When I was in 8th grade, I had to give a speech. For my topic, I chose extinction, and I focused on the fate of the recently exterminated Dusky Seaside Sparrow. The small Florida habitat of the Dusky was destroyed when their habitat was flooded in an attempt to control the mosquito population at the Kennedy Space Center. The artificial lakes, which flooded out the Dusky nests, were later drained when a highway was built to connect the Space Center with Disney World. The last Dusky died in captivity in 1987. It lived out its last days on Discovery Island – in Disney World. In 2000, there were over 500 bird species listed as endangered by a United Nations conservation group. But being on the Endangered List was not enough to save the Dusky.
Meanwhile, here in the Netherlands, the death of another sparrow is causing a bit of an uproar. On Friday, 18 November, a group of domino-maniacs, sponsored by the entertainment giant Endemol, will try to break their own record for toppling dominoes. They have taken domino-felling to an extreme level: a maze of over four million dominoes has been set up in an expo center in Leeuwarden. Five days before the big event, an innocent creature threatened to topple the record prematurely: a common house sparrow (huismus in Dutch). The sparrow was spotted by the domino-setters (an international group of over 100 which has spent the last month at the tedious task) as a very real threat. Attempting to capture the sparrow caused the bird to panic, and it ended up knocking over 23,000 dominoes in the melee. As humane capture methods proved unsuccessful, the sparrow was shot to death. Animal rights groups are threatening legal action, as the bird was a protected species. Public outcry (in the form of letters to the editors of two local newspapers) has been great. One writer wondered what would have happened if an unsupervised child happened into the expo center.
Thinking about our feathered friends, of course the recent outbreak of bird flu also comes to mind. Bird flu has been a prominent story in international news in recent months. Images of horrible bird disposal methods accompany every story (how can anyone watch?). I fear for the bird species affected by the flu and hope that their numbers do not become threatened. I wonder, though, if passing this virus to humans is not a kind of poetic justice, at least for the Dusky Seaside Sparrow, and the unfortunate domino-spilling huismus.