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Flight Ways

Flight Ways: Life and Loss at the Edge of Extinction

Thom van Dooren
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  • Book Info
    Flight Ways
    Book Description:

    A leading figure in the emerging field of extinction studies, Thom van Dooren puts philosophy into conversation with the natural sciences and his own ethnographic encounters to vivify the cultural and ethical significance of modern-day extinctions. Unlike other meditations on the subject,Flight Waysincorporates the particularities of real animals and their worlds, drawing philosophers, natural scientists, and general readers into the experience of living among and losing biodiversity.

    Each chapter ofFlight Waysfocuses on a different species or group of birds: North Pacific albatrosses, Indian vultures, an endangered colony of penguins in Australia, Hawaiian crows, and the iconic whooping cranes of North America. Written in eloquent and moving prose, the book takes stock of what is lost when a life form disappears from the world -- the wide-ranging ramifications that ripple out to implicate a number of human and more-than-human others. Van Dooren intimately explores what life is like for those who must live on the edge of extinction, balanced between life and oblivion, taking care of their young and grieving their dead. He bolsters his studies with real-life accounts from scientists and local communities at the forefront of these developments. No longer abstract entities with Latin names, these species become fully realized characters enmeshed in complex and precarious ways of life, sparking our sense of curiosity, concern, and accountability toward others in a rapidly changing world.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-53744-5
    Subjects: Zoology, Environmental Science, General Science, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. INTRODUCTION: Telling Lively Stories at the Edge of Extinction
    (pp. 1-19)

    How else could a book about birds and extinction begin, but with the tragicstory of the Dodo? In death, this bird from a small island in the western Indian Ocean has taken on a strange celebrity, becoming something of a “poster child” for extinction. And yet, many of the specific images and ideas about the Dodo that circulate in people’s imaginations are highly speculative. Ultimately, a great deal remains unclear about what kind of a bird the Dodo was, how it lived, and when it passed from the world. While reports, sketches, and paintings of the Dodo survive from...

  5. One FLEDGING ALBATROSSES: Flight Ways and Wasted Generations
    (pp. 21-43)

    In the middle of the North Pacific Ocean, at the far northwest end of theHawaiian Archipelago, lie a few tiny coral and sand islands encircled by a small reef. These little patches of dry land in the midst of a vast expanse of water and sky are Midway Atoll. Roughly halfway between the United States and Japan, Midway is about as far as it is possible to be from the nearest continental landform and more than 1,200 miles (1,930 km) from the nearest significant human population, in Hawai‘i (USFWS 2012). Each year, this place is home to a dizzying...

  6. Two CIRCLING VULTURES: Life and Death at the Dull Edge of Extinction
    (pp. 45-61)

    In conversations about vultures in India, people have often recounted to mehaving seen large numbers of these birds gathered along the banks of rivers, consuming the dead bodies of cattle and other animals, including sometimes people, as they float by or wash up on the water’s edge. When it meets a vulture’s beak, it matters very little if this flesh, this meat, was once a human or some other kind of animal. In fact, numerous human societies throughout history—including current-day Parsee communities in India and Buddhists in Tibet and elsewhere—utilize exposure to vultures as the most appropriate...

  7. Three URBAN PENGUINS: Stories for Lost Places
    (pp. 63-85)

    There is something remarkable about a shoreline, a place where water meetsland and gives rise to a sense of productive confusion between two worlds. For most humans, one of these worlds—the place of earth, of firm land beneath our feet—is home. The other is a place for occasional visits, where we cannot really expect to live our lives, to survive for long periods of time. For penguins, this littoral zone must surely also mark a transition between two worlds, each with its own threats and possibilities. But while penguins are undoubtedly more comfortable, more agile, less vulnerable...

  8. Four BREEDING CRANES: The Violent-Care of Captive Life
    (pp. 87-123)

    As we approached the enclosure, I could see several young birds moving aroundin the water on their long delicate legs. Standing about waist high and covered in the light brown plumage of their age, they looked very different from the much larger, mostly white, adult Whooping Cranes (Grus americana) that they would hopefully one day become. It was in the image of these adult birds that I was now dressed, wearing a long white costume with a hood and mask that almost completely obscured my human form. Joe Duff, my guide in this strange space of interaction, was dressed...

  9. Five MOURNING CROWS: Grief in a Shared World
    (pp. 125-144)

    Death, mourning, and that collective mode of dying called “extinction” arepainfully drawn together in this short quote. The bird in question, now long dead itself, was a member of that rarest of corvid species, the Hawaiian Crow (Corvus hawaiiensis). At the time that biologist Glenn Klinger spoke these words, only three of these birds were left in the wild. A couple of years later, in 2002, the last sighting of a free-living Hawaiian Crow was made. Since then, the only surviving crows have lived in captivity, subjects of a long-running breeding and conservation program (USFWS 2009).

    This chapter explores...

  10. EPILOGUE: A Call for Stories
    (pp. 145-148)

    In January 2013, while finishing work on this book, I returned to Hawai‘i tocontinue my research on the Hawaiian Crow. While all these crows currently live their lives in captivity, it is hoped that in 2014 some of them may be able to be released. If this were to happen, and if those birds could form sustainable free-living populations, then a great achievement would have been made: forests that for over a decade have not heard the raucous calls of crows, or felt the movement of their graceful half-jump—half-flight through their canopies, would again be enlivened by this...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 149-164)
    (pp. 165-184)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 185-194)