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The Extinction Crisis: 1 Million Species at Risk of Disappearing

The environmental crisis is worsening. At a rate not seen in 10 million years, more than 1 million species are on the brink of extinction.

Scientists urge nations to support a December 19 international agreement to protect nature, and the deal aids.

When an animal species goes extinct, its genes, behaviors, activities, and interactions with other plants and animals are lost.

Certain species’ ecosystem functions, such as pollinating plants, aerating soil, fertilizing forests, or controlling animal numbers, are also lost. 

If the animals were vital to the ecosystem, their loss could change the landscape.

Vanished Kind: 

Over the past five centuries, many rare animals have gone extinct, including the flightless Dodo bird on Mauritius in the late 1600s.

Humans were to blame in many cases, first through fishing or hunting, as with the South African zebra subspecies Quagga, which was hunted to extinction in the late 19th century, and more recently through activities that pollute, disturb, or encroach on wild ecosystems.

The last Rabb’s Fringe-Limbed tree frog was named “Toughie.” Panama’s chytrid fungus has nearly wiped out his species. In his Atlanta Botanical Garden enclosure, he screamed for an unattainable partner and died in 2016.

Conservationists can learn from “Martha,” a passenger pigeon. 

Because conservation measures were implemented after the species was extinct, millions of passenger pigeons were hunted to extinction in the 1850s. 

In 1971, Ecuador’s last Pinta Island tortoise was named “Lonesome George.” Starting in the 17th century, about 200,000 people were hunted for meat. 

In the 1950s, goats were introduced to the island and had to compete for food. Before George died in 2012, researchers tried to save the species through captive breeding.

Extinct Animal
One of the Extinct Animal Great Plains wolf (Canis lupus nubilus) (Image courtesy by Wikimedia)

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Huge Losses:

The 2016 extinction of the Christmas Island pipistrelle bat raised public concern. 

Last observed in 2009, Australia’s first mammal extinction in 50 years was recorded.

There are millions of species on Earth, so losing hundreds over 500 years is not a big deal. The rate of species extinction today has been unprecedented in the last 10 million years.

The Earth’s fossil record shows that this has happened five times in the past half-billion years, with successive layers of sediment burying animal remains. 

Scientists know a massive die-off occurs when a layer with many species is found.

According to a 2015 Science Advances article, the high number of vertebrate extinctions in the past century would have taken 800 to 10,000 years under a usual extinction rate scenario.

Ehrlich says that understanding an animal’s role in the world “helps us realize that we, too, are a part of nature and that we need nature to survive.”

Spix's Macaw
Spix’s Macaw (Blue Macaw) is a recent loss of the world

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On Edge of Disappearing:

Some species may soon become extinct and replaced by their offspring. Due to fishing nets, only 18 vaquitas, the world’s smallest porpoise, remain in the wild.

After losing its last male in 2018, the Northern White Rhino subspecies, the second-largest land mammal after elephants, is extinct. There’s only one woman and her daughter.

Because so many extinctions happen silently, scientists say these stories are essential.

The Northern White Rhino is more than a global species, she said. It mows fields by grazing, fertilizes the ground where it walks, and attracts insects to its skin, and birds eat them.

Ehrlich says that understanding an animal’s role in the world “helps us realize that we, too, are a part of nature and that we need nature to survive.”

Pangolin a highly Endangered Specie
Pangolin one of a highly Endangered Specie (Image courtesy of africantravelcanvas.com)

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Our Ignorance Duration:

Estimated 881 animal species have gone extinct since the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) began keeping records in the 1500s. 

However, since it only includes cases that can be concluded with high certainty, the estimate of species extinction over the past five centuries is highly conservative.

This number rises to 1,473 if we include animal species that experts think may be extinct and scientists are reluctant to declare a species extinct.

Since 1500, 322 terrestrial vertebrates backboned land animals have gone extinct.

Only 37 species have been confirmed extinct, and scientists believe over 100 more species have disappeared in the past 30 to 40 years, according to a 2015 Science Advances study.

The 2016 extinction of the Christmas Island pipistrelle bat raised public concern. Last observed in 2009, Australia’s first mammal extinction in 50 years was recorded.

Losing hundreds of species over 500 years may seem insignificant when millions of species are on Earth. Today, species are disappearing at an unprecedented rate.

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Declining Population Conversation:

To identify endangered species and determine assistance needs, the IUCN uses several categories.

However, “least concern” or “near threatened” does not guarantee population stability.

African lions, long considered “vulnerable,” declined by 43% between 1993 and 2014, the most recent year with data. 

Dugongs, also known as sea cows, are “vulnerable” globally, even though their declining populations in East Africa and New Caledonia were upgraded to “endangered” in December.

Through 2030, the recently adopted Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework will guide international conservation efforts. 

The agreement aims to protect 30% of land and the ocean by the decade’s end.

Conservation efforts like habitat restoration and captive breeding prevented the extinction of 32 bird species and 16 mammals worldwide between 1993 and 2020, according to conservative estimates from a 2020 Conservation Letters study.

Ehrlich of the Wilson Foundation, which finds the best places to protect biodiversity and prioritize nature. 

Before his death last year, Edward O. Wilson believed conserving half the planet would save 85% of its species.

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