Martha, the last passenger pigeon on earth, died 100 years ago today. Billions of these birds once lived in North America. The Wall Street Journal reports that when Europeans arrived on this continent, passenger pigeons constituted 40% of the entire bird population of North America. They flew in flocks so large that they could eclipse the sun. Wall Street Journal Article
It is hard to comprehend that such a robust species could completely disappear from earth, but the birds were no match for human technology. Hunters used the telegraph to communicate the location of the flocks. Ambushes could be set up in advance of a flock’s arrival in a particular location. By the time laws were passed to control hunting of the birds, it was too late to save the species.
The demise of the passenger pigeon teaches us that no species is too numerous to go extinct. It also demonstrates that the legal system can be an ineffective means to protect animals.
Technology was instrumental in the destruction of the species. Can new technology be used to restore it? National Geographic has a good article on this bird and the hope that scientists can use DNA technology and cloning to recreate a species. You can read the article here: Scientists hope to bring back passenger pigeons