The quagga, the Tasmanian tiger, the passenger pigeon, the Pyrenean ibex, the Saudi gazelle and, more recently, the West African black rhinoceros. All extinct due to humans. According to the Center for Biological Diversity, we’re losing dozens of species a day, and are facing (if not already amidst) the sixth mass extinction on planet earth. Where previously mass extinctions – periods in Earth’s history when abnormally large numbers of species die out simultaneously or within a limited time frame – have been caused by asteroid strikes, volcanic eruptions, and natural climate shifts, now an estimated 99% of currently threatened species are at risk from human activities. And it’s this harrowing picture that Manchester Museum’s latest exhibition, Extinction or Survival? is addressing.
Extinction or Survival? focuses on examples of when humans are known to have influenced the survival of animal and plant species, both through destructive and conservational efforts. The stories it tells are iconic, such as that of the dodo, and lesser-known: that of the St Helena Giant Earwig, for instance, which could grow up to lengths of eight centimetres but was declared officially extinct in 2014 after the construction industry decimated its natural habitat. The last confirmed sighting of a live adult was in May 1967. For those who are squeamish around insects, this example will lead to a couple of the questions that the exhibition addresses: how important is it to protect biodiversity, and which species should we choose to save?
Using specimens from the museum’s own collections and borrowed objects from other museums across the north, Extinction or Survival? has been curated with support from organisations such as the International Union for the Conservation of Nature to shed light on some rather more hopeful stories of the preservation and rescue of species from the brink of extinction. Manchester Museum’s own Vivarium has a frog breeding programme and the exhibition will highlight what can be done to make a difference. With a myriad of birds, mammals, insects and amphibians currently at risk, this feels like a good question to be asking.