|Once There Were Billions, the new Smithsonian Libraries/BHL exhibit at the National Museum of Natural History. The Passenger Pigeon on the left, with her back to the viewer, is Martha, the last Passenger Pigeon that died 100 years ago in 1914.|
You are living in the midst of earth’s sixth great extinction event. You’ve been living in it since you were born. So have your parents, your grandparents, your great-great-great-great-grandparents, and all of your ancestors for about 10,000 years. It dates back to the extinction of the mammoths and has been increasingly accelerating as human actions and climate change reshape the balance of our planet. Within the next century, 75% of the conservatively estimated 8.75 million species on earth may be extinct.
When many of us think of extinctions, we think of the countless species disappearing in the Amazon rainforest, the ocean’s coral reefs, or the forests of South-east Asia. But the truth is that extinctions happen in every corner of the globe. Some are noticeably notorious, others occur without us even knowing that the species existed in the first place. One of the most infamous North American extinctions is the demise of the Passenger Pigeon.
|Gilbert Borrego, co-curator of the Once There Were Billions exhibit.|
The fate of the Passenger Pigeon, and three other extinct North American bird species (Great Auk, Carolina Parakeet, and Heath Hen), are the focus of the new joint BHL/Smithsonian Libraries‘ exhibit at the National Museum of Natural History: Once There Were Billions.
Most people are unaware of how involved and sometimes challenging building an exhibit can be. Several years, countless meetings, copious research, and dozens of individuals are required to bring an exhibit from conception to public launch. Sometimes the most difficult part can be simply honing in on the exact story you want to tell.
|Positioning the Great Auk in the exhibit.|
“The most challenging part of the exhibit was narrowing down our source material,” said Borrego. “The topic [of the exhibit] was originally much more general, focusing on extinct species. We knew Martha the Passenger Pigeon was to be included, but we looked at many other types of animals and plants before settling on the plight of birds from North America.”
|Adjusting the Carolina Parakeet specimens.|
And voila! This specialized hub for extinction education opened to the public this past Monday, June 24, 2014, and will remain open until October, 2015.
Everyone can make a difference. What will you do to help curb the tide of the Sixth Great Extinction Event?