Myriad species at the edge of extinction

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“We are part of the earth and it is part of us. The perfumed flowers are our sisters. The bear, the deer, the great eagle, these are our brothers. The rocky crests, the dew in the meadow, the body heat of the pony, and man all belong to the same family…This we know: the earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the earth. All things are connected like the blood that unites us all. Man did not weave the web of life; he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.”
                                
– Chief Seattle’s Letter

The above quoted words of Chief Seattle remind us a very stark truth, which we have deliberately forgotten, about life and nature, i.e. we humans also are a part of nature and thus whatever happens to nature happens to us too. This is the main reason for the continuous destructions of nature which has driven myriad species to extinction.

What is extinction?

Normally, when the last surviving individual of a species dies, that particular species is officially identified to be extinct. Nonetheless a species could be functionally extinct long before the actual extinction occurs when the existing individuals of the species are unable to reproduce. Poor health of the organisms, age, sparse distribution over a large range and lack of individuals from both sexes are the significant causes for functional extinction.

At the same time some species could be locally extinct but globally not. That means some individuals of an extinct species of a region can be found in some other parts of the world. In such situations those species can be re-introduced to their natural habitat. However once they are globally extinct we can do nothing to reverse the extinction.

Causes

Extinction is indeed is a natural process. As long as species have been living and evolving, species have been going extinct. Usually in the evolution process the species who cannot adapt to the new environmental conditions or the competition extinct due to either habitat loss or being preys of the better adapted species. But nowadays the process of extinction is accelerating due to human activities. We even don’t have a complete list species which have gone extinct recently; the numbers are that large.

 Many natural habitats of many species are destroyed by humans in various ways. Intense agriculture in which large plots of forests are converted into farmlands, illegal and excessive fishing which involve explosives and poisons, environmental pollution and global warming are some of them. On the other hand animals are being hunted in large numbers for hides, horns and ivory as well as for food. So due to these reasons the species are at a fast decline now. 

 IUCN Red List

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species (also known as the IUCN Red List or Red Data Book), founded in 1964, is the world’s most comprehensive inventory of the global conservation status of biological species. The IUCN lists out the species based on their level of extinction under numerous categories. It allows us to recognise and conserve the endangered or threatened species before they decline forever. Some of the most endangered species listed by IUCN are below.

Southern Rock Hopper Penguin

These small penguins are found in coasts of Argentina, Australia, Chile and the Falkland Islands. But in the past three decades, their population has dropped 25 per cent, as climate change threatens their habitats.

Snow Leopard

The existing few thousand Snow Leopards are spread across the high mountains of 12 countries including China, Nepal, Afghanistan, Russia and Mongolia.

Savanna Elephant

The Savanna Elephant is native to sub-Saharan Africa and is the largest subspecies of elephant on Earth. Habitat loss and poaching are to blame for the decline in this population.

Polar Bear

Polar Bears are considered vulnerable because climate change is melting their sea ice habitat.

Olive Ridley Turtle

This olive-coloured reptile is the most abundant sea turtle in the world. But large groups of them nest in a small number of locations around the world. If any of their preferred nesting beaches are disturbed, populations can shrink precipitously.

Prevention

Though this issue is not yet handled with enough attention, its gravity is much higher than we think. Sudden and accelerated animal extinction directly affects the environmental equilibrium. As species go extinct, they are taken out of the food chain. Animals that depended on the newly-extinct species have to find new food sources or starve. This can damage the populations of other plants or animals. Furthermore, if a predator goes extinct, its prey’s population can proliferate, unbalancing local ecosystems at a massive scale. Therefore we have to take steps to prevent this scenario as soon as possible. While the global level resolutions are needed in this regard, we also can contribute to the prevention by taking smaller steps which will have greater impacts in future. Promoting local agriculture and bio landscape, avoiding products made of endangered animal species and promoting public awareness about the issue are some of them. So come on and let’s protect nature!

By Induwara Athapattu