Remembrance, Lost Species and Parenthood
On November 30 is Remembrance Day for Lost Species. On this day we remember – in public or private, quietly or through a community celebration – those animal species that no longer inhabit this Earth, and also to find out what we can do to protect those fellow creatures who we currently share a planet with.
Marking the day has a special significance to me this year, as I’ve recently become a mother – the most extraordinary of ordinary experiences. To grow a tiny person and nurture her with my body’s own milk was the most visceral reminder of my own mammalian nature and place in the wider biotic community.
With its initiation rituals of bodily fluids, I also joined the community of parents. A world of stuff – a constant flow of objects we’re supposed to need passes through our homes, adaptating to the developmental stages of the growing child and those of the eager parents. There’s maternity stuff, birth stuff, newborn stuff and baby stuff in countless shapes and sizes, and of course books and toys. Having children in an industrial nation puts a huge pressure on the newly forged parent to consume more. Thankfully the parental hand-me-down network is well oiled, and one perk of living in a city is the proximity to charity shops that regulate the flow of second hand baby equipment between families. We hardly bought anything new.
It turns out that kids stuff is covered in representations of animals; endangered flagship and keystone species seem to be particularly popular. My daughter’s bibs and babygrows are full of bears, wolves, elephants, zebras, dodos, giraffes, lions, penguins and monkeys. And we haven’t even gotten started on kids entertainment, books and toys. I’ve even seen a massive bouncy chair which was supposed to create an immersive rainforest experience for the child, complete with spinning animal mobiles and sounds. What amount of resources, measured in rainforest equivalent, had been used to make that thing?
The animal-rich world we offer our children stands in stark contrast with ‘respectable’ adult stuff which rarely features animals. Adults don’t surround themselves with representations of animals – adults kill them instead. As it emerges that 60% of population sizes of wildlife have been wiped out since 1970 by human practices – or capitalism and oligarchies, to be more specific – we can truly say that children born these days witness the sixth global mass extinction.
As the details of how we wipe out the ecosystems we depend on alongside their inhabitants can be overwhelming, Remembrance Days for Lost Species focuses on ine particular species per year. This year, we remember Steller’s Sea Cow, a large marine mammal, to mark the extinction and endangerment of marine mammals and also the ongoing threats to seas: “Steller’s sea cow was last seen in 1768 in the Bering Sea between Alaska and Russia, just a few years after it was first observed and named by Europeans. 2018 marks the 250th anniversary of its extinction”.
My daughter’s middle name is Auk – not only after the extinct Great Auk, but also so she knows and connects with the seabird colonies off the Scottish west coast, many of whom are auks – among them guillemots, auklets, puffins and razorbills. Their colonies are now severely threatened by climate change, with stark declines in numbers already recorded.
So this year and from now on every year on November 30, I will remember together with my daughter how important it is to know, appreciate and look after our fellow creatures, say their names with reverence, and gather with our friends and in our communities. Moving beyond stuff and pets, the only meaningful way to love animals these days is to find our place in the wider biotic community once again with humility and awe.