by Sarah Pauler

One of the major topics in James Bradley’s novel Ghost Species is the climate crisis and how humans are or presumably already have destroyed the planet and its inhabitants. Many animals are extinct or on the brink of extinction. And shortly before something goes extinct there has to be one unlucky specimen who is the last of its kind: a so-called endling. Once the endling dies, the species is extinct. In Ghost Species, Eve is compared to an endling because she is allegedly the only one of her kind.

‘Is she the only one?’

Kate hesitated. ‘As far as I know. Why?’

Hugh looked thoughtful. ‘It must be very strange, to be alone like that. There are animals I’ve seen, birds mostly, that are the last of their kind. Endlings, we call them.’

Excerpt of Ghost Species, page 164

After learning what she really is, a Neanderthal and not a human, Eve struggles with the thought of being the only one and different from everyone else. But could she be seen as an endling? She isn’t the last of her kind but rather the first one alive, after a long time of extinction.

Another “Endling” mentioned in Ghost Species is the white rhino.

“Did you see the news this morning?” […]

“The last white rhino. Gone.”

Excerpt of Ghost Species, page 18

In our reality, the white rhino isn’t gone but is endangered. The southern white rhino is on the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) red list, and is labeled as near threatened with a decreasing number of 10,080 mature individuals (2020). The only confirmed surviving wild subpopulation of northern white rhinos has decreased massively due to poaching since 2003, and in 2006 only four northern rhinos were confirmed. This subpopulation is now considered probably extinct. In response, the San Diego Zoo is developing reproductive technologies like in-vitro fertilization and embryo transfer. They are using the southern white rhino as a model species and potential surrogate for this.

To prevent the extinction of species, scientists are preserving the DNA of endangered species by building a biobank full of biological samples to preserve genetic diversity. These samples are supposed to act as a foundation that can be used together with reproductive technologies in an effort to try and restore endangered species.

Some programs are trying to stop the extinction through the re-introduction of species into the wild and ex-situ (away from natural location) breeding programs. Sadly, those programs are not always successful. Nevertheless, these programs can be compared to what Davis is trying to do in Ghost Species. He also wants to reintroduce species into the wild to try and fight environmental changes.

I want to mention some known endlings from our planet:

The last Rabbs’ fringe-limbed tree frog “Toughie” died in 2016 in the Atlanta Botanical Garden. He was brought there in 2005 when he was rescued from his natural habitat in Panama, where a deadly fungus wiped out 85% of all the amphibians there.

The last Pinta Island Tortoise “Lonesome George” died in 2012 in the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz Island.  Before his death, they tried to mate George with genetically close females which would have produced hybrids, but resulting eggs were inviable.

“Celia” the last Pyrenean ibex (a wild goat species) died in the year 2000 after being crushed by a fallen tree. She was released into the wild with a tracking collar because wild goats don’t do well in captivity.

The last Tasmanian Tiger (Thylacinus cynocephalus) “Benjamin” died on September 7th, 1936 at Hobert Zoo in Tasmania. At the time it wasn’t known that he was the last of his kind. Sadly, he died due to neglect, as he was locked out of his shelter in harsh weather. Since 1996 “The National Threatened Species Day” has been held annually on September 7th in Australia.

Benjamin, although not by name, and thylacines are also mentioned in the novel Ghost Species. Davis shows revived thylacines to Kate and Jay when they arrive at the facility for the first time. In that scene, the live thylacines are compared to the last photo of Benjamin in its cage in the 1930s.

“Yet unlike the jerky film of the last specimen pacing around its cage in the 1930s, they are pulsing, alive and – perhaps most unsettlingly – fitted to the landscape.”

Excerpt of Ghost Species, page 21

Endlings are symbols of the extinction crisis and should bring attention to the importance of conserving species. Way too many species are still going extinct every year. In case you want to learn more, I am going to link the Frozen Ark Project, the IUCN-Red List, and the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance below.