Click here to read the whole article from The New Yorker (Elizabeth Kolbert). Here’s an excerpt:
Instead of looking at the fate of Earth from our anxious perspective, from a human perspective, I’d like to try to look at it from the viewpoint of the millions and millions of non-human species with which we share the planet. This represents a different kind of imaginative exercise. It requires us not to imagine events that might happen but to look at events that have happened through different eyes—or even without eyes, since so many of our fellow-creatures lack them. We will always fall short in these exercises, but I think it’s important to try, so I hope you will indulge me.
I want to start off with an individual animal [a Rabbs’ fringe-limbed tree frog], who went by the name of Toughie. Toughie, as I understand it—and I never had the pleasure of meeting him, though I did meet one of his siblings, or perhaps cousins—was a very charming fellow. He was born in the cloud forest above the town of El Valle, in central Panama, a beautiful, rugged area that’s unusually rich in biodiversity. Specifically, Toughie was born in a tree hole. It was filled with water, the way most things in the cloud forest are filled with water. His mother deposited her eggs there, and then, when Toughie and his siblings were tadpoles, their father took over, and he cared for them. Up in the tree hole, there wasn’t much for the tadpoles to eat, so Toughie and his sisters and brothers sustained themselves by literally eating the skin off their father’s back. Toughie was living in the cloud forest in 2005, when he was found by a group of herpetologists. Eventually, he came to live in the botanical garden in Atlanta…
So these biologists—some were American, some were Panamanian—were, as I said, trying to catalogue what was out there before it was lost. And they were also collecting live animals, with the idea that, if they could save breeding pairs, they could create a sort of ark. In the case of the Rabbs’ fringe-limbed tree frog, only a handful of animals were caught before the scourge hit. Researchers had managed to collect a few females and a few males, including Toughie, but, although they were brought together in various configurations, they never produced viable offspring. Meanwhile, efforts to collect more members of the species were unsuccessful; the frog has a distinctive call that sounds like a dog’s bark, and though many man-hours were spent listening for it, it has not been heard in the forest since 2007. The last female Rabbs’ fringe-limbed tree frog died in 2009, the second-to-last male in 2012. This left just Toughie. And when he died, in September of 2016, it is likely that the species went extinct. A notice of Toughie’s death ran in the Times, under the headline, “A Frog Dies in Atlanta, and a World Vanishes With It.”