The other night I parked at the school where I teach, headed out to the telescope shed to share the sky with my students. When I got out of the car, two coyotes stood about fifteen feet away, with a very unsettling look about them. My flashlight in their eyes made one cower and the other to circle him protectively. Yet, I felt a bit afraid. It must be in our genes. We used to be the hunted, yet now wildlife have to find a way across ten lanes of freeway in order to hunt for their meals or find a mate. Most end up rotting in the median. Yet, when darkness surrounds us, and eyes reflect from the dark, our heart rates go up. When the day comes when there are no animals waiting in the darkness, when rodents and humans outnumber all other species combined, will we miss them?
There have been numerous extinction events throughout the history of life on earth. Animals we can't even begin to imagine once hunted the ground we call ours. Yet, to my uneducated mind, I don't believe any one species has meant the death of most others. . . until now. Supernova events, asteroid impacts, runaway oxygen production--these and many other conditions have meant the end of life for over 80% of the existing species on earth--many times over. The rise and fall of diversity is staggering.
When we're alone here, will we miss them? Will we resurrect them from the liquid nitrogen deep freeze and build zoos once more, where children can point at a zebra and wish they could ride it? Or will we decide to make room for them before we realize they've gone, before we understand that seeing those eyes reflecting red in the dark are part of who we are, that fear should go both ways.
What will it be that ends our reign on this wonderfully fecund planet? And what species will rise to replace us? Whoever they are, I think we will be the characters in their bestiary, acting out the weaknesses of those new rulers of Earth.