Teeth

The Real Consumers Of Samoa’s Wild Pigeons – The Atlantic

Ironically, on those rare occasions when a manumea reveals itself, the bird has presence. Since the 19th century, observers have described it as beautiful, dignified, special. Serra has had one clear sighting and sketched his impression immediately afterward. His drawing shows an electric-blue phantasm on the wing, more like an angel or a pegasus than any earthly being. He saw it from the same hiding spot we are using above Uafato.

After five and a half hours, we are still, with apologies to Samuel Beckett, waiting for dodo. “It’s a ghost species,” says Serra, whose swept-back silver hair and perpetually sunburned face give him the look of a European consul gone tropical. “How can we conserve something we can’t see?”

Giving up for the day, we descend to Uafato, whose white sand and palm trees are overseen by a tall, tumbling waterfall. Cooking for the White Sunday feast has begun, and the air smells like burning coconut husks.

“Where are the manumea?” Serra asks one giggling 10-year-old. He pats the boy’s stomach. “Are they all in Samoan bellies?”

It’s a joke, but a dark-humored one: When a species is reduced to very low numbers, hunters can easily pick off the last individuals. For decades, everyone from conservationists and economists to much of the general public has assumed that the culprits are the world’s desperate, hungry poor, for whom filling an empty stomach is a higher priority than biodiversity. But in Samoa, a more complicated story has emerged, one that doesn’t so easily let the rich world off the hook. We human beings aren’t just eating endangered species any more. We’re consuming them.