I just finished reading David Quammen's remarkable book The Song of the Dodo. It's a tough read mostly because the writing is excellent, but the truth he reveals about species extinction is just flat-out sad. Quammen has done a huge amount of research and legwork to tell the story of the scientists who have studied species endangerment and extinction. Specifically, he examines island ecosystems and how they give rise to remarkable species diversity and yet are also hotbeds of extinction. 

This book was first published in 1996, so I know the story has changed in the past 20 years. But it still strikes me as an important read. I don't think it's possible to read Quammen's passage on the last living dodo and not cry...

I have long chafed at the Christian notion that humankind has "dominion" over all the other species on Earth. It strikes me as a ridiculously egotistic notion. For our own sake and the sake of the Earth, we seriously need to get serious about ecosystem sustainability. Our actions, as many folks have made clear, are leading to an accelerated pace of species extinction. It's going to get mighty lonely around here.

I transformed a passage late in the book into a poem. I hope this still falls under the fair-use rules. I think it gets to the heart of the matter.



If it’s not the Concho water snake,
It’s the muriqui.

If it’s not the muriqui,
It’s the Florida panther.

If it’s not the Florida panther,
It’s the eastern barred bandicoot

In Australia, or the tiger in Asia,
Or the cheetah in Africa,

Or the indri in Madagascar,
Or the northern spotted owl

In the Pacific Northwest,
Or the black-footed ferret in Wyoming,

Or the Bay checkerspot butterfly
In California. Or the grizzly bear,

Which in the contiguous United States
Is now confined to half-dozen islands

Of montane forest, most of them too small
To accommodate a viable population of grizzlies.

The pattern is widespread.
All over the planet, the distributional maps

Of imperiled species are patchy.
The patches are winking.

In some instances they’re winking
On and off, but

In many instances they’re merely
Winking off.

— found poem in David Quammen’s The Song of the Dodo, page 601-602