Posted by: lilyj285 | December 14, 2020

How to Destroy a Species: The Dangers of Exploiting Nature

Bird lore (1913) (14562557107).jpg
Photo of a live passenger pigeon courtesy of Wikipedia.

It’s no question that, as humans (and, for some of us, as colonists), we have a major impact on the species we live with. However, I am writing to tell about the mass exploitation of an animal that was so harmful, that animal is now extinct: the passenger pigeon.

These birds were plentiful up through about the late 19th century. They lived in massive flocks and often weighed down entire tree branches with their crowded nesting habits (Yeoman). Their populations were not altered strongly by the presence of and living practices of the Native people who lived alongside them. It was the arrival of European colonists to North America that brought about their demise.

Around the 1880s, there was mass hunting of the birds as cheap food. It was supposed that the birds were so abundant, no amount of exploitation could bring them to extinction (Yeoman). Hunters would destroy not only the adult birds but their nesting grounds and squabs as well; this was a less than sustainable way to hunt, and it is largely agreed on that the birds were either hunted or deforested to extinction, but likely it is some combination of both.

The last passenger pigeon known to exist, “Martha,” died on September 1st in 1914 at the Cincinnati Zoo, (Wisconsin Historical Society) never having borne any children (Yeoman).

File:Martha, the last Passenger Pigeon. Natural History Museum, June, 2015. Digital photo, cropped and brightened.jpg
Martha, the last passenger pigeon, in 2015 at Once There Were Billions, courtesy of Wikipedia.

It is unfortunate at least that the Victorian colonists killed as many passenger pigeons as they could until they had wiped out an entire species, and disastrous at most. The history of the passenger pigeons holds an important message about conservation, and about understanding that it is possible to exploit animals to the point that their population(s) is completely destroyed.

As we know, the Victorians regularly used nature to their own ends, building over it and commodifying it as their own. We still see a lot of these practices today, but we must understand that nature is not ours to command, and if we try to be the ones with the ultimate control over it, we will only be endangering this planet even more.

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