How Humans Are Driving Animals to Extinction

  01-Jun-2018 06:08:24

animals extinction human interference hunting poaching predators endangered

The sixth mass extinction is well underway, and humans are driving it. The last male northern white rhinoceros lived its last day on Monday at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya. ‘Sudan’, 45 at the time of death, was one of the 3 remaining members of the northern white rhino species. The death of Sudan places the northern white rhinoceros species in an ever-growing list of species on the verge of extinction, and the list is increasing at an alarming rate. Humans have greatly affected wildlife and this endangered list is a prime example. The following statistic sums up the human impact on wildlife. According to a team led by Stuart Pimm of Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, human activities are driving species to extinction at roughly 1000 times the natural rate (the rate at which animals would have gone extinct had humans not been around). Even more shocking is the fact that this report was published in 1995, when the scientists conducting the study underestimated the human impact and overestimated the natural rate. Surprisingly, 396 species have gone extinct in 100 years. Under normal conditions (natural rate), that calamity should have taken 11,400 years. Looking back 500 years, 676 different kinds of animals have been lost. that we are amidst the sixth mass extinction might sound like an exaggeration, but the fact is that it can soon be a scary reality. There are numerous factors, caused by mankind that negatively impacts species, like deforestation, habitat destruction, and air and water pollution. Adding insult to injury, many people/industries dump countless tons of garbage into water streams that ruin the environment. However, the biggest threat to animals is poaching. In fact, various species become endangered or extinct due to excessive poaching. Poaching is extremely profitable for hunters, as they make large sums of money selling animal parts. For example, in Hong Kong, shark fins are considered “exotic delicacies”. A kilogram of shark fins can get you almost ₹3 lakhs. However, the sad truth is that 14 of the shark species that are predominately hunted for fins are extremely endangered, although Hong Kong restaurant owner and the elites of Hong Kong seem oblivious to that fact and continue to feast on shark fin soup. Furthermore, Hong Kong markets openly sell endangered species such as seahorses and pipefish. Still they continue to justify killing endangered animals by saying that they serve as a medical ailment. In China, dried sea animals, some worth up to a whopping ₹29 lakhs per kilo, are believed to be able to cure cancer. Yet, interestingly enough, the rest of the world cannot find the same “magical” properties in the same endangered species.

In addition to poaching, humans also destroy animal habitats in a number of different ways ranging from building houses, clearing forests to gather natural resources and make space for the aforementioned houses, draining rivers by extracting water for numerous purposes or to cutting up grasslands to make roads. Making matters worse, humans also indirectly poison the remaining habitats. The natural landscape is polluted with petroleum products, pesticides, and other chemicals, which destroy food sources and viable shelters for the species who live there. Another cause of endangered species is the human alteration of the environment. In simpler terms, it is when humans introduce exotic (non-native) species to a habitat. More often than not, these exotic species have some type of advantage over the native species, and they start to take over the habitat, drastically reducing the population of the native species. Moreover, it is necessary to mention that exotic species will not always attack and feed on the native species. Rather, they might compete with the natives for the limited supply of food. For example, when the non-native goats were introduced to the Galapagos Islands, the Galapagos tortoise species was greatly affected as the goats fed on the tortoises’ food supply. As the goat population continued to grow and evolve, the Galapagos tortoise population declined drastically. Habitat destruction, pollution, and natural selection are, to some extent, unpreventable as the human population continues to grow, but that doesn’t mean that we as humans cannot limit them. Not all hope is lost when it comes to saving animals and preserving our wildlife.

While species continue to evolve to combat setbacks, science and technology also continue to grow. The northern white rhino’s situation is very dire, as there are only 2 left: both of them female. However, if there is any positive that comes out of the death of Sudan is that the world is finally paying attention to animal safety. The endangered animal debate has once again started, and the buzz created by the debate can only be beneficial to other endangered species, as people will start to focus more on preventing extinction. In regards to saving the north western Rhinoceros species, there is still hope; scientists are hoping that frozen sperm from Sudan and other male north western rhinos (before their death) will be able to revive the north western white rhino species. The scientists will extract eggs from the two remaining female north western rhinos, with the hope that the genetic material from the males and females will be enough to create embryos of northern white rhinos. While the good news is that this procedure has worked before with southern white rhinos, the bad news is that it is not guaranteed that the procedure will work with the north western rhinos. The goal is to create a herd of five to fifteen rhinos and return them to their natural habitat in Africa, which could take decades. While it certainly will be a testing process for science, the world holds its breath, hoping that the next generation will be able to see not only the north western rhinos but also the numerous other species currently on the endangered list.

By: Ankit Shrivastava