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Endlings and the Death of Species

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 28, 2019

An endling is the last known member of a species and once it dies, the species becomes extinct. George was a tree snail that died in early 2019, the last member of the now-extinct Achatinella apexfulva species. He was 14.

Few people would mourn a snail, but Sischo and his team had spent years caring for George. He was a daily constant, a familiar friend. He was also the last known snail of his kind, the final Achatinella apexfulva. It is said that everyone dies alone, but that was doubly true for George-alone at the end both in his cage and in the world.

When the last of a species disappears, it usually does so unnoticed, somewhere in the wild. Only later, when repeated searches come up empty, will researchers reluctantly acknowledge that the species must be extinct. But in rare cases like George’s, when people are caring for an animal’s last known representative, extinction-an often abstract concept-becomes painfully concrete. It happens on their watch, in real time. It leaves behind a body. When Sischo rang in the new year, Achatinella apexfulva existed. A day later, it did not. “It is happening right in front of our eyes,” he said.

There’s a part early on in the video where Sischo is showing the snails in his team’s care and he casually points to a small chamber and says “here is the entire world’s population of this snail species” — I found that incredibly sad and had to stop the video for awhile to regroup. (Oh and the cardboard boxes labeled “snail morgue”.)

George was unique and we’re trying to avoid another George. But we have 100 species that will be gone within the next 5 to 10 years without intervention.