A story about extinction
When I was working on my film on Siquijor island in the Philippines in 2004-2005, I met a fellow scholar in my fellowship program, herpetologist Cameron Siler who was studying for his PhD. Cameron was based on a neighboring island called Negros, in the city of Dumaguete. He studied frogs and other amphibians throughout the archipelago. He collected and preserved hundreds of them for his university. Cameron explained in a recent email that researchers have to follow “very strict collection permits that were given to us by the Philippine government.”
“The main purpose of our research is to document and understand the full diversity of an area. So we attempt to conduct really detailed surveys and collect voucher specimens that can represent these unique and amazing species in a museum. Usually this amounts to only 2 or 3 individuals for a species, and so we are confident that we minimize our impact on their populations.”
The biodiversity of frogs and lizards in the country is incredible. I saw so many in daily life. Inside the hut where I lived or whereever I stayed in the country, there were little insect-eating lizards hanging on the walls and ceilings, as well as geckos the size of my hand. Each morning, while we ate breakfast outside, a giant monitor lizard we named Larry the lizard passed before us. He was probably on his way to snacking on the chickens or chicks, who were feeding on our compost pile in the yard.
During our occasional visits to Dumaguete, Cameron would tell us about his adventures to far-flung islands finding sometimes exotic large frogs or wrestling with monitor lizards which grew to the size of adult humans. He showed us his photos of them on his laptop and told us about how he preserved their bodies for scientific study, which were stored in his room.
As he told us about his research, I wondered why the study of frogs should be of any significance to my life. I started to answer this question for myself after being told a few more stories. Cameron recalled a time when he was in the rice fields around the city of Dumaguete. He found frogs growing extra legs. He guessed that this condition may have been due to the pesticides applied to the rice fields. From then on, I vowed to try only to buy the locally grown organic brown rice, which was mainly grown locally for export to Japan.
In the Aug. 12, 2008 article published last week Dying frogs sign of a biodiversity crisis by Rachel Tompa in “UC Berkeley News,” David Wake, professor of integrative biology at the University of California, Berkeley mentions climate change as a cause of mass deaths and says,
“Amphibians have been around for about 250 million years. They made it through when the dinosaurs didn’t. The fact that they’re cutting out now should be a lesson for us.”
“In an article published online this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers argue that substantial die-offs of amphibians and other plant and animal species add up to a new mass extinction facing the planet.”
In the meantime, I’ll keep searching for ways to step lightly on the earth and reduce my own contribution to climate change — and extinction.
Related articles (updated):
To save ourselves, we need to need to understand why primates face extinction
‘Only 50 years left’ for sea fish
UN issues ‘final wake-up call’ on population and environment