The Extinction Spa

Maria Isabel Garcia
Hello human marauder. The nature you knew, the one who served you and your ancestors, is now down to her endlings.

Hello human marauder! Yes, you. Welcome to the Extinction Spa. Oh sir, madame, you own this E Spa! You actually conceived and made this E Spa without knowing it.

This is where you can have encounters with the “ghosts” of plants and animals that have already been obliterated, or say your own personal goodbyes to “endlings” – the last surviving individuals of the millions of plant and animal species who are spending their last remaining days on this planet. We actually do not know if these plants or animals know, in their own way, that they are the last of their kind. 

But we know, because we know where they used to thrive, what spaces and other life forms they depend on, and what depends on them. Those are vanishing too, pushing the making of endlings faster than any other time in the history of the planet – about a thousand times more than if there were no humans around. If this continues, up to half of all species are going the way of these endlings by 2050. 

Humans and the things that you do – in your amazing creativity and resourcefulness but impoverished imagination of futures – have managed to alter the planet in magnitudes that have eased out all the other life forms who also consider this planet home, long before humans have arrived in the scene.

Oh, but you say you don’t have much time to go around the E Spa? We have a condensed tour just for humans like you. It is called “Extinction for those in a great hurry. We just go around groups of animals and cover plants in general, because that is all the human mind can reckon with. It is still guaranteed that you will get to know some endlings, and then of course, as you are so habituated, you will have time to stop in our Extinction Shop before you leave.

First stop is the ghost of Kak, the last of the Australian gastric brooding frog. She is already extinct. She is gastric because she relies on her gastric organs to reproduce: she swallows her eggs, raise the tadpoles in her stomach, and give birth to froglets through her mouth.   

Kak belongs to amphibians, the group of animals that are anatomically and physiologically endowed to live on land or water but are disappearing the fastest compared to other groups. Over a third of all amphibians are headed toward extinction.

You have to look up for these next endlings: Sam and Geo, a pair of Philippine eagles, the largest species of eagle in the world. They are so big that they are known to eat monkeys, civets, hornbills, large snakes, and even monitor lizards, which are also disappearing. A pair of this kind needs about 40 square kilometers of forest to feed and raise their offspring. With the rapid rate of deforestation in the Philippines where this eagle thrives, and where the heroic efforts to breed them in captivity are plagued with humongous challenges including poaching and wildlife collection, these eagles are sadly also on their way out.  

And from above, look down to cast your eyes upon the sea, and here we meet Russ, the Humphead wrasse. Russ’ species clan has been among the favorites in many Southeast Asian dining tables, and this – together with coral bleaching, destruction, and reef fish trade – has largely led to its last bow on the planet’s oceans, particularly in the Coral Triangle, the confluence of marine waters in Southeast Asia. 

Russ belongs to the group of scaled boned animals that thrive in water we collectively call fish. Fishes (i.e., all species of fish) naturally move in fresh or salty waters and know no political boundaries, nationality, or need to carry a passport to keep their identity. They know who they are and how they live. Out of the 15,000 to 30,000 estimate of fish species in the world, about 17% are like Russ, enjoying and supporting and animating the seas we humans also depend on, in the last stretch of lifetime for its kind.

Over there, we see the ghost of Lonesome George, endling of the Pinta Giant tortoise, one of Darwin’s famed Galápagos tortoises. He died in 2012. You can see his ghost stalk Vroom, Viagra, Viril, and the only female, Pharma – the 4 endlings of the 100 kg Red River giant softshell turtle.  

Tortoises and turtles are reptiles of which we have so far recorded over 10,000 species. About 10% of them are headed toward the fate of Lonesome George and the 4 giant softshell turtles.  

We now zero in on this brilliant winged swatch of life we nicknamed Mona. She is a monarch butterfly. She used to belong to a legendary group of butterflies who regularly flew a 2,000-mile journey participated in by multigenerations of its kind. But Mona is the last of that unimaginable swarm of monarch butterflies that conquered a space and made it look like it was breathing as the millions of monarchs raised their wings even ever so slightly.

Mona does not have bones. They belong to a group of fantastically diverse animals we humans summarily call invertebrates, where we also crowd mollusks, snakes, and corals. We really do not know how many invertebrates there are, but we think they make up about 97% of all species on the planet. We humans are better at estimating animals with bones. Maybe because we are partial to bones as we know what they do for us. We only know about 1.3 million invertebrate species so far, and about 30% of the species, including Mona, are down to their endlings.  

In our little patch of forest here in E Spa, we have 25 primate endlings, each one representing its own species: Sachi,  Fiona, Puno, Bana, Corona, Pika, Alamat, Josa, Fred, Kalo, Epik, Tahoma, Mischief, Zad, Helena, Chesky, Aloba, Talima, Nesti, Septa, Gosha, Imak, Lima, Madam, and Gentle. Fifty percent of all primate species are headed fast toward being endlings.

Primates are mammals, like you and me. Half of the world’s mammals and most rapidly, primates and marine mammals like several species of whales, dolphins, and porpoises are on their way toward being endlings, wildly driven by one of its mammalian members, you and me. 

In that little insulated translucent enclosure is Yely, the last remaining polar bear. With melting ice in the poles, it is foreshadowed that 70% of polar bears will be extinct by the mid-century. 

And for your last stop before the Extinction Shop, I want to show you 600 endlings in this collective wild green swath. They are the endlings of the 600 plant species we have lost in the last 250 years. There are about 300,000 known species of plants so far, but we might have already driven many of them to extinction even before we knew them. 

Plants are disappearing 500 times more than the rate if humans were never in the scene. Sometimes, a human with magnificent wisdom and even more magnificent willpower, Hung Hsin-chieh, climbs to the scene and finds other endlings in the forests so that he can save them and propagate them in botanical research spaces. But the vast majority of humans do not care, so plants are being destroyed wholesale to make way for new living spaces for humans, especially spaces for food to feed the notoriously insatiable humans. Rising global temperatures are also altering their distribution around the world and making it unlivable for many of them. Plants are the beginning of the food chain. If plants collapse, then all species collapse. 

On your way out, you pass by the Extinction Shop. It is empty but what it used to have was valued at a total $125 trillion – the economic value that nature provides us every year without us having to give her anything back.  

Hello human marauder. Yes, you. Enough of your marauding. The nature you knew, the one who served you and your ancestors, is now down to her endlings. Should she thank you for your visit? – Rappler.com

Maria Isabel Garcia is a science writer. She has written two books, “Science Solitaire” and “Twenty One Grams of Spirit and Seven Ounces of Desire.” You can reach her at sciencesolitaire@gmail.com.