Five times throughout history our planet Earth has been struck by cataclysmic events that have wiped out unusually large numbers of species. In many cases the impact of these mass extinctions was evident immediately, and in others the damage was seen over a period of time. Although each incident was devastating to ecosystems and their respective environments on a global scale, they weren’t completely unnatural.
Many scientists today agree that we have singlehandedly precipitated the Earth’s sixth mass extinction of plants and animals on a global scale due to human activities. As a result of humans wreaking havoc on the environment and wildlife directly, a number of species have gone extinct while hundreds of others are now listed as threatened or endangered.
Some of the species you probably know, and others you may not, but they all need our help and our protection in order to ensure their future survival. While there are many (expect another post to follow), here are a few species impacted by human activities:
The Polar Bear is considered a vulnerable species by the IUCN. A number of populations have flourished in recent years, thanks in large part to an international coalition to regulate hunting and commit resources to species management and research. Still, there are a number of populations that continue to be impacted by global warming (sorry skeptics) and unregulated hunting.
The impact of global warming has created dangerous and unpredictable conditions throughout the polar bears’ native range. Polar bears rely on the arctic ice that has been melting at an unprecedented rate, making hunting in some areas virtually impossible.
As the sea ice continues to melt, polar bears are forced to swim great distances to and from ice platforms, increasing fatalities and lowering the natural reproduction rate. As a result, the likelihood of human-wildlife conflict increases as bears are inclined to move into suburban areas in search of food and a safe haven.
Today, there are as few as 25,000 polar bears left in the wild.
Siberian Tiger (Amur Tiger)
The Siberian (Amur) Tiger was driven to the brink of extinction in the 1940s and their population since then has struggled to recover. A loss of habitat from intensive logging and development, as well as poaching, has deeply impacted the species, with a mere 540 individuals remaining in the wild.
Consumer demand for tiger parts on the black market have also contributed significantly to the decrease in the wild Siberian tiger populations. Tiger parts have long been desired for use in Traditional Chinese medicine, while their pelts and bones are often purchased to symbolize wealth and status among the elite.
In 2012, the Sumatran elephants’ status on the Endangered Species List was changed from “Endangered” to “Critically Endangered.” As the smallest subspecies of the Asian elephants, a mere 2,400-2,800 Sumatran elephants remain in the wild due in large part to human conflict, poaching, and deforestation.
The IUCN estimates that 85 percent of the Sumatran elephants’ remaining habitat is located outside of protected areas. This has lead to an increase in human-wildlife conflict not only with poachers, but within local communities, some of which who resort to poisoning or capturing the animals in order to ensure their crops (livelihood) are not destroyed.
Only a recorded 60 Javan rhinos exist in the wild today, all within the confines of the Ujung Kulon National Park in Indonesia. Considered a mystery to many in comparison to other species of rhino, the Javan rhino has never bred in captivity and has proved difficult to study in the wild.
Although the population has seen a slow but steady increase in recent years thanks to anti-poaching patrols and our general knowledge surrounding the Javan rhino, they still face severe threats of habitat loss and poaching.
The critically endangered mountain gorilla faces a number of threats, primarily habitat loss and poaching. Around 700 individuals remain in the wild, and at least half of them reside in the Virguna range.
War in the Democratic Republic of Congo has increased the number of human-wildlife conflicts since the early 1990’s. However, an increase in publicity (Virunga) and improved conservation proposals within the past few years have allowed a sliver of hope for these gorillas.
Hawksbill Sea Turtle
The Hawksbill Sea Turtle existed relatively undisturbed in the oceans for the better half of the past 100 million years. Sadly, as a result of pollution, bycatch, costal development, the illegal wildlife trade and a loss of available nesting habitat, the Hawksbill Sea Turtle populations have plummeted.
Estimates vary regarding just how many are left in the wild, but a recent study suggests there are as few as 8,000 nesting females remaining.
Although the wild population of the Amur leopard has improved significantly in the past several years, a mere 57 individuals remain in the wild.
Critically endangered and known as the world’s rarest cat, the Amur leopard faces a number of threats, though poaching is arguably one of the most significant. A loss of habitat has also resulted in a loss of available prey species, leaving little chance that large populations of the leopard will be able to sustain themselves in their former range.
In 2012, Russia announced protection of 650,000 acres of land, including the leopard’s known breeding areas and 60 percent of their remaining habitat. Known as the Land of the Leopard National Park, it is home to 10 Amur leopards.
Critically endangered, less then 7,000 Sumatran orangutans remain in the wild. The island of Sumatra has lost nearly half of its forest in just 30 years. Habitat loss, by way of logging and agricultural production for palm oil plantations, has completely obliterated the Sumatran orangutan and is accountable for 10-15 percent of habitat loss each year. Poaching, by way of the illegal wildlife trade, also plays a major role in the loss of this species.
The Sumatran’s cousin, the Bornean orangutan, is also endangered.
Considered the most trafficked animal in the world, the pangolin has garnered some much needed media attention within the past several years. Confiscation of pangolin and pangolin parts has given wildlife biologists some much needed insight into this once elusive species.
The public all too often turns a blind eye to issues they’d rather not be privy too, but it’s imperative that we begin to accept responsibility for the current state of hundreds of endangered species. As millions of humans continue to kill off wildlife and destroy the environment, both directly or indirectly, with little remorse or concern for a massive fallout, those of us remaining become acutely aware of just how greedy mankind can be.
- Continue to educate yourself and those around you by doing research and sharing your knowledge. We have a window of opportunity with the world listening to let others know how important it is that we preserve these species before it’s too late.
- Consider donating to an organization working to help one of these or other endangered species in dire need of support. Check here for a full list of species on the IUCN’s Endangered Species List.