One century ago, the last passenger pigeon on Earth died in captivity. When Europeans reached these shores, flocks of the birds darkened the skies- sixty years before the last of the birds expired, an individual described the vast numbers of birds as they migrated:
`There would be days and days when the air was alive with them, hardly a break occurring in the flocks for half a day at a time. Flocks stretched as far as a person could see, one tier above another.'
Sixty years later, the last one died quietly in a zoo. Despite the vast numbers of birds, each female laid one egg a year, making population replenishment virtually impossible once the wholesale slaughter began.
As with the extinct thylacine (by the way, everybody should buy and read Carnivorous Nights: On the Trail of the Tasmanian Tiger by my friends Margaret and Michael), there are efforts underway to clone passenger pigeons in a "de-extinction" effort. I'm on the record as saying that "de-extinction" wouldn't bring these animals back, but would bring into being simulacra... and such simulacra would probably be housed in captivity, rather than being viable species with sustainable wild populations. We need to try to keep what we have, rather than to bring back what we've killed off. A guilty conscience is not the best arbiter of policy. Besides, why would we bring "back" a species into a rapidly changing world in which it may very well go extinct again? The loss of the passenger pigeon is one of Homo sapiens big screwups, but it doesn't hold a candle to the extermination of numerous indigenous societies that accompanied the kill-off of the birds. Sometimes, it's better just to admit that our forebears did some monstrous things and to work to prevent further monstrosities.
Since this is Labor Day and I need to get a little bit of politics into the mix, I'd have to note that the unions are in danger of going the way of the passenger pigeon, and we'd better start fighting back against the anti-union forces. Lately, the local "all-news-except-when-the-Yankees-are-playing" station has been running anti-teachers' union ads from the Center for Union Facts (if that name doesn't raise a huge red flag, you're not paying attention). They have a lot of nerve running these ads around Labor Day, but these sort of mendacious shitbags are shameless.
Hope I didn't bring anyone down on their day off, but if I did, then I just have to say that you should have gone to the beach in the first place.