So Long, Farewell: Extinction in the Anthropocene Era

As a child in California during the 1980s, I remember the desperate urgency to save the Californian Condor, a bulky, at best awkward looking bird. Though not camera friendly like the also endangered panda, the bird managed to inspire action, probably because of its distinctive ties to my home state. Even then, warnings about extinction were common: the bald eagle, several wolves, and many other beloved animals that seemed destined to perish without immediate attention. Over twenty years after the push to save the Condor, this ecological crisis has accelerated, spurred in part by the growing effects of climate change. The situation is perhaps far grimmer than many understand. Anthony Barnosky, a UC-Berkeley biologist states, “We have killed about 50 percent of the world’s vertebrate wildlife in just the past 40 years…We’ve fished 90 percent of the fish out of the seas.” Despite clear evidence of humanity’s role in these environmental disasters, inertia and petty bickering have persisted instead of trying to halt the looming catastrophe.

So Long, Farewell: Extinction in the Anthropocene Era is a playable memory card game consisting of animals from North and South America labeled as extinct in the wild or critically endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as of December 2014. Mammals, birds, reptiles, fish, and the beleaguered amphibians are represented; even with restricting the species group to those five, there are 320 species featured in the game. Memory, also known as Concentration, is a game in which cards are placed face down, and players try to find matched pairs by turning over two at a time, remembering their placement and name. With over 600 cards total, So Long, Farewell is unwieldy and virtually unplayable without deep concentration and focus—something desperately needed now to stave off calamity. Using this traditional children’s game underscores the fragility and overwhelming devastation of the mass extinction we are approaching (and causing). Furthermore, several of these species are already forgotten or barely known; the illustrations are based on actual color photographs, fragmentary descriptions, and in several instances, their coloration in life unknown entirely. The act of playing the game shows the enormous task at hand to prevent these mass extinctions, including potentially our own.

A final note on the criteria used: declaring a species extinct is essentially bookkeeping at this point. Many of the animals in this game are most likely already gone and lost forever, just waiting for a formal announcement and with others to follow. According to the ICUN Red List, the main source for compiling this list of animals, thousands of species still haven’t been assessed. The list changes frequently as the organization assesses each animal’s status, moving some closer to total extinction or finding hope of survival, or at least stalling the seemingly inevitable, for others. But crucially, we are losing species faster than we can record them, making it all the more difficult to measure the destructive impact humans have on our planet. And yes, the California Condor is still listed as critically endangered even with the immense effort to bring it back from the brink.

Instructions for playing So Long, Farewell:

So Long, Farewell follows the same rules as Memory—each player flips over two cards a turn to try and make a pair. If they succeed, they can remove the cards from the table(s), place them in one of the boxes, and take another turn. If they do not match, the cards must be turned face down once more and the next player gets to play, remembering the location of the mismatched cards. The game is over when there are no cards left on any of the tables.

Please remember to check the paired cards carefully before discarding since many animals look alike or have similar names!

Acknowledgments:

I would like to acknowledge the kind assistance of the following people who provided scientific articles, images, and/or descriptions for some particularly difficult to find animals. They are:

Ulisses Caramaschi, Professor of Biology and Curator of the Collections of Reptiles and Amphibians at The Federal University of Rio de Janeiro
Enrique La Marca, Professor at the School of Geography at the University of the Andes, Venezuela
Edgar Lehr, Assistant Professor of Biology at Illinois Wesleyan University
Nancy B. Simmons, Curator-in-Charge, Department of Mammalogy at the American Museum of Natural History

And to Enrique Suarez, whose unfaltering help made this project possible.