Wednesday, 24 June 2009

The giant kangaroo joins the long list of victims

Apparently this rather attractive creature - a giant kangaroo, with the good looks of a koala or a Keith Vaz - became extinct about 45,000 years ago most likely due to over-hunting by man. Or more specifically over-hunting by Australian aborigines - you know, the ones living in harmony with nature.

It joins plenty of other interesting creatures, from the giant elephantine mastodons of the prehistoric prairies of North America to the more recently deceased Mauritian dodo, who are no longer with us because man wasn't able to control his hearty appetites for eating and breeding.

But not all man's appetites are as understandable as these. I've always thought the 'mysterious' disappearance of Neanderthal man was nothing of the sort. What do you think human beings would have done when they found these ugly creatures hunting the same game as them and gathering the same seeds, nuts and roots? I'll give you a few clues: Rwanda, slavery, the Holocaust, Maori wipeout of the aboriginal population of New Zealand, the destruction by white settlers of the Tasmanians. I could go on but that should be enough.

We obviously massacred the Neanderthals, and probably ate them*.

It's one of the many reasons I don't buy the arguments of environmentalists who blame everything on industrialism, capitalism, the Enlightenment, monotheism, etc. I'm afraid man's always been a bit of a handful.

* And, yes, I am actually an expert on this having only missed one episode of The Incredible Human Journey with the lovely Dr Alice Roberts.


Kevin Musgrove said...

I'm not sure if I miss more the giant Diprotodont wombats, the dwarf elephants of Malta or any one of the moas.

worm said...

Procoptodon! I love reading about the pliocene and miocene extinct mammals, as they seem so tantalisingly close -many having died out only 8,000 or so years ago; and their skeletons are often found so intact that it seems like they were around only yesterday!

And the Neanderthals actually died out because they couldn't find a decent deli selling fresh baked foccaccia anywhere, the local state schools were rubbish, they couldn't get Olivia and Jack into the roman catholic faith school nearby as the intake was already full that year, boden and ocado didn't deliver, and they were simply miles away from their nearest ikea

Brit said...

I blame George W Bush.

Gaw said...

Kevin: I agree - all delicious and much missed.

Worm: Those Neanderthals, I knew they shouldn't have moved to the provinces.

Brit: You could be onto something: he does look uncannily similar to Barney Rubble.

Bunny Smedley said...

Isn't it possible, though, that some day 'we' - and here I'm generalising slightly - may be able to reconstruct this agreeable-looking creature, and many of his fellow evolutionary rejects, simply by sticking a bit of his genetic material onto something else and, err, incubating it a bit?

If I were enormously rich I'd almost certainly pay someone to try to concoct a real, live mammoth for me - both because it would be quite entertaining, in a sort of sloppy sub-Nietzsche way, to 'undo' a bit of evolution, but perhaps also due to a sentimental suspicion that some of the nicer, more pleasant and likeable things out there aren't necessarily the most robust, let alone the most 'successful' ...

I agree about Neanderthal Man: Whodunnit, by the way.

Gaw said...

Bunny, I'm afraid you're addressing a typical arts graduate whose scientific knowledge is almost wholly derived from documentaries and the odd popular science book. So I'm not sure about the science behind the resurrection of extinct species. But as worm says, they're so recently extinct it is tantalising.

And why not? Stephen Jay Gould reckons evolution is a story of catastrophic wipe-outs as much as survival of the fittest. After all, we should know that luck can be everything sometimes.

BTW one point about Neanderthal man: why is he always portrayed as dark and swarthy? Being adapted for cold northerly climes surely he'd be likely to be a big pinkish, freckled, gingery specimen. Given anti-ginger prejudices, this may not have been very helpful to their chances of survival.