Sunday, November 16, 2014
Lonesome George and lamenting extinction
I've just started (well must be 2 weeks ago) reading Ask the Beasts by Elizabeth Johnson, where she looks theologically at evolution. There is an extended discussion about Darwin and The Origin of the Species. What caught my eye early on though was a quote from Aldo Leopold which says "For one species to mourn the loss of another is a new thing under the sun."
It is not as if animals do not mourn. I've seen our pet dog mourn the loss of my dad. Koko the gorilla, who was taught sign language, mourned over a lost pet kitten. Elephants famously touch the bones of dead relative. And yet it is humans, the agents of destruction, who can mourn the loss of other species.
Last Friday night, I attended an evening with David Attenborough, the man whose corpus of work inspired me into a life long passion for wildlife, and nearly into a career in biology. The evening celebrated his life's work, but in particular the use of 3D cameras. One of his subjects was Lonesome George, the last of his particular species of Galapagos tortoise. I admit that I shed a tear. And why not. This poor creature died along, admittedly well looked after by humans, the same species that had decimated his species by eating them.
Perusing a bookshop before the evening, I saw a copy of A Message from Martha, which looks at the fate of the last Passenger Pigeon. From covering the skies for days, the species ended its days with one lone female in a zoo.
Mourn we should, both these and others, and the possible avalanche of extinctions coming from climate change.
So recovering the idea of Lamentation or Jeremiad is important for the church, to mourn as we should. With apologies then
How lonely sits the Earth
That was full of creatures!
She has become like a widow
Who was once great among the planets!
She who was a princess among the provinces
Has become a forced laborer!
She weeps bitterly in the night
And her tears are on her cheeks;
She has none to comfort her
Among all her lovers.
All humanity has dealt treacherously with her;
They have become her enemies.