It's usually pretty easy to pinpoint the exact moment humans begin to care about an ecological issue. All too often it's the very second it becomes too late to fix it.
History backs this up. The quagga was an extinct subspecies of plains zebra found in South Africa. Superficially horse-like with a coat of rich chestnut-brown and stark white legs, it only betrayed its zebra-ness by a striped head and shoulders. The last individual lived her life far from the Cape veldt in Amsterdam zoo, dying in 1883. Protective legislation was put in place in 1886.
The passenger pigeon is a potent emblem of extinction, and in the early 19th century may have been the most populous bird species on the planet with numbers in the billions. In 1914 the last individual died in Cincinnati zoo, a survivor from a lone eccentric’s aviary. In 1918, the landmark Migratory Bird Treaty Act became federal law.
The thylacine survived in isolated Tasmania until Europeans arrived. A magnificent, tiger-striped, dog-sized marsupial with a bite that could crush bone, it inspired nothing but fear amongst the colonising sheep-farmers. Blamed for losses and hunted with bounties and without mercy, the last individual died of exposure in a Hobart zoo in September 1936. Official protection by the Tasmanian government was ratified in July 1936.
We never learn.