THE AGE OF ENDLINGS

We can only imag­ine the lone­li­ness of the last of a species. But can we be im­mune to the con­se­quence of the loss?

Tehelka - - KASHMIR -

RE­MEM­BER UN­CAS in The Last of The Mo­hi­cans? His death marked the end of a tribe on which James Cooper de­vel­oped his theme of great loss. The Mo­hi­cans were an imag­i­nary tribe based on the Mo­he­gans and Mahi­cans who still sur­vive in two au­ton­o­mous reser­va­tions of the US. But dozens of plant and an­i­mal species go ex­tinct ev­ery day. Few are recorded, even no­ticed. The last of a species — the endling — is iden­ti­fied in still fewer cases.

Much has been writ­ten about Tru­ganini, the last sur­viv­ing Tas­ma­nian Abo­rig­i­nal, whose tribe was ex­ter­mi­nated by the Euro­peans who colonised Aus­tralia at the end of the 18th cen­tury. Tru­ganini be­came an endling in 1874, three years be­fore her lonely death. Around the same time, an­other name­less endling passed away thou­sands of miles away. But if you never heard of the Quagga, it is not your fault.

Imag­ine a half-ze­bra with the stripes in the front fad­ing in the mid­dle to dis­ap­pear into a plain brown coat in the rear. Once abun­dant in the grass­land of South Africa, the Quagga was hunted to ex­tinc­tion for its hide and meat nearly 130 years ago. By the 1870s, the wild stock dis­ap­peared and zoo spec­i­mens be­came rare. The Quagga endling died at Am­s­ter­dam’s Ar­tis Royal Zoo in 1883.

Martha the pi­geon and In­cas the para­keet died in the Cincin­nati zoo in 1914 and 1918 re­spec­tively. Martha’s death marked the ex­tinc­tion of the Pas­sen­ger Pi­geon, a species that crowded the con­ti­nent in bil­lions till the new world was dis­cov­ered. In­cas was the last Carolina Para­keet, North Amer­ica’s only par­rot species.

The Heath Hen, a ma­jes­tic grouse and a vari­ant of the Greater Prairie Chicken, was nearly ex­tir­pated due to poach­ing by the end of the 19th cen­tury. The endling — named Boom­ing Ben — lived alone for four years in a small Mas­sachusetts is­land called Martha’s Vine­yard un­til a for-

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