The dodo. The mammoth. The dinosaur. All animal species that once existed and are now extinct, but are forever in our collective memory. But what about the thin-billed curlew? And the primeval?
“They lived in the Netherlands and are now extinct, but hardly anyone knows that,” says Marc Argeloo. In recent years he has conducted research into what he calls natural amnesia, the collective amnesia, shifting baseline syndrome in English. “We suffer from amnesia when it comes to developments in nature,” he explains. “How things are going with nature, and which species have become extinct: we often have no idea, especially when it comes to animals that went extinct a few generations ago.”
Dead and stuffed
The dun-billed curlew was last seen in the Netherlands in 1947. “That is a very beautiful bird with a long, downward curved, thin bill, and our grandfathers and grandmothers may have seen that bird in the wild,” says Argeloo. But the generations that followed can only see the animal in the Museon-Omniversum museum in The Hague. Dead. set up. This bird species is now extinct worldwide.
The same fate has the aurochs: the last died in 1627, she was the parent of all cattle breeds worldwide. “The genetic material of these animals is gone, damn it, never to be returned, and that’s a sad thing.”
Argeloo believes it is important that people face this and understand what is happening. That’s why he wrote the book Nature amnesia, How we forget what nature looked like, and he will defend his thesis tomorrow at Utrecht University. “Dinosaurs, dodos, mammoths all died out at the hands of non-humans. But the species that died out in the past centuries: that’s our fault. And nobody else’s.”
We only forget that, because it goes so slowly, and because according to Argeloo, the tradition hardly happens, if at all. “In schools, in biology class, in the media and in cultural museums, little attention is paid to the animal species that are now disappearing and that have already disappeared. And the woolly mammoth is still in history books, but the species that died out afterwards, not anymore. “
“You can also respond with a shrug: oh, the thin-billed curlew, well, we still have a lot of animals, but if the curlew can go extinct, so can the lion.”
Just as much as in Delfzijl
The number of lions worldwide is nowadays as large, or small, as the population of Delfzijl. Just over 24,000 inhabitants live there. Argeloo tries to shake people awake with those kinds of figures and facts in his book and with his research. “There were once lions in Greece, Turkey.”
He omits words such as ‘bad’, ‘dramatic’ or ‘terrible’: it is up to people to decide for themselves. “Facts can best help with that. For example, my brother-in-law did not want to face that nature and the animals that live in it are having a hard time. But now that he has read my book, he sees it.”
Due to climate change, reindeer in Lapland are also threatened with extinction, as can be seen in the video below:
Argeloo believes that our natural history awareness needs to be improved. “We commemorate the fallen on May 4, and our liberation on May 5. I myself am from Alkmaar: we always celebrate there on October 8 because it is so many years ago that the Spaniards left in 1573. Events, sad or festive, those that have to do with people, we do think about that, but if animal species become extinct, we don’t do that. I find that incomprehensible.”
Yet Argeloo is not a sad man. And not an angry man either. He is hopeful. “If people see what is going on, and that nature needs more attention, then it can still be okay.” The aurochs cannot come back, and neither can the thin-billed curlew. But, says Argeloo: “There is still a lot to recover for the animals that are now having a hard time.”
Nature, he says, is resilient. “Which in turn is a reason for many people to say: ‘Then nature will save itself’. But the number of species that are threatened with extinction is increasing. Naturalis alone contains a collection of more than sixty extinct species. bird species. Sixty.”
So yes, nature is resilient, but: “It does need the rest, space and time to recover. And it is up to us, humans, to remember that, and act accordingly.”