By Ian Fairclough
THE TOP 30 under 30. The top 40 under 40. A spot on these lists recognizing business and community leaders is a great achievement.
But for Lonesome George and 99 other entries in Scott Leslie’s new book, 100 Under 100, their notoriety is not something to be proud of.
Lonesome George is a Pinta Island Galapagos giant tortoise. More accurately, he is the Pinta Island Galapagos giant tortoise. He is the last of his kind, having lived a solitary life for more than 40 years.
He and 99 other species — mostly animals but a few plants too — made Leslie’s book for the simple reason that they at some point in the past few decades dropped into the double or even single digits in numbers.
Leslie’s book features some pictures of the easily located or in-captivity species to go with descriptions of the 100 that made the list. He covers where they are found or believed to be, their history, what led to their numbers dropping so low, and in some happy cases, what caused their populations to rebound.
Besides Lonesome George, others that made the cut for the book include the Alabama sturgeon (only two remain), the Arakan forest turtle (five), the South China Tiger (fewer than 20) and the Mexican wolf (50).
Leslie started researching and checked out the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s red list of endangered or at-risk species.
“It’s mind-boggling, the variety of wildlife and biodiversity that is declining,” he says
The species covered in the book are the ones for which there is a counted population or scientific estimate.
“There are probably thousands and thousands (of other species) but we haven’t counted them yet.”
As a nature lover, Leslie says it’s troubling to learn that so many species are on the brink of disappearing from Earth.
“You kind of get hardened against it,” he says. “I think anybody who cares about biodiversity or nature has kind of gotten a hard shell over the years because we’re always hearing things.
“But to actually go in and read the story of (Lonesome George), especially where he’s been by himself for 40 years, that’s kind of heart-wrenching.”
Leslie says education is the key to saving some species and keeping others from making it onto the critically endangered list.
“People have to know about these species, and it’s a really hard thing to teach people to value something that they don’t currently value,” he says.
“As a civilization, for the most part, we don’t value wild animals unless they’re something that we can eat.”
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