Nov 23

Today’s guest blog has been provided by ONCA, a UK-based charity which aims to cultivate environmental and social wellbeing through the arts. All their activities seek to inspire creativity and positive action in the face of environmental change, and to help galvanise the creation of a critical mass of work responding to and exploring these changes.

One of ONCA’s projects is the Remembrance Day for Lost Species which is held annually on 30 November and aims to raise awareness of the current biodiversity crisis, the Sixth Mass Extinction. Matt Stanfield from ONCA explains…

Lost Species Day logo designed by Julia Peddie

Extinction in and of itself is a normal part of life on Earth. What is absolutely not normal is the current rate at which species are going extinct. So serious has this problem become that many scientists now believe that we are living through the Sixth Mass Extinction, the worst period of global species loss since the end of the Dinosaur Age. Shockingly, there are only half as many individual wild animals alive today as there were forty years ago!

bombus franklini by Eti Meacock _photo by Abi Horn

Bombus franklini by Eti Meacock © Abi Horn

Unlike previous mass extinctions, the Sixth Mass Extinction is not due to some meteorite or volcano. It is being caused entirely by humans, and only human action has the power to stop it.

Remembrance Day for Lost Species (also known as Lost Species Day) began in 2010. An international grouping of artists and scientists felt that the Sixth Mass Extinction needed to be marked, as other tragedies are, with a day of remembrance.

martha procession_photo by robin taylor

Lost Species Day procession © Robin Taylor

One question which I am often asked in connection with Lost Species Day is “Why remember lost species?” My answer is that there are three main reasons to do so.

Firstly, I believe that in order to protect and restore the world’s ecosystem, it is vital to understand what is happening to it. Today’s children live in a severely depleted world but are mostly unaware of this, having never known anything else.

Second, many of the stories of species lost to human activity contain lessons to be learned. The stories of recent extinctions have recurring themes, especially those of overhunting and habitat loss, which between them remain by far the biggest threats to wildlife in today’s world.

Last but not least, Remembrance Day for Lost Species places a great emphasis on storytelling as a means of remembering extinct species. Extinction stories are often memorable, with exotic settings, colourful characters and creatures which it is hard to believe ever existed. Animals such as Steller’s sea cow, the upland moa and the Tasmanian tiger may sound fantastical but you wouldn’t even have to go back as far as the Middle Ages to have seen them all.

Thylacine marionette by Ben Macfadyen © Warren Draper

Thylacine marionette by Ben Macfadyen © Warren Draper

In telling the tales of vanished species, thoughts often turn to those species which still cling on. In the future, will Remembrance Day for Lost Species honour the memory of the Sumatran rhino, the Cuban crocodile or the blue whale? Their tales are not yet finished, a chance remains to change their narrative and it is a chance which we have the power to take.

                                                    Thylacine cabaret © Mari Opmeer

The hope of Lost Species Day is that, besides providing an opportunity to remember extinct organisms, it will inspire fresh commitments to the protection and restoration of the natural world.

The intention of Lost Species Day has always been for the event to be inclusive, diverse and global in scope. Anyone, anywhere, can commemorate species lost to human activity and commit anew to protecting the planet’s biodiversity as they see fit. This could involve anything from lighting a candle to holding a procession, and much more besides. The fundamental objective is to help people develop an emotional connection to the issue of species loss.

Artistic projects have played a big role in Remembrance Day for Lost Species so far, since the arts are an effective means of getting across the message behind the initiative in a way that truly resonates with people at a deep level.

                                              Wales beach passenger pigeons © Keely Clarke

If this piece has inspired you to participate in this year’s Remembrance Day for Lost Species on 30 November, find an event near you or to let ONCA know about something which you are planning for this year’s Lost Species Day.

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