Surprisingly, there are nearly 200 breeds of birds and mammals threatened with extinction today. That's largely due to agricultural industrialization over the course of the past 70 years. Prior to World War II, farms were small and exhibited considerable regional variation, but that was soon to change. With the advent of Big Ag, stratification set in - both in terms of the kinds of crops grown and the kinds of livestock raised - leaving the currently vulnerable breeds out in the cold.
There are fewer than 200 Choctaw hogs left, for example. This pig was prized by the Native American Choctaw tribe as a meat source. But displacement of the tribe led to the breed's downfall. Today, Choctaw hogs live on just a few farms in a single county in Oklahoma. The animals are still extremely vulnerable to inbreeding and, Walker says, to natural disasters. "They could potentially get wiped out by one tornado," he says.
But these heritage breeds may be in luck, as America's grown increasingly food-conscious overall, and many of the breeds are increasingly finding interest due to their unique attributes.
"We sometimes say, 'You need to eat them to save them — just don't eat them all,' " says Ryan Walker, the marketing and communications manager of the conservancy.
It would be interesting to see what might happen if the same approach was applied to, say, elephants.