"“We have lent a huge amount of money to the U.S. Of course we are concerned about the safety of our assets. To be honest, I am definitely a little worried.” "

Chinese premier Wen Jiabao 12th March 2009

""We have a financial system that is run by private shareholders, managed by private institutions, and we'd like to do our best to preserve that system."

Timothy Geithner US Secretary of the Treasury, previously President of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.1/3/2009

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Extinct Birds, Monk Seals and Indians - Man's rich heritage of extinction

The Dodo is the the symbol of both extinct life and ideas . It was described by Hilaire Belloc in his Cautionary Tales..

The Dodo used to walk around
And take the sun and air.
The sun yet warms his native ground
The Dodo isn't there

The voice which use to squawk and squeak is
Now forever dumb
Yet may you see his bones and beak
All in the Mus-e-um

This flightless bird (Raphus cucullatus) was to be found only on Mauritius and was free of natural predators, (although it's eggs must have fed many a rat) this left it slow witted , with a lack of fear for man, and an unaggressive and curious behaviour - the Dodo (Portuguese = fool) proved a tasty meal for mariners whose overhunting drove it to extinction in the 17th century just 80 years after their discovery. However it probably was not that tasty because the Dutch called it Walgvogel, or "nasty bird'' because it tasted so bad.

A famous skeleton was lost in a fire in an Oxford museum in 1755 but the Museum of Zoology in Cambridge (pic) has one found in a swamp by a group of islanders in Mauritius in 1865 (the source of Belloc's rhyme?) . More recently an expedition in 2006 on Mauritius unearthed a lot of bones claimed to be 2,000 years old.

Last year another more recent Dodo was found by another expedition from which it was hoped that they could extract both some publicity - which they have, and some DNA - which they haven't.

Now a second vertebrate has met the same and now official fate. Federal officials (The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration's Fisheries Service ) have confirmed that the Caribbean monk seal is extinct - sometime after it was formally declared extinct 12 years ago in the 1996 IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals.

First recorded on Christopher Columbus's 2nd voyage to the Americas in 1494, these sluggish overweight animals , who enjoyed lolling on the beach, were found on the coast of Santa Domingo. They proved a tempting and welcome addition to the mariner's sparse diet and the ships log reports 8 animals (they weigh about 200Kg) fed many of the crew, many times.

The rapidly colonised islands steadily reduced native populations who used the easily hunted animal as a source of food and blubber, and their furs were used for trunk linings, clothing and strapping - it now enters the record books as the only seal (so far) to have been hunted to extinction by humans.

H. Sloan wrote in 1707: "The Bahama Islands are filled with seals; sometimes fishers will catch one hundred in a night".

The last recorded sighting was in 1952 , as a small colony on Seranilla Bank, a group of tiny coral islands halfway between Jamaica and Honduras - it was recorded as endangered in 1967. Now a close watch is being kept on the remaining and related declining populations of a closely related species . NOAA say the 1,200 Hawaiian monk seals is reducing by 4% a year and is due to fall to less than 1,000 in 3/4 years.

Declining fish populations, pollution, hunting and disease and human disturbance of breeding grounds by cooastal developments are all contributing to their decline.

About 80 to 100 live in the main Hawaiian Islands and 1,100 in the largely uninhabited Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, a marine national monument.

The Mediterranean Monk seals are found over a widespread are including the Adriatic Sea, teh North Afrocan coast, the Madeira Islands, the Canary Islands and the Atlantic ridge islands but are numbered in 100.s not thousands. In May 1997, a sudden mass mortality struck the North-west African population. In a month, about 150 animals died. The estimated population size before the die-off was about 300 animals. A bloom of dinoflagellates (algae) producing saxitoxins have been implicated in this mass mortality

"Red tide microbe's killer appetite revealed" New Scientist. "Red Tides "are also said (2005) to be a threat to another Florida sea mammal - the manatee and also possibly dolphins.

The bones of a specimen of the Caribbean monk seal are as rare as those of dodo, a few can be found can be found in a museum - the Tropical Crane Point Hammock Museum in Key Vaca FL.

This is worth visiting, if only to learn about the extinction of a third group of vertebrates - the Calusa (=fierce people)or Shell Indians. The informative displays tell the viewer of the "rich maritime culture of the Calusa Indians" who were not farmers but fishermen and left no pottery, presumably using shells for household tasks of storing, cooking etc.,

They travelled in cypress dugout canoes (said to have sails) and are said to have travelled as far as Cuba. The Caloosahatchee River is a folk memory of their fleeting 3,000 year presence before meeting the Christian conquerors. They also left curious shell mound structures (many on the mainland disappeared to be used in concrete house foundations in the 50's and 60's) one is an articifial island in Estero Bay, and a Fort Myers Beach company called "Calusa Coast Outfitters" offers tours to Mound Island.

The 3,000 year long (they may even relate to Paleo-Indians who inhabited Southwest Florida approximately 12,000 years ago) Calusa story from early occupation in the Keys was interrupted by the arrival of the Spanish when there were said to 20,00 Calusa.

One theory is that their unique use of the atlatl - a dart throwing device suggests Aztec origins rather than a more Northern origin like most Floridan Indian groups - tending to support the theory of dual N/S origins of the original North American population.

Said to be 4" taller than the Spanish , through European contact,their numbers were reduced bydisease (smallpox?)_ , being sold into slavery ,to a time in 1763 the Spanish relinquished Florida to the British , that they were reduced to some 80 or so families and became extinct as has their unwritten language and there are few cultural or archeological artfeacts (see pic of carved cat which also appears on US 1989 45c cent postal airmail stamp). The museum carefully says, "they left Florida forever".

But extinct American Indians is something polite people do not talk about.

See The Evolution of Calusa: A Nonagricultural Chiefdom of the Southwest Florida Coast by Randolph A. Widmer Amazon

As a nod to blogiset cattists the Aztecs kept cats and evidently revered them (as did the Egyptians) Chimalpopoca (who died in 1427) ordered his scribes to record the
lives and deaths of some 300 of his pet cats, all of which were named after local
flowers and plants.

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