One of my favorite teacher friends recently shared with me her RAFT Rolodex. RAFTs are great little prompts to help organize the thoughts of students and get them thinking of different ways and reasons to write. Amongst them was this prompt,
Role: Person in Love,
Audience: Your Beloved,
Form: a Letter,
Topic: The preservation of an endangered species.
It was too fun I had to write one myself.
Tuesday, April 17th
I have been instructed to write a letter to a hypothetical person about the importance of saving an endangered bird. Since I was going to write to you in any case, I thought I would actually address this and send it off. Although this does represent a departure from my usual declarations of desire and devotion, I feel it is important for you to consider the plight of the Gymnogyps californianus, more commonly know as the California condor.
I have chosen this bird for you because of its sulking posture, bad reputation, long black plumage, and its staunch and fearsome countenance, but also because of its majesty, its curiosity, its boldness, its intellect, and its occasional predation of smaller creatures. Perhaps I can strengthen my case by exploiting your well-known soft spot for predatory animals.
I will begin my case, my love, with a brief history of this large member of the Cathartidae family, or new-world vultures. These imposing figures have been gliding on the thermal rises since the end of the last ice age, soaring over the plains and deserts in search of carrion to with which gorge them selves. This is a very useful trait as it may be a number of days before these large birds find another carcass to feast upon. This trait also lends itself to their undoing. When a hunter guts an animal, he or she often leaves behind a “gut pile” which includes the entrails, the wind pipe and the lungs, and occasionally the brain, spleen, and other organs. The trouble comes not from a wasting disease, which can linger in the organs and be harmful to humans, but from the lead shot used to hunt the animal. When a condor feeds it heads straight for the open wound, where it is easiest to tear flesh. It takes a mere nine lead pellets to kill a condor.
I believe I mentioned the guest speaker that had come to our class to instruct us on the dangers of lead to swans, humans, and living things in general. Perhaps, we should ban lead ammunition all together, or at least attempt it. It is a poison after all; we as a society have banned a great number of things found to be toxic. It’s a little off topic, Love, but don’t you think it would be rather easy to pry the lead ammunition from Mr. Heston’s poisoned, limp, hands?
California condors have also suffered, from scavenging carcasses intentionally poisoned by ranchers attempting to eradicate coyotes and wolves. Countless species of animals have actually suffered from the mass slaughter and bounty hunting of wolves within the United States, from the moose, to the Aspen tree. In fact the list of detrimental effects stemming from removing the wolves from Yellowstone is so long I thought I might place an alphabetically enumerated list here, (A is for Aspen, B is for Bison, C is for Condors, ect.) However, after realizing I could the depressing thought quickly lost its’ strange, morbid luster.
There are many things that have been done to prevent the extinction of this noble avian. A breeding program that captured the last remaining condors was put into place when we were in our early elementary school careers. Do you remember this, Dearest? Many people were actually for the bird’s extinction, claiming the California condor should be left to “Die with dignity.”
The captive breeding program also left many people with “sticker shock” as it cost over forty million dollars. Across the miles, I can feel your jaw dropping. Please think of it this way Sweetheart, we have spent much more than that paying athletes, or waging wars. Perhaps we could better spend that sum feeding the poor or caring for the infirm, but if we are not willing to fight or to sacrifice for our largest living land bird, what hope is there for less visible species? What chance could there be for a salamander or shrew?
By now you must be wondering if there is any economic benefit to preserving these creatures. Alas, my love, unless you are to count tourism, there is naught, but this is a quest not to line our pockets but to save our birth right. The flight of the condor speaks to our better nature, our freer selves. In closing, these beasts could live but to capture the human imagination and I believe it would be enough.
For more on the RAFT strategy.