We’ve all read news stories and seen documentaries that describe the numbers of animal and plant species that are now endangered or extinct. These stories often highlight the reasons such wildlife are in danger or no longer around. Some stories may even go further to explain the ramifications of such loss. However, usually only the destruction of rainforests are mentioned in terms of the effects on humans (e.g., decreased oxygen, increased carbon dioxide, and ozone depletion). Occasionally, some stories mention as an afterthought what we can do to help reverse such harmful extinctions, usually in terms of financial donations to some wildlife protection agency.
This article lists some of the species that are currently endangered and near extinction, the effects on humans and the environment, and the ways in which each of us can help ensure our survival as a planet.
Extinction means the irreversible loss of a species. Related to extinction is the ecological concept of extirpation, or the elimination of a given species from a geographic range. Prior to becoming extinct, a species is labeled endangered when their numbers become very low.
E.O. Wilson estimated that 27,000 species are going extinct every year. In 1998, E.V. Futter drew attention to the fact that this so-called Sixth Extinction is the greatest in the Earth’s four-billion-year-long history, and Niles Eldredge warned of the grim consequences for the planetary gene pool and the future of biodiversity.Why Are Species Becoming Extinct?
One reason many animals are becoming, or have already become, extinct is human hunting and poaching. Elephants are slaughtered simply for their two ivory tusks in order to make pretty little ornaments that adorn shelves intended to impress strangers. Baby seals are bludgeoned for their tiny furs in order to make fashionable coats for rich people lacking in self-worth. Tigers, lions, and other beautifully coated mammals are hunted for the same inane reason seals are. Sharks are speared for their impressive jaws and bones, for glory and to make herbal concoctions. Countless other animals are shot, killed, and hung on a wall as compensation for much smaller ‘heads’.
Another reason for species decline is habitat destruction via city development and logging. Habitat depletion is by far the greatest cause of extinction. Conservatively, we are destroying tropical rainforests at a rate of 17 million hectares per year and losing 75 billion tons of topsoil annually from the world’s agricultural crop lands. In Brazil alone, rainforest loss is now 5 million acres a year, about seven football fields a minute.
Land is being taken from wildlife in order to erect more condominiums and shopping malls. Cities are constantly expanding to incorporate more people and businesses. Few efforts, if any, are made to relocate the animals or to reconstruct their habitat elsewhere. Logging is occurring throughout the world to supply home building, paper, fuel, and other products. Rivers are being damaged, as are the forests that are left barren and lifeless. Sure, trees are being replanted by those who care about preserving the environment, but by too few people to make up for the loss.
A third main reason for wildlife extinction and endangerment is pollution from industries and vehicles. More and more cars are on the roads and businesses are booming around the world with many countries having few, if any, restrictions in place to monitor and lessen the volume of pollution. When such policies are put in place, many officials don’t enforce them. Landfills are becoming overfilled and many companies are using rivers as dumping grounds. Hey, we don’t live in the ocean, so who cares?
Finally, the use of chemicals such as DDT and pesticides are to blame. Although DDT is no longer in use, its effects are still observed amongst bald eagle eggs and other bird species. Many new and ‘improved’ pesticides and other related chemicals have been invented in order to keep up with the constant mutations and adaptations of the insects which feed on human crops. Many manufactured chemicals have been linked to different forms of cancer and other illnesses, as well as ozone depletion.What’s Wrong With Extinction?
Who cares if we lose some animal and plant species? First, extinction of animal species leads to an imbalance in the food chain which may cause population explosions of some species or the extinction of others. When this happens, animals may start competing for human resources or may wipe out species we rely on for survival.
Second, when an animal becomes extinct, it can never again be admired and appreciated by humans. Nearly every city in the world has a zoo which attracts millions of people every year. Also, animals are often used in research to help find cures for human diseases. Animals are also used for work and for pleasure. If no one takes an interest in animals, then no animal is protected and all of them become at risk. Humans’ very existence depends on wildlife survival.
Third, destroying plant life increases the amount of carbon dioxide in the air, which worsens the greenhouse effect. Each year the earth’s temperature is rising, resulting in dying wildlife and a disrupted food chain. Nature is drastically impacted by even a one-degree change in temperature. Human skin cancer has skyrocketed, as have eye problems and respiratory disorders due to ozone depletion and poor air quality. Plants are being destroyed that may hold potential cures for many human diseases.
Fourth, when a species goes extinct, its genome, the entire genetic information carried by that species in its DNA and hitherto capable of transmission to its descendants or of natural selection, is forever lost to the world. It’s not just the species that’s lost, but its genome and, hence, the possibility for further speciation.
Finally, animals help produce soil compatible for farming, and kill harmful fungi. By eating or stomping on certain fungi and producing feces, animals replenish the soil for human usage. Without many grazing animals, the soil would deteriorate and be rendered useless for human planting. Without healthy soil, humans become extinct.What Can One Person Do?
What can you do to help? There are many organizations that are fighting to preserve wildlife, including Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund. Many of these organizations are run by volunteers who help educate others, plant trees, rescue and rehabilitate injured and orphaned wildlife, grow plants, and raise funds to help protect nature areas. Join one today, or start your own.
Donate money to the above and other similar nature organizations, or write letters to government, companies, and newspapers voicing your concerns regarding the environment and your ideas for preserving it. Sometimes, only a few well-written, heart-felt letters are needed. Start a petition or rally for others to begin letter writing or have a peaceful demonstration.
Volunteer to educate others or to develop writing and advertising material, replant trees, boycott animal tested products, and report poachers. Fight to increase the severity of punishment for poachers whether it be in terms of stiffer fines or jail sentences. Volunteer to help injured wildlife, boycott items made with animal skins or ivory, and reduce, reuse, recycle. There are recycling stations everywhere: find them. Planned obsolescence of many consumer goods leads to wastefulness and resource depletion. Make large companies culpable for the damage they cause to the environmentjobs don’t matter much if there isn’t a planet to work on.
Some measure of population control for every country would control our growth. After all, we’re humans, not rabbits. Many parents aren’t taking adequate care of their children and there are literally millions of children around the world living homeless or in orphanages, so why are we producing more? If you honestly love children (and aren’t motivated by a narcissistic drive to propagate your genes), it shouldn’t matter where the child came from.
If each person adopted just one of these plans starting today, we wouldn’t have to scramble to find viable living on another planet (i.e. Mars). Saying you care and wanting to help changes nothing. You must do something. Talk is cheap and it is a true person of integrity and heart who takes action for what they believe in. Please, take action today or we will die wishing we had.See Also: