Updated: Nov 27, 2020
Orangutans, Gorillas, Rhinos, Elephants, Cheetahs, Whales, Giant Panda, Chimpanzees, Tigers, Vultures.
The list above includes some of the most well known endangered species across the world. However this list does not even scratch the surface of the amount of mammal, bird, fish, reptile, amphibian and plant species that are staring extinction in the face.
The giant panda has been on the extinction list for more than 3 decades.
Declining biodiversity worldwide has become so pronounced that it is observed an important global change in its own right. The increasing loss of biodiversity is now widely acknowledged, with a steep increase in the number of species listed as Critically Endangered, for example 168 to 209 mammal species or Endangered, for example 31 to 810 amphibian species from 1996 to 2015.This is according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of endangered species. There is an on-going extinction emergency which is widely accepted by scientists, government, NGOs, the public and the media. Many say that the current extinction phase, commonly referred to as the ‘sixth mass extinction event’, is as extensive and rapid as the five former mass extinction events in the last 600 million years when 65–95% of marine animals previously known from fossil records disappeared. The five previous mass extinction times have occurred during the Ordovician, Devonian, Permian, Triassic, and Cretaceous geologic periods. These extinction events have some important things in common (i) they caused a catastrophic loss of worldwide biodiversity; (ii) they unfolded quickly (at least in regards of evolutionary and geological time); (iii) their impact was not random taxonomically, because whole groups of species were lost while other similar groups remained unaffected; and (iv) the survivors were normally not previously dominant evolutionary groups. All four of these features may well characterize the modern biodiversity crisis, although this might prove to be one the most rapid since, in terms of geological time.
Human expansion is an ever growing problem for the natural environment.
A survey in 1998 suggested that 70% of biologists believe that during the next 30 years as many as one-fifth of all species present today are on route to extinction, and a third think as /many as half the species on Earth will die out in that time. This survey was done 20 years ago so it would be interesting to find out what these biologists opinions are now. The media have a large influence on public opinion, for example, the popular magazine, Time, published an article in January 2000 entitled ‘Death Row’ which stated that surprisingly none of the 25 species of primate that are on the brink of extinction had actually gone extinct in the last century. It also stated ‘As far as we know, no primate became extinct during the 20th century. That’s a monumental record, since the world loses around 100 species a day’. Almost certainly the latter statement shows estimates of extinctions which are from the species lost due to the loss of tropical forests.
Wild dogs on the loose
Wild dogs are instinctively wide ranging. Disregarding fences, traversing river and drainage lines, crossing roads and masterfully navigating among local communities these energetic yet highly endangered carnivores go where they like. They do this in order to look for prey, new territories and areas to raise their young. Laid down to catch smaller animals like rabbits, snares can be detrimental to wild dogs using corridors that link to other conservation areas. These corridors are important in bringing about new wild dog packs or enlarging their range. Generally wild dogs are good at staying away from people (in other words are not involved in frequent conflicts like other predators such a hyena and leopard) however they are still susceptible to snares as they move through the bush. It is evident that conflict between carnivores and humans are high. Snaring is a part of local community’s livelihood strategy and will be difficult to erase unless there becomes more beneficial ways for them to benefit from wildlife. The Kruger National Park has around 20 wild dog packs with at least one individual being collared. In this way conservationist can build a good understanding of these animals’ movements, territories can extend from 400 – 1000km² with individuals going in search of new packs. In 2017 Kruger’s wild dogs covered an area of 6.7 km a day, however one pack covered an area of 48km in just one day.
Threats caused by humans are not limited to snares but also diseases such as canine distemper and rabies. Working in conjunction with the state veterinary department and SANParks they began an intensive project vaccinating wild dogs for these diseases. This was in agreement with efforts to vaccinate domestic dogs outside the reserve to protect wild dogs when their territories extend over each other. As the rarest predator in South Africa with a population around only 550 individuals left this dynamic species is very susceptible to extinction. Education is one tool but the local communities often feel that conservationist don’t care about them, and that they don’t benefit from the wildlife trying to be protected.
Wild dogs (Lycaon pictus)
Curlews in trouble
The Numeniini are a group of large waders consisting of the curlews, whimbrels, godwits and Upland Sandpiper Bartramia longicauda. They are some of the most widespread and far-travelling of all birds, migrating to and from their upland and grassland northern hemisphere breeding habitats to their wetland, often coastal, non-breeding habitats to the southern portions of all continents except for Antarctica. Indeed, one such member, the Bar-tailed Godwit Limosa lapponica is holder of the world record for the longest non-stop journey without feeding of any animal – satellite tracking has shown that birds from one population take eight days to fly from breeding grounds in Alaska 11,000 km to New Zealand every year. I think that’s very impressive.
Perhaps it's their wide range easing us into a false sense of security that means they have been a little overlooked by conservationists until now. Or maybe it's that their camouflage is a little too on point. Whatever the cause, it's time for the curlew to be counted, because an eye-opening new study reveals that they could be one of, if not THE, most threatened group of birds in the world. Through the African-Eurasian Waterbird Agreement of the United Nations Environment Programme, intergovernmental action plans are being put in place for both of these species, coordinated through international working groups. The loss of these habitats – together with illegal and unsustainable hunting - makes the East Asian-Australasian flyway one of the most dangerous routes for migratory birds in the world. BirdLife Australia is supporting the Australian government in the formation of an inter governmentally agreed flyway action plan, under the East Asian Australasian Flyway Partnership and Convention on Migratory Species.
In Europe and North America, the problem seems to be more on the breeding grounds where land use changes, especially farming and forestry, and increased fox and crow predation, appear to be driving the decrease, particularly in the British Isles, which, along with Finland and Russia, hold the majority of the world’s breeding population of Eurasian Curlew, and the Netherlands which is the most important source of the nominate race of Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa. These threats, left unchecked, and together with other identified dangers – which range from pollution to climate change to invasive species and human disturbance – could see this family of birds slip towards extinction. Indeed, for a couple of their members, it may already have happened.
Nicola Crockford, RSPB and co-author of the paper, stated "We may already have lost two of the 13 species and we can and we must ensure that urgent, concerted action is taken to prevent any of the remainder from reaching the brink”.
Curlew Sandpiper (genus Numenius)
Pushing our relatives out
Primate species including chimpanzees and orangutans are on the verge of extinction, and scientists fear that without a major global effort they will soon be gone forever. An international group of primate experts has called for strong action after finding parts of the world home to the most monkeys, lemurs and apes will see those populations pushed to breaking point by the end of the century. Just four countries harbour two thirds of all primate species – Brazil, Madagascar, Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) – and 60 per cent of those species are threatened with extinction. Among them are some of our closest relatives, including chimpanzees, orangutans and lowland gorillas.
The scientists have warned that everyone from national lawmakers to the general public has a role to play in preventing a mass extinction. “Many iconic species will be lost unless these countries, international organisations, consumer nations and global citizens take immediate action to safe guard primate populations and their habitats,” said Professor Anna Nekaris, a primate conservation expert. “People do not realize that in their daily lives, by consuming less and making more ecologically friendly consumer choices, such as reducing use of single-use plastic and eating food grown locally, they can have direct impacts on tropical forests and the long-term sustainability of biodiversity.” However, many of the areas where primates thrive are also characterised by high levels of human poverty and weak governance – factors that often drive overexploitation of primate-rich habitats.
The research team found that only small fractions of primate habitats in the four target nations are located inside national parks and reserves, meaning many populations are left unprotected. Even within protected regions, previous research has demonstrated that large areas are being destroyed as human activities like road building and urbanisation encroach on them. “More protected areas are needed together with corridors along latitudinal and altitudinal gradients to reduce isolation, along with forest restoration projects that can be beneficial to people’s livelihoods,” said Dr Susan Cheyne, one of the report’s co-authors. Conservationists in Borneo have stated that even in peat forests explicitly protected by the Indonesian government, logging is still occurring and place key orangutan groups in danger. The island has lost more than 100,000 orangutans in the space of just 16 years as a result of hunting and habitat loss.
Western lowland gorilla (Gorilla gorilla gorilla)
When it comes to planet Earth, humans are very tiny. The weight of all 7.6 billion humans makes up just 0.01% of all biomass on Earth, according to a report published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Bacteria, by comparison, make up 13% of all biomass, plants account for 83%, and all other forms of life make up 5% of the total weight. Despite being such a small portion of the planet, humans have been increasingly destroying everything else for the past few millennia, the Guardian reports. In fact, humans have caused the destruction of 83% of all wild mammals and half of all plants, and it’s not just that humans are wiping out wildlife they’re also determining the animals and plants that stay behind. Of the birds left in the world, 70% are poultry chickens and other farmed birds. And of the mammals left in the world, 60% are livestock, 36% are pigs, and a mere 4% are wild.
With more human population grow means more land for food to feed not only people but for the animals that are being fed to the humans.
As the global human population edges its way to eight billion, there is growing concern about the rate of extinction of other species that inhabit this world. Strong evidence points to humans as the direct or indirect cause of most modern extinctions. For instance, in Canada over 700 species of plants and animals are at risk of extinction. The primary threats to these species include urbanisation and commercial development; overexploitation due to fishing, hunting, or collecting; disturbance by humans during work and recreational activities; pollution; and the introduction of alien species. It is clear that preventing the extinction of species will require limiting or excluding human activities in some areas. It is not clear to what extent the public is committed to these limits.
In the last 3.7 billion years, billions of populations and millions of species of diverse life forms have evolved in a changing world. Currently, the number of species is thought to be the largest in the history of life; i.e. never before have so many different kinds of organisms lived. The anthropogenic extinctions are now called the “sixth extinction wave,” to connote similarity with five past extinction spasms. But this is the first such wave to occur during the existence of Homo sapiens, and if it continues unhindered it could be the downfall of human civilization and the premature decline of billions of people.
On a global scale there are many species that are at risk of extinction. However there are a number of success stories as well. Through the hard work and determination of conservationists, many species have been reintroduced and have been brought back from the brink.
Some good news
What can you do?
Make a donation to a reputable conservation project which is helping to protect an endangered species. I say reputable because there are a lot of scam artists out there who say it’s for conservation but it’s actually going into their back pocket.
Try and not use consumer products that endanger the lives of animals and their habitats. An example of this are products that contain palm oil / vegetable oil in them. Palm oil plantations are threatening forests and the species living in these forests such as Orangutans.
If you visit a national park and you see any suspicious behaviour, report it to the relevant authorities.
Populate your garden with indigenous plants in order to fight off any invasive plant species. Replace toxic pesticides and herbicides with safer alternatives. Sterilize bird feeders and baths frequently to inhibit diseases from spreading. Prevent wild animals from raiding pet bowls and rubbish bins by bringing pet food indoors overnight and securing your garbage in safely closed bins.
Register as a member of the League of Conservation Voters, a national non-profit that works toward turning environmental values into the nation’s priorities by aiding the adoption of fair environmental policies and electing candidates with environmentally friendly views who will take ownership of, and execute, these policies.
As you gain more knowledge about how to protect endangered wildlife, you will become more capable of conveying that knowledge to other members of the public. It is more effective to share your own relevant efforts and experiences with your friends and family, than simply bombarding them with dos and don’ts. To lead by example is the most effective way to show people how to begin changing their lives.
What can you do
Take home message
We live in a world full of an amazing diversity of creatures and landscapes. However we as a human population are increasing at an alarming rate. This alternatively is pushing many species to extinction. There are many conservation success stories about bringing species back from the edge of extinction, however losing just one animal species can have ripple effects on a number of other species. For example take the humble honey bee which just got added recently to the IUCN Red List, if bee populations collapse worldwide, many birds and animals including us humans will lose food sources which we depend upon from bee pollination. In order for us to curve this extinction rate, we need to alter the way we live our lives, not only for the sake of ourselves but also for future generations.
Ceballos, G., Ph, D., García, A., Ph, D., Ehrlich, P.R. & Ph, D. 2010. The Sixth Extinction Crisis Loss of Animal Populations and Species. Journal of Cosmology, Vol 8: 1821–1831.
Colléony, A., Clayton, S., Couvet, D., Jalme, M. Saint, Colléony, A., Clayton, S., Couvet, D., Jalme, M. Saint & Human, A.P. 2017. Human preferences for species conservation : Animal charisma trumps endangered status To cite this version : HAL Id : hal-01426952 Human preferences for species conservation : Animal charisma trumps endangered status. Biological Conservation, 1-16
Jantz, S.M., Barker, B., Brooks, T.M., Chini, L.P., Huang, Q., Moore, R.M., Noel, J. & Hurtt, G.C. 2015. Future habitat loss and extinctions driven by land-use change in biodiversity hotspots under four scenarios of climate-change mitigation. Conservation Biology, 00(00): 1–10.
Mccune, J.L., Carlsson, A.M., Colla, S., Davy, C., Favaro, B. & Ford, A.T. Fraserg, K, C. & Martins E, G.2017. Assessing public commitment to endangered species protection : A Canadian case study. FACETS, 2: 178–194.
Stork, N.E. 2009. Re-assessing current extinction rates. Biodiversity Conservation, 1-15.
Tipping-Woods, D.2018. Out of Bounds. Wild Magazine. Pg, 45.