Lions and tigers and bears, oh my! So runs a famous line from The Wizard of Oz. But at a time when a sixth mass extinction has very likely occurred and when, in the next 300 years, 75 percent of all mammal species will have disappeared, it is all too likely that the next generation of children will hear Dorothy utter those words and ask their parents, “what are those?”
As novelist Lydia Millet wrote in a recent New York Times op-ed, at the rate that animals are disappearing, children one day will know not just dinosaurs, dodos and Great Auks only from books, but many others:
A future mother will most likely say, when asked if her child will meet a polar bear: No, dear. The polar bears lived a long time ago, when ice still floated on the Arctic seas. The last elephants trumpeted out their calls in Africa and India before you were even born. You have nothing to fear from a prowling lioness. Nothing at all. The army fell, she may think to herself. In the end, there were no more reinforcements to send.
Will Barbies and robots be enough for those future children? The hybrid monsters of fantasy video games, the fossil-based reconstructions? Maybe a few stray wild animals that were once our partners in this grandiose place will live on as collective memories, the bygone stars of screen and storybook, but they, too, must fade from the stores and eventually the pixels as time marches on.
Children will manage — “we’re a resilient civilization when it comes to tools and toys,” Millet writes — but, let’s face it, you can’t cuddle an iPad while you’re having a good cry because whatever means injustice in the universe of four-year-olds has happened.
Millet reminds us that children’s literature is densely populated with a vast animal menagerie, from Babar the elephant to Curious George. For “comfort, inspiration, imagination and art,” children — and, I would add, adults — turn to animals, as she writes “Without even knowing why, we believe that to learn how to be human — which we have many years to do, for human beings have longer childhoods than any other species, a feature that to biologists and philosophers alike is one of our race’s distinguishing characteristics — children must be surrounded by animal imagery.”
Could these ten animals (the first two my favorites when I was growing up) only be known to tomorrow’s children via books or toys or Google image search?
Image from tsheko/Flickr
Photo by GarryKnight/Flickr
3. Bluefin Tuna
One of the fastest fish in the sea, the price of $100,000 per fish has made bluefin tuna a prize for commercial fishermen. They are now the sixth most threatened species in the world, on land or sea.
Photo by someda/Flickr
4. Polar Bears
Polar bears, the largest land mammals on earth, are at serious risk of going extinct due to global warming.
Photo by Shockingly Tasty/Flickr
Many butterfly species already only exist through their names and from drawings as they are endangered or threatened. Shown is a picture of Pieris brassicae wollastoni, the Madeiran Large White, which was declared extinct in 2007. A few might still live in the laurasilva forces of the Portugese island of Madeira.
Image from C.Felder/WikiMedia Commons
The European eel’s unusual lifecycle — which involves swimming between freshwater and saltwater environments — has resulted in catastrophic overfishing.
Photo by Digital Sextant/Flickr
In just one century, we have lost 97 percent of the tigers on the earth. As few as 3,200 exist in the wild today.
Photo by Jinx!/Flickr
Once abundant in the waters off of western Europe, the angel shark is now critically endangered. Out of 9,905 trawls from 1995 to 1999, only two were found.
Photo by offharmonic/Flickr
90 percent of American burying beetles have been removed from their original range. East of the Mississippi River, fewer than 1,000 beetles remain; there are still areas of South Dakota with a high population density including the Sandhills — the very route where the tar sands oil carrying Keystone XL Pipeline is to run through.
Photo by Double-M/Flickr
Photo by Stacy Spensley/Flickr
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