Thu, Jun 26, 2014 - Page 4 News List

Extinction of wild pigeon riddle solved

BIRD-BRAINED:Local and US researchers say habitat destruction, poaching and the passenger pigeons’ locust-like razing of food sources has killed them off

By Wu Po-hsuan and Sean Lin  /  Staff reporter, with Staff writer

The mystery of how the passenger pigeon became extinct has been solved by a research team comprising Taiwanese and US academics, who say that rampant poaching, habitat destruction by humans and the birds’ own voracious appetite are what caused its disappearance.

The passenger pigeon was once the most prolific species in the ornithological kingdom and a common bird in North American skies whose total population was estimated at between 3 billion and 5 billion, said the team of researchers from National Taiwan Normal University, the National Museum of Natural Science and the University of Minnesota.

In the second half of the 19th century, passenger pigeon numbers plummeted and the species became extinct when the last of its kind — a female — died in 1914, the researchers said.

After running a DNA analysis based on specimens provided by the University of Minnesota, National Taiwan Normal University professor Lee Hsou-hsien (李壽先) said that the birds were similar to locusts in that when they moved into an area, they depleted all the food sources there and moved on to the next.

The species’ appetite proved too much for the ecosystems it inhabited and just as its population began shrinking, mankind sealed the birds’ fate through excessive poaching and environmental damage, he said.

“The number of pigeons went in free fall from there,” Lee said.

National Museum of Natural Science director-general Sun Wei-hsin (孫維新) said humans clearly wield immense destructive force on the environment if they can help eradicate an entire species in 50 years.

Lee said mankind needs to be more aware of the damage human development inflicts upon nature and the case of the passenger pigeon serves as a cautionary tale for endangered species such as the Formosan black bear, because it shows that even an animal numbering in the billions can be wiped out in a matter of decades.

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