I read an intriguing book recently--Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood. It’s a kind of ‘1984’ for the 21st century, a post-apocalyptic novel (date unspecified) that mentions various factors, such as rising sea levels flooding major cities, holes in the ozone layer and a pandemic along the lines of the Ebola virus (which has just re-appeared in Guinea in the last few days), which have wiped out virtually all life on the planet. All that remains are a few human survivors and genetically-modified life forms gone wild, like wolvogs, pigoons, and rakunks.
One of the concepts introduced in this novel is Extinctathon, an online game that has haunting echoes of the world we live in today. It involves giving clues about species that have gone extinct during the last 1000 years, and players win points for guessing the correct answers.
So you think you know your dead animals? As it happens, I’ve been researching guidebooks for Vietnam recently and find that species are becoming extinct at an alarming rate there. Try these few for starters.
1) Which large mammal (bigger than you or me) has become extinct in Vietnam in the last 5 years?
2) How many wild tigers are left in Vietnam?
a) Less than 50 b) 100-150 c) About 500
3) How many wild elephants are left in Vietnam?
a) About 10 b) About 100 c) About 1000
4) How many species are listed on Wikipedia as being endangered in Vietnam?
a) 12 b) 19 c)27
5) Can you name any of these species?
OK, I won’t keep you in suspense…answers to follow. Give yourself 10 points if you got #1 correct, 5 each for #2, #3, #4, and 10 points for each correct answer for #5. If your score is over 20 points, consider yourself a Grandmaster of Extinctathon.
1) Javan rhinoceros
5) Delacour’s langur, black-crested gibbon, Christmas Island frigatebird, great hammerhead shark, banded eagle ray, Vietnamese salamander, Vietnamese leaf turtle, Siamese crocodile, Vietnamese pheasant, Vietnamese tree frog, false killer whale, Indochinese tiger. And since there are probably less than 100 of them remaining, I guess we should tag the Asian elephant on to that list.
Postscript: The last Javan rhino in Vietnam was shot and its horn removed in Cat Tien National Park in 2010. I guess we should award that poacher a bonus 100 points for taking the game beyond the virtual and into reality.
is a British writer and photographer based in Chiang Mai, Thailand.