Of all the amazing and most fantastic forms of life found on our planet, the most highly developed are the mammals, which includes us. Instead of laying eggs that then hatch, mammals give birth to live young, which are then fed with their mother’s milk until the young are big enough to forage on their own. Or in the case of humans, to demand a spoon and access to the kind of food everybody else is eating.
Mammals became the dominant species on the planet about 65 million years ago, after the demise of the dinosaurs. Today they include chimpanzees, gorillas, monkeys, tigers, lions, whales, dolphins, dogs, cats, horses, and thousands of other animals that are among the most intelligent on earth. A good many of them are also now extinct or on the endangered list. That they are dying, almost overwhelmingly, as a result of human indifference, greed, or ignorance is heart-breaking.
Tigers and leopards have been poached ruthlessly for their pelts and for their bones to make traditional Chinese medicines and tiger-penis wine. There are fewer than 1800 left in the wild in India, and a corrupt Indian Forest Service is complicit in the disaster. Poachers are now turning their grizzly attention to the majestic Asiatic lion. A forest reserve has been prepared where lions can be moved to breed and live protected from poachers. But India’s officials are fighting over the lions. So far their forest reserve has not a single lion. Officials would rather see all the lions die than see their rivals get custody of them.
We humans have always been bigoted and short-sighted and controlled by self-interest. In the past, we simply have been less powerful, and so done a great deal less damage. Can we change fast enough to save ourselves – and everything else?