1. The Monteverde Toad (Costa Rica)
For five days every spring, you sought a mate where water flowed against the roots of trees in the elf forest, home to species that are small; you most of all. How desolate the mountaintops where you no longer breed like fallen stars! How lost the scientists wondering where you went and why. Perhaps mist gave fungus purchase on your shining hide; perhaps the heat increased, dried up your pools. The formula’s wrong, a deadly alchemy, but fire and water in sympathy surely forged such strange amphibian jewels, so there’s still hope that one day you’ll be found like buried treasure: patient, underground.
2. The Baiji Dolphin (China)
The ghost of a drowned maiden whitely shone in the holy Yangtze for centuries, esteemed as a goddess: one glimpse then gone— brief as joy or beauty. Now factories foul rivers thrown off course by hydro dams since the Great Leap Forward left that myth behind as obsolete; a hollow ideogram not fit to keep up with the modern mind. Always shy and blind, what could you do but sing to your children in the muddy gloom where hooks were many and the fish were few? Repentance came too late; we must assume this time you’re drowned for real, will not return no matter how much incense people burn.
3. The Black-faced Honeycreeper (Hawaii)
Rarest bird in the world, you remind me of chickadees who make the winter merry: black-capped, finch-billed, a fistful of airy fluff. But unlike them, you are solitary, hidden on remote Haleakala in scarlet-flowering trees fifty feet high whose honey you sip, scanning the blue sky for predators. You can’t see malaria, can’t sense the lack of snails, your favourite diet; still, some instinct chased you here, out of range of pigs and cats. They say that you are strange. They say you are “unusually quiet.” Well, lonely as you are, why would you sing? You pretty thing, pretty thing, pretty thing.
4. The River Otter (Japan)
Once abundant as reeds in the waters where you swam and played and raised your young for years, you’ve disappeared, victim of casual slaughter because humans must wear fur. Profiteers grew rich while your ancestral home grew poor; poisons stilled the fish that were your food; the rivers couldn’t keep you anymore. How long did it take till you understood you must flee their shelter for the inland sea, its unknown depths and belligerent waves? Small and brave, in groups of two or three you swam away, believing you’d be saved. Those who search may find you in haiku symbolizing spring. But there’s no spring for you.
5. The Pyrenean Ibex (France and Spain)
Who called you “Celia,” I wonder, and why? There was nothing heavenly about you except perhaps the panoramic view the mountains gave you of the shifting sky piled high with clouds white as those winter snows that drove you, hungry, to find pasture land where sheep and goats already grazed below. You couldn’t compete with them or with man, or so we think: extinction’s a mystery we’ll never understand. But full of guilt or full of pride, we tried to fix history by cloning you. No luck. The things we killed can never be restored, we know that now. What we don’t know is who dies next, and how.