Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Baiji Dolphins: Western media's response lacking?

Back in April, Jeremy Leon Hance wrote a truly heartfelt article for Mongabay.com on the apparent disinterest in the Baiji extinction story by the media giants in the West. I think I saw more initial coverage than Jeremy makes out (and in some surprising places), but I have to agree that what there was disappeared very very quickly. And now the Baiji is gone, what do you think? **UPDATE** The BuzzDash poll has been posted on the main BuzzDash page with a slight tweak, so I'm showing that version now...

The news came and went with an alacrity that I found alarming, almost jolting. I waited for weeks, faithfully; I could not believe that the initial announcement would be followed by nothing but silence on the issue, no rationalizations, no opinions, no discussions, no outpourings of grief. Just silence.

The ‘Goddess of the Yangtze’, the baiji, was gone from this earth and it seemed the extinction equaled the importance of, say, Captain America’s more recent and fictional death. It is during such times that I wonder if people really understand what extinction means. It is not the death of an individual; it’s a species—wholly unique in the world—that will never again grace the planet. Furthermore, this extinction was not brought on by natural cataclysm or selection; this was a species driven to extinction—not even intentionally (i.e. for food or survival) but apathetically and dumbly—by another species. I thought such a global loss deserved a little more press and certainly more feeling.
Read the rest of Jeremy's great article at Mongabay.com.


Anonymous said...

I think the main reason that the media hasn't responded very loudly is that they understand their readership very well, and know that the 'mere' extinction of one particular species of dolphin wouldn't interest them as much as, say, the extinction of 'dolphins' - i.e. all species.

Just because those of us with a zoological perspective are familiar with what the importance of a unique species is, it doesn't mean that the lay people - which is, after all, the audience that the media-advertising organisations sell to - will appreciate it, or care to follow up a quickly glanced headline with a click to the article.

Or maybe the public has a wider appreciation of the small time-spans in which new species are spawned, compared with our own species anticipated existence, and is therefore unconcerned when a twig is abruptly cauterised. This is slightly less likely, though.

I reckon it'll take an entire genus or subfamily to go extinct before 'the public' notices. So that's us or aardvarks in the mammal section.

It's probably mostly the fact that advertising doesn't go for stories that ask their readership to care too much about anything. Annoying that that's the way around it seems to work out...

Gareth said...

Thank you for such an insightful comment. Very nice.

I think you're totally right. I've never looked at it quite that way before, but it's interesting to note that Last Chance To See featured AMAZONIAN Manatees, AYE-AYE Lemurs, BAIJI Dolphins, JUAN-FERNANDEZ Fur Seals, KAKAPO Parrots, MAURITIUS Kestrels, MOUNTAIN Gorillas, NORTHERN WHITE Rhinos, PINK Pigeons, RODRIGUES Fruitbats, and KOMODO Dragons are just a large species of Monitor Lizard after all.

On the flip side, there's very few creatures that AREN'T part of a larger family of animals. I suppose it comes down to how "distinct" they are from the rest of their close relatives.

I'm sure everyone would sit up and take notice if the Polar Bear or common Hippopotamus disappeared, both of which featured prominently on the 2006 IUCN Red List.

Anonymous said...

I think they'd notice, but I think there's an even deeper level of 'disconnected apathy' that affects people that live in cities (and have financial and media clout): it would not affect their lives one ilttle bit if hippos went extinct. They might get sad for a moment, but a cheeseburger sure would help out.

That's what they would think. If, that is, they stopped to think for more than a few seconds during an ad-break. This sounds horribly cynical, but I expect it's how the vast majority of people behave. They're too busy making a living to care about animals.

That's one of the fundamental problems with mankind, and I think it's insuperable: we are able to concentrate on our own individual short-term futures (i.e. half a generation) to the almost complete exclusion of the longer-term - even that of our own children.

It almost borders on the psychotic. I think it's caused by our overwhelming confidence in technology. We won't ever change our habits to avoid trouble if it means a drastic change in lifestyle (unless it's we ourselves - as individuals - who are being threatened). We'll just carry on and assume that there'll be some magic fix around the corner; that we'll somehow manage... And it's probably true, too.

Love your blog, by the way. Fortunately, mankind has just enough far-sighted people that do actually care!

Anonymous said...

By the way, although the book "The Prostitute in the Family Tree" that you list on the left is by a 'Douglas Adams', it's not by THE Douglas Adams, and is nowhere near as good as anything he wrote.

I'd recommend you remove it to save confusing people...

Gareth said...

Sorry, Anonymous, but those Amazon links are "content-driven", in that just like Google's AdSense they read the content of the site and automatically suggest products based on the topics mentioned.

Unfortunately there's nothing I can do about that listing.