins) decreased by 52 percent.
Think about that for a moment. What if the population of humans on earth was cut in half in the next forty years? It would be the most cataclysmic event since the extinction of the dinosaurs.
Perhaps a more relevant analogy: what if half of all dogs and cats simply died off in your city. Don’t you think the humane society, the city council, and the neighborhood kids would absolutely flip?
What if half the animals at Sea World just died. That place would be run out of business. Because what kind of people would sit back and let that happen.
Well, as it turns out, all of us.
Because that is exactly what’s happening on a much larger scale in the wild, right now.
I’m not saying we should all go vegetarian (though, maybe we should…). I’m not saying you should stop hunting (though, maybe you should…). I’m not even saying you should cut down your oil consumption (though, maybe you should…).
What I am saying is that awareness, though not enough in itself, is a good first step. More than 50 percent of earth’s vertebrate creatures have died off in the last 40 years, and we as a species deserve most of the blame. Our offenses include pollution, destruction of habitats, infringement on ecosystems, interruption of migration routes, poaching, over-eating, the abuse of fuels that harm the environment, and the general ravaging of the planet.
God gave us dominion over the planet, to fill the earth and subdue it:
Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’
But not only that. We have subdued enough; it’s time to move on to the next chapter in Genesis, the one that says, “The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.”
If Eden could talk, would it say we cared well?