Humans are odd.
I've never gone hunting, and not in favor of humans wiping out species. I mean, obviously. My entire career I'm working toward involves trying to rejigger science and technology to work in partnership, or at least not against, nature.
And yet, when I was involved in a discussion about the Pleistocene megafauna extinctions
today, I wasn't really upset by the discussion.
For the uninitiated, by about 17,000 years ago, the large mammals on most continents had been wiped out. But only the largest, things over a hundred pounds. Cool things, like woolly mammoths, giant ground sloths, giant "birds from hell", etcetera. They were around, and then they weren't, and nothing else moved in to take over their ecological niches. Climactic change doesn't seem likely, because the extinctions were spread out over time and continents, and some survived in isolated areas after the rest were gone. And nothing else took their place.
The most likely reason the megafauna went extinct everywhere but Africa? Clever monkeys learned how to sharpen spears, and the megafauna were tasty. That's the likeliest reason. The times of the extinctions match the times when humans arrived on the continents, remains of the critters have been found with marks from weapons on the bones, and so on. So why are there elephants in Africa still? Because elephants evolved alongside us monkeys while we were learning to hunt, and so learned how to cope, while animals elsewhere just were surprised and eaten.
And for some reason, this thought makes me feel rather smug and self-satisfied. Humans probably killed off hundreds of species, because they were tasty.
But I suppose it's not so weird. Roving bands of hunter humans were in a completely different life than we're in now. And honestly? Dudes who could go up against mammoths and hellbirds with stone spears? That's hardcore. Hunting deer with a rifle's got nothing on that. What's the quote from Snow Crash? "Descended from a long line of the biggest badasses to walk the planet."
Still, intellectually, it feels weird to cheer this. But honestly? Great-great-great-great....great-
grandparents, who went faced down the biggest things on the Earth with stone spears and fire, and won? They're why I'm here. And one of these days, I'll toast them for it, then get back to making sure we don't have to live like that again.