Tigers and Elephants, Oh My!

March 15, 2021

Why do we see some things that aren’t there, yet fail to notice others that are in plain sight?

A New York Times account of recent claimed sightings of the Tasmanian Tiger, which was declared extinct in 1936, delves into why our minds can work overtime to fill in missing information and reach faulty conclusions.

Extinction itself is a tricky business since one can never prove a negative. The absence of any properly documented evidence of living Tasmanian Tigers does not prove that they are extinct. Recently, a bird species, the black browed babbler, was discovered in Indonesia. It was thought to have gone out of existence nearly two centuries ago.

Incidentally, Tasmanian Tigers were not tigers. They were actually thylacines. Thlyacine may sound like the newest drug advertised on the evening news, but they are actually marsupials. The only remaining naturally occurring marsupial in North America is the opossum.

According to the National Museum of Australia, the disappearance of Tasmanian Tigers from this earth resulted from “excessive hunting, combined with factors such as habitat destruction and introduced disease.” Put differently, this shy, nocturnal mammal—and so many other thousands of species that are gone forever—vanished due to the impacts of human population growth. Of course, human-induced climate change is contributing to species losses around the world as well.

Permanent loss is a powerful emotion, so there can be an understandable element of wishful thinking that maybe, somehow, we didn’t destroy a species through careless stupidity. The hard fact is that we are now the midst of the Sixth Extinction. Elizabeth Kolbert’s eloquent New Yorker article on this crisis points out, “This time, the cataclysm is us.”

Here is where the “elephant in the room” makes its appearance. It’s not an actual pachyderm. Rather, this refers to the extraordinary lengths to which some will go to avoid talking about the threats posed by human population growth. At a time when life as we know it on our planet is under sustained, severe threats, this silence is unacceptable. That’s why we will never shy away from making the population connection to the extinction of species as well as nearly every other environmental challenge we face.

We know how to meet the population challenge. We have mountains of data to support the notion that the universal availability of all reproductive health serves can be transformative. Modest increased investments in voluntary international family could save the world as we know it for so many species, including elephants and ourselves.

Join us as a member of Population Connection if you’d like to help change the world.

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