Pain of Extinction: The Death of a Vulture

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Thom van Dooren


In the mid-1990s it was discovered that populations of three species of Asian vulture were disappearing at an unprecedented rate throughout India and the surrounding region. In attempting to convey the gravity of this situation we are often drawn to present it through numbers and data, to recount, for example, that 99 per cent of the Oriental white-rumped vultures (Gyps bengalensis) are now gone. But is this an appropriately ethical response to the mass death of vultures and the likely extinction of their species? In contrast to these more conventional accounts of extinctions, this article takes up the pain of vultures and the claim for response and responsibility that this pain issues. Writing about pain brings individual vultures (and others) back into our accounts as ethical subjects. But inside the multispecies communities of life that we all inescapably inhabit, I argue that this responsibility requires a worldliness beyond discrete individuals, and consequently must be understood as a generative opening, drawing us into entangled accountabilities.

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Author Biography

Thom van Dooren, University of Technology, Sydney

Thom van Dooren is a Chancellor’s postdoctoral research fellow in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at the University of Technology Sydney. His research focuses on people’s changing relationships with plants, animals and nature more broadly, inside processes of globalisation, climate change and accelerating rates of species extinction.