Maneka Sanjay Gandhi

Help!! I’m being cheated. The meat industry, the pesticide polluters, the hunters and the factories have combined to make so many wondrous creatures die out – even before I could feast my eyes on them.

The Smooth Handfish has been declared extinct. It was an unusual fish with bulging eyes, a mohawk-like fin on its head and the ability to walk on the seafloor with its fins. Declared extinct by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), it was abundant just a few decades ago in the shallow waters of Tasmania. Now there is only one stuffed specimen left, caught in 1802. Its cousin also, the Red Handfish, lives on the seafloor and uses hand-like fins to "walk." There are less than 100 individuals left.

The culprits of this mass murder are the usual suspects :  fishing, pollution and habitat destruction. In particular, a scallop fishery that operated in the region until 1967 which dredged the fishes' habitat and kept throwing away millions of dead “bycatch” (unintentionally caught fish).

This year the hauntingly beautiful, magical, white giraffes have gone extinct. Armed poachers killed the last two, a mother and son, in Kenya in 2020. In the next ten years all the giraffes will have gone. Since 1985 40% have been killed by hunters - roughly 86,000 giraffes in just East Africa alone. The reasons : civil unrest, poaching and killing by farmers who have made their homesteads on giraffe land. The farms along the river Tana, for instance, have blocked giraffe water points. They must walk through private farms to go to the river. Farmers use snares and pitfalls to kill them for daring to cross their land, and then cut off their tails and use them as drawing room trophies. There are just 16,000 left. My granddaughter is never going to see one.

The last gigantic ponderous Pinta tortoise, Lonesome George, is also dead. He was big enough to carry me on his back. Now I will never see a tortoise of his size. The tortoises of the remote Pacific Galapagos islands were all this huge size. Then explorers and whalers arrived and ate them all.

The utterly beautiful Formosan Clouded Leopard, who looked like a python on four legs, is also gone. Native to Taiwan, the cats were first cornered by having their forests cut down and then hunted to extinction for their pelts. The people who killed them then burnt all their glorious pelts for fear of repercussions from the government. So, you will not even be able to see the beauty that I am talking about except in a few photographs which show the clouds which seem to be drawn on their tawny skins.

There were millions of passenger pigeons in America. They had pinkish body and blue-gray heads. A single white egg was laid in a flimsy nest of twigs; more than 100 nests might occupy a single tree They were all shot to death by little children in competitions to see who could shoot the most. People stood on their roofs and shot them idly as they passed by. Not to eat, not for any reason except the joy of killing.

To Christopher Columbus goes the credit of wiping out the Caribbean monk seal. The explorer nicknamed these harmless creatures as sea wolves and proceeded to kill hundreds of them in 1494. The few he left behind were killed over the centuries for their meat or oil (to light candles) and by fishermen. They were declared extinct in June 2008.

The Liverpool Pigeon with charming spotted green feathers was a close relative of the Dodo whom the sailors stopping at Mauritius ate to extinction. This one lived in Tahiti and the locals hunted it for food. The westerners who settled there brought in pigs to eat and they destroyed the pigeon’s nests. It’s called the Liverpool pigeon because there is only one specimen in Liverpool zoo to show you that the earth once had this beautiful bird.

Less than a hundred years ago, there were over a million black rhinoceroses roaming across the African continent. In 1960, China demanded their slaughter. They were butchered and their horns – made of normal matted hair- sold to the Chinese fake medicine trade. They do not exist anymore – and not a single human has benefitted from the so-called medicine made from their horns.

Teeny weeny brown bats called Pipistrelles, their shrill cries going far and wide over the silent ocean at night, lived on a single Christmas Island on the Indian Ocean. They have been killed off by pesticide which was meant to kill the ants on the island. Why we would want to kill anything at all is beyond my understanding.

Madagascar had three kinds of hippopotamuses. The last of all three was killed in 2014. All of them were hunted to death, bringing the enchanted fairytale water treader, the river horse, to an end.

The Yangtze River Dolphin was once worshipped as the river goddess. This dolphin, a common sight for one third of the Chinese population who live on the sides of this river, is now gone forever. Blind, they had a magical sonar system to catch their prey by echo location. Pollution, dams and hunting killed them.

Japanese River Otters were once in the millions. Prized for their fur, they were hunted down viciously, hundreds being killed each day. They were done by 1980 and now poems are written about them. September 19th is celebrated as River Otter day. But I am sure that if they were to come alive, they would again be hunted for their furry skin.

Each animal on this ignominious list of extinct species is a reminder of our failure as humans. A reminder of our viciousness and greed. Scientists have discovered up to 1.3 million species, but these are only 20% of the species there are on this planet. There are still millions of species waiting to be discovered, but we are killing them so fast that I will never see or hear of them. 90% of all the species on the planet are now believed to be extinct.

The Golden Toad, a small creature of sun-blinding orange gold, was discovered in 1964 in Costa Rica and extinct by 1989. It only bred for one week in April.

What an amazing enchanted planet this was. And it has taken us just 300 years to finish it off. All our children are taught about dinosaurs and they are taken to museums to see their bones. But we are not teaching them about the animals we kill off every year. They are inheriting an almost barren planet. In the past decade, 467 species have been declared extinct by IUCN.

During my lifetime, the earth is going to lose these marvelous creatures: polar bears, the leatherback turtles, the tigers, the Asian elephant in India, the Javan rhino, the Sumatran orangutans, the Bluefin tuna, the mountain gorilla.

And the bees. The bees will be the last animals to go before the human is extinct, because all our food depends on their survival. 70% of them are already extinct because of one set of pesticides – the neonicotinoids introduced in 2003. And used heavily in India.

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