This month the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed removing 23 species of animals and plants from the Endangered Species List. Occasionally there are species, such as the Gray Wolf and the Northern Brown Kiwi, that are removed from this list because their populations have rebounded. Those that lost their designation recently were not so fortunate. All of them have become extinct.
One of those missing beings is the Kauai O’o. This black, brown, and white native of the Hawaiian island of Kauai had feathers of bright yellow on the upper part of its legs. Its long, tapered beak gave it access to its favorite food, flower nectar. It built its nest inside the cavities of rainforest trees, and both male and female guarded the fledglings. Among the causes of the birds’ demise were rats, mosquitoes, domestic pigs, and habitat destruction. The Kauai O’o has not been seen or heard since 1985.
I am writing this Radical Joy Revealed because, in their online reportabout the 23 vanished species, the New York Times featured a blurry video and a recording, courtesy of Cornell Ornithological Laboratory, of the Kauai O’o. The high-pitched, variable whistle sounds reflective, as if the bird is commenting on various things: the location of the sun, the nearness of its mate, the breeze. The song is beautiful and we will never hear it again.
How do we live with the loss of the Kauai O’o and all the other beings who are no more? How do we live with the knowledge that climate change will eradicate many thousands more species?
One option is to participate in the Remembrance Day for Lost Species, which takes place every year on November 10, with people all over the world honoring extinct beings with art, music, and ceremony. As for me, I’m going to start building a cairn in my yard. Each stone will represent one species that has vanished from Earth. This cairn will not be built hurriedly. I will get to know a species first by reading about its habits, if possible listening to its voice. Then I will thank that being for its life and add a stone to the cairn. The first stone will be for the Kauai O’o.