Monday 22 December 2014

Clock stops to mark pigeon's death

Published 01/09/2014 | 00:12

Staff at London Zoo are marking the death of the last passenger pigeon
Staff at London Zoo are marking the death of the last passenger pigeon

Time will come to a standstill today to mark 100 years since the death of the last passenger pigeon and the extinction of what was once the world's most abundant bird.

The last passenger pigeon, Martha, died in Cincinnati Zoo, in the US, on September 1 1914.

At 12 noon, the hour at which she died, bird keepers will stop the clock on the tower outside the Victorian bird house at ZSL London Zoo.

In the 19th century, the passenger pigeon was the world's most abundant bird, with flocks of more than a hundred million birds regularly darkening the sky, conservationists said.

But a huge surge in hunting and deforestation saw them driven to extinction in just a few decades, one of the most dramatic losses of a species due to humans ever witnessed.

Ken Norris, director of science at ZSL, said: "The 100th anniversary of Martha's death is not only a chance to remember her species, but to draw attention to the plight of countless other species who continue to face extinction because of our actions.

"At ZSL we are working on dozens of conservation and research projects around the world to help prevent future extinctions, but as the example of the passenger pigeon demonstrates, we need to act as quickly as we can before there are many more Marthas."

Mark Avery, conservationist and former conservation director at the RSPB, who has written a new book on the extinction of the passenger pigeon, A Message From Martha, said: "The passenger pigeon went from the most numerous bird on the planet to extinct in one human generation.

"That such a bird, such an economic resource, such a biological phenomenon, could disappear so rapidly teaches us that no species is safe - unless we act to conserve them."

The RSPB warned that other species such as the turtle dove faced a similar fate in the UK.

Tara Proud, of the RSPB, said: "The decline of the passenger pigeon decline is an unerringly similar story to the decline of our very own turtle dove, which currently is halving in number every six years.

"It's too late for passenger pigeons, but 100 years on we don't have to accept that turtle doves will suffer the same fate.

"Turtle doves are the UK's fastest declining bird species - today turtle dove numbers in the UK are just 5% of what they were in 1970. At this rate, complete extinction of the turtle dove as a breeding species in the UK is a real possibility."

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