“Extinction is for ever” used to be a green movement slogan. It is no longer completely true. Thanks to the wonders of genetic engineering, it is becoming possible to recreate lost creatures provided we have their DNA. The quagga, a species of zebra whose last member died in Amsterdam Zoo in 1883, is one animal that might get the recreation treatment soon.
Quagga (Equus quagga quagga) is an extinct sub-species of zebra. Mare, London, Regent’s Park Zoo, 1870.
In case you are wondering, it is far trickier to do this with long-extinct animals with no living relatives, for example dinosaurs. One reason is that the plants they used to eat have also gone extinct and those that exist today might be toxic to them. More importantly, you need a near relative to give birth to the revived species.
The Atlas of Endangered Species
With twenty percent of the earth’s species facing extinction by 2030, this striking atlas brings up to date the data on those that have been lost already, those that are threatened, and those that are surviving today. Vividly illustrated with full-color maps and detailed graphics, The Atlas of Endangered Species catalogs the inhabitants of a wide variety of ecosystems, including forests, mangroves, and coral reefs. It examines the major threats to biodiversity, from loss of habitat to hunting, and describes the steps being taken toward conservation.
Although some creatures can be driven to extinction by humans killing them off, far more are put in danger by having their habitat removed around them. So like climate change, extinction is important in its own right but also for what it tells us about how we are changing the Earth.
The international Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources runs the Red List of endangered species (www.redlist.org). It turns out that the bigger and more noticeable a species is, the likelier biologists are to know about it in detail.
Thus there are 5.416 known species of mammal of which we have detailed knowledge of 4,853. Of these, according to IUCN, 1,101 were threatened with extinction in 2004. For birds the figure is at 1,213 out of 9,917 species which have had been described; for amphibians it is an even more alarming 31 percent, 1,770 out of 5,743 described species.
The IUCN’s tables show that the numbers of species apparently at risk have been increasing consistently since the mid-1990s. Perhaps most alarming is the fact that the list contains over 8,000 species of plants. While people might hunt bears or wolves to death, the extinction of a plant usually stems from gross alteration of the environment, and in turn threatens the animals that eat it.
The IUCN’s headline figures suggest that only about 1 per cent of species are threatened with extinction. However, a far higher percentage of the species that have been studied in detail are in trouble. The figures support an estimate that extinction is now running at anything up to 100 times its normal rate.
10 Most Threatened Animal Species
- Giant Panda
- Polar Bear
- Pacific Walrus
- Magellanic Penguin
- Leatherback Turtle
- Mountain Gorilla
- Monarch Butterfly
- Javan Rhinoceros
- Bluefin Tuna
Endangered Species and Extinction – Causes and Trends: Mass Extinction Underway, Biodiversity Crisis
100 Animals to See Before They Die (Bradt Guides)
Marking a new departure for Bradt, this full color, large format title builds on the brand’s reputation for ethical travel and conservation, presenting a compendium of 100 of the world’s most endangered mammals in association with ZSL – Zoological Society of London – and its much-acclaimed Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered program.
Each animal is accompanied by full color pictures, a distribution map, and easily understood text about its characteristics, the issues it faces, conservation work taking place, visiting responsibly, and organizations to contact to assist with conservation work.
This is a must-have title for anyone with any interest in the welfare of our planet and the protection of some of its most endangered species.
Extinct is Forever
On the Brink of Extinction
They came. They saw. They hunted to extinction. That’s the story of what humans did to most species of plant-eating mammals living in the United States after first arriving 13,400 years ago. A study concludes through an examination of population dynamics that not only was a human-induced extinction plausible, it was “unavoidable,” even though humans were inept hunters.
Among the 32 species driven extinct over about 1,500 years in what is now the United States were three types of mammoths and mastodons, three kinds of ground sloths, two varieties of tapirs, about six species of horse, three types of camels, four classes of pronghorns, two kinds of wild pigs and the glyptodont, an armoured armadillo-like beast the size of a Volkswagen Beetle.
Each of these used to roam the continental United States, according to the fossil record. But after humans arrived, even in small numbers, and began to hunt for food, most of the animals disappeared. Just nine species survived, including the modern bison. The survivors are scraps.
Catastrophes and Lesser Calamities: The Causes of Mass Extinctions
While comparable books in this field of study tend to promote only one likely cause of mass extinctions, such as extraterrestrial impact, volcanism, and or climatic cooling, Catastrophes and Lesser Calamities breaks new ground, as the first book to attempt an objective coverage of all likely causes, including sea-level and climatic changes, oxygen deficiency in the oceans, volcanic activity, and extraterrestrial impact.
Hallam focuses on the so-called big five mass extinctions, at the end of the Ordovician, Permian, Triassic, and Cretaceous periods, and the later Devonian, and he also includes less well-known examples where relevant. He devotes attention especially to the attempts by geologists to distinguish true catastrophes from more gradual extinction events, and he concludes with a discussion of the evolutionary significance of mass extinctions, and on the influence of Homo sapiens in causing extinctions within the last few thousand years, both on land and in the seas.
While some scientists have suspected that these extinctions were a result of humans’ arrival on the scene, others have argued that continents such as Australia and North America were too massive and the populations of bizarre creatures too large for humans to have had an effect. Instead, they point to climate change or disease. Humans could – and did – cause widespread extinctions, not only of plant-eaters, but also of other organisms on the food chain, including big meat-eaters.
The reason any of this matters is that it points to a far more modern dilemma. Humans are capable of unintentionally pushing other species into extinction. We tend to meet our needs and plan for them over extremely short time frames, even a few years or a single generation, but the fossil record shows that our actions have repercussions lasting for hundreds and even thousands of years.
The kicker is that the humans who began populating the United States 13,400 years ago were simple hunters and gatherers. They didn’t destroy the ecosystems animals needed to exist. They didn’t hunt animals for a single body part only to leave the rest rotting on the ground. They were not orchestrating profound climate change by their emissions of carbon dioxide.
Humans today are doing all those things, and are already thought to be driving extinctionson a bigger scale than the one that killed off the dinosaurs.