Kage Baker was keenly, personally interested in the processes of extinction and survival. She loved the mysteries of cryptids, animals lauded in song and story who one day turned out to be real; or even better, the really odd ones like platypussies, whom no one had imagined until they were found.
She was fascinated by the rise and fall of various species of animals; the interesting tricks animals would develop to take or hold a niche. The isolation of a mild difference into an identifying trait. The patient plodders who last for 100 million years and the comets who streak across the biosphere in blazing eccentricity.
She was rather betting on Homo sapiens being in the comet category.
The more she studied, though, the more she thought she had identified the trick that let humans conquer all lands and all living conditions. Human will eat anything. And anyone. They are ultimate, surreal, intelligent omnivores.They make art and culture out of devouring anything that moves. Or doesn’t, for that matter; we are among the very few animals who have developed agriculture, and we’ve taken it further than the ants.
Oh, sharks have a similar eat-anything reputation, based on the fact that we occasionally find Volvo parts and lawyers in their sharky insides. But really, sharks are not very bright – they are just clever enough to realize that something near blood or thrashing is likelier than not to be edible, and so they swallow some peculiar things. And except for the odd South American seal, they stick to things in the water.
But humans have eaten their way across the face of the earth, and the face of the deep.
One of the theories about the lack of megafauna in the modern world is that the entry of humans into the various continents did for them. The giant mammals all seem to have perished soon after humans made a successful stand in the countryside. Europe lost its bison, its aurochs, its giant pigs, its Irish elk. The holocaust is even more evident in the Americas and Australia, where human arrived relatively late – just before they got there, the places were teeming with ginormous beasties living wild, free and plentiful.
Within a paltry few thousand years, the megafauna of the Americas was reduced to buffalo and a few isolated, large cats. Australia squeaked by with red kangeroos, and maybe a giant lizard no one is sure still exists. New Zealand lost all its big birds, and is now reduced to fat flightless parrots and kiwis: both nocturnal burrow-dwellers, where humans cannot reach them.
While there is considerable argument about what actually did all of them in, there is a lot of circumstantial evidence – fire pits. Burned bones. Spear points stuck in ancient animal skeletons. Pictures on cave walls of anything and everything being driven, hunted and speared. Nor is Homo sapiens alone in this martial omnivory: Homo Neanderthalensis is suspected in a lot of mass bone pits at the bottoms of cliffs.
There’s good eating on them protoprobiscoids.
And on our cousins, too; Neanderthalensis or sapiens sapiens, Homo has been munching on its kith and kin for just as long.
There’s a new report out of Southeast Asia this week, that would have interested Kage – Vietnam is the newest hotspot for previously-undiscovered species. Take a look here: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/wildlife/8950098/Elvis-monkey-and-coloured-gecko-among-200-new-species-discovered-in-Vietnam.html
What this means, of course, is that the locals have known about them for ages, but suddenly scientists are finding them too. Mostly by cruising restaurants and farmers’ markets. Read the whole article – it states, quite baldly, that most of these fascinating creatures are destined for the dinner table. A new species is found in Vietnam about once every 4 days, on average – but only once, and often never again. Why? Because someone ate it.
Sometimes the locals have been eating them for years, and rather understandably are not eager to have them declared off-limits by scientists. But unless these animals are protected, at least a little, they will soon not be found even by afficianados of rainbow gecko on toast – no, not though your grandfathers back to the days of Pithecanthropus (whom we probably also ate) regarded it as being everyman’s right and proper food …
There is something so tacky about realizing we ate so many of our fellow passengers on this planet. There are 7 billion of us here now – couldn’t we have kept a few moas, and mammoths, and sabre-toothed squirrels? Wouldn’t the world be a more interesting place if there were maybe a billion fewer of us, and some thylacines and dodos left? I’d have liked to see the skies over Kansas darkened with passenger pigeons rather than dust storms.
Makes Mendoza’s super-grain project seem a little more vital, doesn’t it? Before there’s just us and the bacteria left, snacking on one another.