The Sixth Extinction An Unnatural History
The Sixth Extinction An Unnatural History Beginnings, it’s said, are apt to be shadowy. So it is with this story, which starts with the emergence of a new species maybe two hundred thousand years ago. The species does not yet have a name—nothing does —but it has the capacity to name things.
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As with any young species, this one’s position is precarious. Its numbers are small, and its range restricted to a slice of eastern Africa. Slowly its population grows, but quite possibly then it contracts again— some would claim nearly fatally—to just a few thousand pairs.
The members of the species are not particularly swift or strong or fertile. They are, however, singularly resourceful. Gradually they push into regions with different climates, different predators, and different
prey. None of the usual constraints of habitat or geography seem to check them.
They cross rivers, plateaus, mountain ranges. In coastal regions, they gather shellfish; farther inland, they hunt mammals. Everywhere they settle, they adapt and innovate. On reaching Europe, they encounter creatures very much like themselves, but stockier and probably brawnier, who have been living on the continent far longer. They interbreed with these creatures and then, by one means or another, kill them off.
The end of this affair will turn out to be exemplary. As the species expands its range, it crosses paths with animals twice, ten, and even twenty times its size: huge cats, towering bears, turtles as big as elephants, sloths that stand fifteen feet tall. These species are more powerful and often fiercer. But they are slow to breed and are wiped out.
Although a land animal, our species—ever-inventive—crosses the sea. It reaches islands inhabited by evolution’s outliers: birds that lay footlong eggs, pig-sized hippos, giant skinks. Accustomed to isolation, these creatures are ill-equipped to deal with the newcomers or their fellow travelers (mostly rats). Many of them, too, succumb.
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