Letters


Talking Trash

The picture of the dead albatross in Charles Moore's article ["Trashed," 11/03] has affected me beyond description. If there ever was a need to do something about our wasteful lifestyles, now is the time. We have given lip service to recycling, but it is time that we did something to cut down and eliminate packaging and excess wrapping of products so that we can leave a planet to our children and grandchildren where they can live in harmony with nature.

Susan A. Schiller

Denver, Colorado

The swill of bottle caps, baby toys, and countless plastic objects Charles Moore found throughout the eastern North Pacific gyre is both an aesthetic blight and a biological menace. Nearly half the world's marine mammal and seabird species and all of its sea turtles are known to either eat plastic debris or become entangled in it.

But gyres are not the only places where debris accumulates. Thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of nets and net scraps discarded or lost by North Pacific fishermen end up snagged on reefs in the northwestern Hawaiian Islands. There they abrade coral and entangle endangered monk seals and sea turtles. The National Marine Fisheries Service has organized annual cleanups and removed more than a hundred tons of netting from those reefs since 1996. Unfortunately, such efforts are all too rare, because the attitude toward marine debris is "out of sight, out of mind."

Mr. Moore and Natural History do a great service by spotlighting this issue, for only with broader awareness can the will and resources be found to address it.

David W. Laist

Marine Mammal Commission

Bethesda, Maryland

A Better Mouse Trap?

I was astounded to read in "Desert Dreams" [11/03] that the author, Michael A. Mares, used kill traps to find rare and elusive salt-pan mammals. He would do well to add his name to the list of reasons that these mammals may soon become extinct.

Cynthia Fleischer

Sonoma, California

Those of us searching for rare and elusive mammals in Africa in order to save them from extinction are facing the same problems Michael Mares describes. In 1890 locals in Togo brought two mice to one H. Buettner, a German colonial officer at Bismarkburg. Buettner sent the two mice, preserved in rum, to Berlin, where a specialist in African mammals, W. Peters, described them as a unique new genus and species-the Togo mouse (Leimacomys buettneri).

Since that time numerous teams have searched western Togo for more than a century for further examples of the mouse, but to no avail. Apparently, like the elusive African dormouse (Graphiurus) and the African fat mouse (Steatomys), the Togo mouse is trap shy, refusing to enter live traps, kill traps, or any other collecting equipment. So no one knows whether the Togo mouse is extinct or simply waiting for a Michael Mares to appear on the scene. When he or she does, I only hope an account of the search as interesting and entertaining as Mr. Mares's appears in your magazine.

Duane A. Schlitter

Texas A&M University

College Station, Texas

MICHAEL A. MARES

REPLIES: Small mammals are hard to collect and even harder to identify without establishing voucher specimens that can be studied and compared with other specimens in a museum. Cynthia Fleischer raises a common concern, but species do not go extinct because of scientific collecting. They go extinct because of habitat destruction, uncontrolled hunting, and other massive assaults on their populations. By discovering that a new species exists, by defining its habitat, and by gauging its environmental threats, ecologists can develop better methods for its protection and conservation.

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