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Post Info TOPIC: The finality of extinction.

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RE: The finality of extinction.

Chris Packhams program In search of the missing girl on BBC 2 was sobering. 

It is 9 years since I mentioned the problem of human overpopulation on this thread, since when the population of our planet has increased by another 800,000,000.

Mike P.


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It is raining here as well so I though i'd put some brief thoughts in on your ideas.
Population is a fascinating (to me anyway), very necessary but exceedingly dangerous issue Mike. It is a significant factor at present behind your two other drivers behind climate change.
The only country to pursue more than negligable control over over-population as far as i'm aware, has been China with their one-child per couple policy, but even this is losing will as the country opens up to global society.
With popular western cultural mentalities as they currently are (ie prevailing human rights and freedom to bring up a family, both mentalities which I believe in etc) it would be political suicide for any controlling party in a democracy to suggest reducing the birth rate as such by introducing forced contraception
There is a line though, where issues such as human rights, freedom etc have the potential to stand in the way of preserving the earth into the next century. Please don't mistake this comment for a call for extremism! This line not to cross is the carrying capacity of the earth. In this quoted sense it seems controlling population is necessary. To this extent I understand David Attenborough's attempt to raise awareness of the issue is worthy but possibly a touch simplified. The obvious alternative to population control is controlling ourselves in terms of the resources we use. If everyone attempted to live 'sustainably' then there is no population threatening the future of the earth issue. We are increasingly moving in this direction as a developed nation (and not coincidently with our assocaited low poverty levels) which gives some hope.
The stats on how much total resources the current global population uses varies wildly depending on the type of scare story people are trying to tell but your figure of 1.5 earths Mike is probably on the low side. Up to 3 earths isn't beyond scope, in which case the earths optimum population and current resource usage leves is 2 billion people.
Yikes, this is deep for a birding forum! Think I will finish up by saying that population is an issue, it is also an issue which should be talked about and read about from a variety of authors to engender awareness. Polarizing debates emanating from extreme standpoints are dangerous for the issue and could just stall progressive talking (not that i'd expect that to happen on this forum). Lovelock, Erlich, Malthus, Constanza, Meadows, Davis are all interesting reads on the subject of population and sustainability.
Thanks. Henry.


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It's a wet day in Durham, so how about a bit of controversy?

Just to pick up on Gary Marland's point (back in April) about the RSPB advertising exotic holidays.
I find it hard to criticize anyone travelling by air to pursue their hobby. I do believe eco-tourism has conferred considerable awareness to local/indigenous peoples that their birdlife/wildlife has real value, and that their precious rainforest and all which it contains represents intrinsic wealth beyond measure. The more of us who go to see (and pay to see) their wildlife, the better.

However, If climate change is a real concern, let's look at the big picture. There are three drivers behind the climate change problem: Emissions, Forest loss, Human overpopulation.

Whatever we do in Britain to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is basically praiseworthy, provided that we very carefully monitor and assess the impact of things like windfarms on wildlife and try to minimise the birdkill factor; (personally I am not convinced at all about windfarms; I think they are a visual blight, and they do kill birds).
Sadly, looking at things realistically, whatever we do here doesn't make more than a fractional difference to our ultimate fate. India, China, Russia and the USA will determine the world's fate as regards emissions of carbon dioxide and other pollutants. All the woffle in Britain about "green taxes" is just another means by which to rip off Joe Public.

A major driver fuelling climate change is the disastrous shrinkage of rainforest (just look at the mess the Phillipines is in). Trees of course take up atmospheric carbon dioxide and give off oxygen. At at time when we badly need more forests, we are burning them down at an alarming rate.

Above all else though, the major and fundamental driver of climate change is the relentless uncontrolled growth of the human population, now at 6.3 billion, (against an optimum level assessed as 3 billion). We are now consuming the resources of "one and a half Earths". It is the growth in our own numbers that gives rise directly to the two other drivers above!
I have been spouting about human population growth for donkey's years, and was heartened recently to see that wise and fantastic wildlife ambassador David Attenborough now voicing his grave concern, and that he has joined the Optimum Population Trust.

It's really a "no brainer" to see that unless quite soon we can introduce a worldwide workable and fair system in which human deaths exceed human births, (not of course by killing people but by reducing births) so that the population is downsized by tens of millions annually, we and all the wildlife are simply knackered, the consequences will be famines, floods, draughts, mass uncontrolled migrations, and wars over resources and territory.

What's the chance of "world population reduction" being on the political agenda in the near future? - I should say exceedingly slim!

In a few hundred years time, if aliens could visit, they might write our epitaph:
"a technologically sophisticated species, full of potential, but they were too dim to control their own numbers"


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If we don't start doing something to combat climate change soon we'll all have seen species that have become extinct.hmm.gif

I've just received the latest Birds magazine from the RSPB and there are at least eight glossy adverts for wildlife holidays in exotic places plus countless small ads and this despite the RSPB having a policy on climate change and being members of Stop Climate Chaos.



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I've also heard this story before and also envy those who have seen extinct species and curse those who had the ability to take greater action to converse those species status, e.g. several NZ endemics and birds like Ivory Billed Woodpeckers. I'm also amazaed at times, and IBW is a good examples where on the basis of a sighting in 2005 there is now a dedicated search taking place and efforts to preserve habitat, yet the authorities didn't research similar sighting fo the previous four decades or so. Why not?? It seems strange in hindsight.

I've heard a few stories about Huia where the relevant authorities realising the predictment of bird decided to try to capture and relocate a population but spent quite some time organising their efforts, whilst in the meantime the species became extinct.

The current NZ life list record holder has two extinct species on his list: Bush Wren, last seen in the early 1970s (sorry Mike smile.gif); and, Stewart Island Snipe. He works for the Department of Conservation out here and has benefitted from being able to work in some remote locations.

Also worth noting that NZ has at least 50 species of extinct bird whilst hawaii has about 70! One of the saddest, IMHO, is the Moa, of which there were 14 species. The Maori hunted Moa for food and it is thought that this one of the earliest extinctions but also caused the downfall of the largest eagle species to have lived, the Haast Eagle, which hunted Moa for food. No Moa = No Eagle!!

There is a book by George Watola, a NZ birder now living in the UK about the status of the extinct birds of NZ.

-- Edited by Iain Johnson on Saturday 25th of April 2009 09:11:34 PM


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Elephant bird ont flashes?,certainly there are some unexplored bits they could be hiding in ,but i,m told the king street colony is alive and well and 'shows well' most fridays and saturdays just after duskwink.gif

cheers geoffbiggrin.gifbiggrin.gif



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I've seen a 'Elephant Bird' skeleton and eggs in a museum in Madagascar. Believed to have died out around 1000 AD but there could be a couple still lurking in the Wigan Flashes :)


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That's the story I've seen before, not the Wren smile.gif


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This isn't so much a discussion as a discourse on a topic, (with a little but true story to follow), which I hope may provide some entertainment.
I must admit to a morbid curiosity about extinct bird species. I grieve and fret over their total inaccessability, and feel an aching envy of those who lived in such times that they could, from time to time, even take for granted sightings of such gems as Ivory-billed Woodpeckers, or see clouds of Passenger Pigeons darkening the skies above North America.
Damn it! Although I live in the North- East, I even contrived to be absent when what was possibly the last Slender-billed Curlew to be seen, popped up for 4 days in Northumberland.
I have a "Glass Case" list in my head. I have photographed specimens of Ivory-billed 'Pecker, Labrador Duck, Passenger Pigeon, and the oddest of all, the unique Huia of New Zealand, (in which the male had a chisel shaped bill and the female a bill like a sicklebill), the only known avian example of evolved specialized cooperative feeding.
Every stuffed extinct bird I have seen, has been both a humbling and sad experience.

The following tale was written by me and originally published in the Durham Bird Club bulletin 3 years ago:

Xenicus lyalli -- The Ultimate Blocker
It was in volume 7 of Del Hoyo's Birds of the World that I came across the story of Xenicus lyalli, the Stephen Island Wren, one of the small family of New Zealand Wrens(Acanthisittidae) comprising 4 species arranged in 2 genera.
Stephen Island is small and lies in the Cook Strait between North and South Islands.
The story goes as follows:
In 1894, a lighthouse was constructed on the island involving clearance of the forest there. The newly appointed keeper, a Mr. Lyall took up his post and for company, brought with him his cat.
The cat soon started bringing to its owner a series of tiny avian corpses, victims of its predatory forays.
It so happened that Lyall was something of an amateur ornithologist, and realizing that the birds were unusual, he had the presence of mind and the ability to preserve the specimens. He also managed on several occasions(at dusk) to observe the birds scurrying into holes among the rocks like mice, and never attempting to take flight, even when suddenly disturbed.
In time, the specimens were passed on to a dealer, who shipped some of these to England, where they came into the possession of Walter Rothschild, avidly building up his collection at Tring. At this time it became apparent that the specimens represented a species new to science, and named accordingly in honour of Lyall as the discoverer, (although it was really the cat). The description, written up in the ornithological journal "Ibis," noted in particular the extremely short wing measurement of the new species.
Meanwhile (and sadly), back in New Zealand, the cat had already ceased bringing back any captured birds. Mr. Lyall never again saw any sign of them, nor has anyone else, ever.
Xenicus lyalli had already passed into extinction, almost ahead of its newly found celebrity. Lyall remained the only human observer of the species in life.
Several superlatives deservedly rest upon this tiny bird. It may well have had the smallest known range of any bird species. It was quite possibly the only known example of a flightless passerine( we shall never know for sure). Additionally, it enjoys the dubious distinction of being the only new species discovered by an animal and then exterminated by that same animal.
In conclusion, one can only speculate as to what might have happened had the species survived longer, and if it had been proven to be a flightless passerine and so taken its rightful place as an avian superstar. Would its very celebrity simply have resulted in an alternative later route to extinction?
Few of us would trade lists with Mr. Lyall (though I suspect he enjoyed some good seawatches), so we should not begrudge him his "blocker".
I just hope he enjoyed his brief acquaintance with his little wrens, and kicked the cat from time to time.

Mike Passant (20 04 2005)

P.S. Xenicus longipes - Bush Wren is extinct in North Island (ca 1850), and very likely so on South Island and on Stewart Island, leaving Xenicus gilviventris - South Island Wren found in the high mountains, as the only surviving congener of "lyalli."
Anyone fancy a twitch?

(With apologies to John Rayner, who has seen this before).


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