Sad Victory Over Greatest Bird #nature #poem #poetry #birdwatching #birds

Passenger pigeons by Audubon

Once upon a time,
Once there was a land
Where one bird
out of every two
Was gray with throat of cinnamon.

Their flocks eclipsed the sun
When migration season came.
One shotgun blast would bring down
Two dozen,
Without the need to aim.

With numbers in the trillions,
A breeding colony
Might blanket fifty miles
With its sovereignty.

And we killed them all.

They could lay waste to fields
But someone must have seen
Their numbers falling fast
And known what that would mean.

It took us several decades,
Less than a century
Of ruthless persecution
Of this farmers’ enemy.

To kill them all.

Do any mourn today
An action so draconian
While viewing stuffed remains
Of the last one
In the Smithsonian?

The last passenger pigeon.

By Kate Rauner

The last passenger pigeon

Thanks to karlshuker for his post on the passenger pigeon. Visit for a fascinating look into de-extinction. Reconstructing the passenger pigeon is their flagship project.

Their aim is to increase forest health and biodiversity, especially what’s been lost since the 1700s. Like wildfires, passenger pigeons were a major source of beneficial forest regeneration in eastern North America for tens of thousands of years.

Revive & Restore’s goal is “to hatch the first generation of new passenger pigeons by 2022 and begin trial wild releases ten years later.” Genome sequencing is already underway. Wow.


One Step Closer to a Wooly Mammoth #science #biology #DNA #woollymammoth

mammoth cartoonResearchers at Harvard extracted DNA from a wooly mammoth preserved in Arctic permafrost, copied fourteen genes related to its adaptation to cold, and inserted them into Asian elephant skin cells. Hurray – the cells continued to function normally – in a petri dish.

I’ve thought that bringing back the mammoth would be a stunt – immensely cool, but a stunt nonetheless. Elephants, the mammoth’s surviving relative, are intelligent animals with a complex social life. They care for one another and teach their offspring. Perhaps a mammoth infant could be adopted by a herd of elephants, and I’d definitely take a trip to see such a baby, but would it really be a mammoth in the full sense of body and behavior?

It turns out there’s a practical intermediate step possible with this research. Mammoths have a number of adaptations to cold, including hairiness, ear size, subcutaneous fat and differences in their hemoglobin.

Scientists hope, eventually, to ‘raise hybrid elephants that could be genetically wired to thrive in colder climes — hopefully expanding their range to live at a greater remove from humans.’ So resurrected mammoth DNA may help save their endangered modern cousins.

But no one can resist the thought of herds of mammoths roaming the Earth again. “The team might even try to bring back the woolly mammoth itself.”

Not everyone favors de-extinction for the wooly mammoth, in part for fear that modern elephants would be harmed in the research process or for fear of monstrous creations.

Current efforts at rewilding, recreating the lost ecosystem of the Pleistocene, meet with similar concerns – isn’t it a big enough challenge to protect the animals alive today without trying to reconstruct the past? Rewilding advocates call for existing species to be reintroduced where their ancestors once roamed – we’re trying to save grizzly bears and condors already, and horses returned to America with European conquest long ago. Rewilding would repopulate the American high plains and mountain west with cheetahs, lions, llamas, tortoises, related plant species, and – yes – elephants. With global warming underway, I doubt the Pleistocene can be recreated in the United States – maybe Canada or Siberia? Or maybe it’s a romantic dream.

It’s hard to resist the idea. What a thrill that would be. Some say any available funds should go to preserving existing threatened species, but I think lack of political will is a bigger obstacle than lack of money. Perhaps retrieving animals from extinction would create public interest and dedication to save other species. I certainly want to see any research conducted ethically, but even acknowledging that – wooly mammoths. How cool.

Many outlets covered the Harvard work; for example: is quoted above, or try Popular Science

Kate Rauner, Hanover, New Mexico, USA

Kate is a chemical and environmental engineer, and Cold War Warrior (honestly, that’s what Congress called us), who worked in America’s nuclear weapons complex. Now retired on the edge of the southwest’s Gila National Forest with her husband, cats, llamas, and dog, she fights fire as a volunteer and writes science fiction novels and science inspired poetry. She also shares science news that strikes her fancy (and finds it odd to write about herself in the third person.)