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The Sweet Slap of Reality

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
Coast News
February 5, 2004


"Extinction is not something to contemplate; it is something to rebel against." — Jonathan Schell

Last week while shopping at a local health food supermarket I grabbed a couple of high priced bars of dark chocolate. Adding them to my shopping cart without much thought, other than making sure they were dairy free, I proceeded to checkout and then home, where the chocolate was immediately placed in the freezer to await consumption. I'm very serious about chocolate.

A few days later while sitting around with friends, fully engaged in a cutthroat game of Mille Bournes, it was decided that wine and chocolate was in order. With that I retrieved the chilled chocolate from the freezer and set about unwrapping the vegan goodies. The last thing I was expecting was the specter of extinction to intrude on the festivities. What I hadn't noticed, (although the labels featured a tiger and a couple of zebras) was the name of the company providing the chocolate was the Endangered Species Chocolate Company.

Upon opening the Tiger Bar, (Belgian dark chocolate and espresso beans) I was exposed to some very sobering facts. Located above the usual list of ingredients and nutrition facts was an update on tigers worldwide. It had been awhile since last I was confronted by such stark statistics. "Approximately 4,000 Bengal, 1,200 Indochinese, 400 Sumatran, 150 Siberian, and 50 South China tigers remain in existence today." If that wasn't depressing enough the label also added, "We will never again see the Javan, Bali, and Caspian tigers, as they have already been rendered extinct."

So much for light confections.

The other slice of reality was a Baby Zebra Bar (organic dark chocolate with tangerine essence.) The lesson to be learned here was although a hunting ban has been in place since 1977, Grevy's zebra is still threatened with extinction due to habitat degradation and one of the largest reductions of range and population of any African mammal in the 20th century. Grevy's Zebra is expected to disappear from the wild within 50 years.

Chocolate wrapped in grim predictions is just another sign of life out of balance.

Every product sold by the Endangered Species Chocolate Company, comes with assurance that 10% percent of profits support endangered animals. Of course my first instinct was to doubt such claims. Going online to the company website I sought to find out exactly where the money was being redirected. Thankfully that question was answered with a few mouse clicks.

Environmental organizations receiving money from the sale of my chocolate include the Jane Goodall Institute, dedicated to increasing awareness and support of primates and the environment as a whole, and Ngare Sergoi Support Group, an organization committed to protecting and preserving rhinos in the wild while improving the lives of those in captivity. Other groups benefiting from the kindness of Endangered Species Chocolate Company are the American Cetacean Society, Defenders of Wildlife, and the National Wildlife Federation.

Sadly, this is what it has come to. As the sixth great extinction unfolds, the only avenue first world consumers have to promote conservation is not through elected officials or an epic epiphany on the part of all humanity, instead we continue to shop and tally the losses one Tiger Bar at a time. Unfortunately buying chocolate or any other consumer product is not going to protect endangered species from the appetite of human avarice. Extinction is real, and 10 percent of profits from every well-meaning company, will hardly preserve 10% of any species once ecosystems begin to unravel.

And they have begun to unravel.

This is not to say efforts should not be made. Companies should share their wealth with the other species that share this planet with us. In fact such companies should be encouraged to dedicate proceeds to political campaigns as well as conservation efforts. Protecting species from extinction is a battle that must be fought on numerous fronts, the ballot box, the market place, the classroom, and the pulpit are but a few.

If buying chocolate means buying more time for the Chimpanzees then I say eat more chocolate. Unfortunately tigers cannot be saved. The pressure on them is too great, and the population of humans to overwhelming, for them to ever recover. So, the next time you are at the zoo look a caged tiger in the eye and say hello to extinction.

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