Oct 13 2014
This year’s remembrance of the passenger pigeon is, for me, inextricably linked to Christopher Columbus.
Last year I read a book that generated that association. 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus describes what North America was like before and after Columbus’ arrival.
Before Columbus, the human population in the Americas was larger than Europe’s and the landscape, animals and birds were balanced by the pressure of so many people. Europeans arrived and accidentally left behind pigs carrying human disease. Native Americans, who had no immunity to European disease, encountered the free-range pigs and spread the plagues through human contact.
The Western Hemisphere suddenly lost 95% of its human population in only 150 years. Remove the keystone species and you get some pretty weird results. European settlers didn’t see the transformation so they thought what they found was normal including the endless forest, huge bison herds and billions of passenger pigeons.
So I wonder …
If Native Americans had not died off, would passenger pigeons have boomed at all?
If there hadn’t been so many passenger pigeons, would we have hunted them to extinction?