Once, snails decorated the forests of Hawaii like Christmas ornaments. There were more than 750 unique species, which descended from ancestral mollusks that arrived on the islands millions of years ago. Hawaii’s snails were exemplars of evolution’s generative prowess.
But in recent decades, Hawaii’s snails have become notorious for the opposite force: extinction. Due to habitat loss and invasive predators, more than half of the snail species on the islands have gone extinct. Of those that remain, many have only a few dozen members left in their total populations. Some are endlings, the last of their kind.
Dave Sischo and his team at the Snail Extinction Prevention Program are spearheading the campaign to save Hawaii’s snails. It’s a valiant effort that is facing ever more sobering odds—Hawaii’s snails are disappearing at a faster rate than any other animal on Earth.
“We’re talking about the collapse of an entire fauna that existed here for millions of years, that evolved here, and doesn’t exist anywhere else,” Sischo says in a new short documentary from The Atlantic. “This is happening so fast, it’s as if something really catastrophic is happening in the world right now.”
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