Everyone knows that dinosaurs, dodo birds, and woolly mammoths are long extinct. While the legacy of such amazing creatures lives on through children’s toys and television programs, did you know shocking statistics have emerged which suggest there are species becoming extinct on a daily basis without any awareness from the public. The growing prospect of even more recently extinct animals is a very real concern.
Scientists estimate that there could be up to 100,000,000 (one-hundred million) species on earth. They also reckon that a potential 10,000 species are driven to extinction annually.
If those figures are accurate, that puts the rate recently extinct animals at 0.01% per year. Sadly, nature is no longer the biggest threat to our wild animal’s survival. The recent rapid decline is purely down to human interference- hunting, fishing, and destruction of habitat.
In fact, experts surmise that the current rate of decline is between 1000 and 10,000 times higher than the ‘natural extinction rate’, which is how fast the species would become extinct if humans didn’t exist.
Just a Few Recently Extinct Animals
The story of the Passenger Pigeon is a tragically familiar tale of greed. Once the most abundant bird in the US, they became extinct in a surprisingly short period of time due to hunting.
Pre-civil war, they were killed and eaten by people on the frontier. However, the development of the telegraph and railroad brought with it commercial pigeon hunters, all out to earn a quick buck from our feathered friends.
Passenger pigeons are extinct mainly because of their survival strategy. Travelling in huge flocks for protection, they made themselves extremely vulnerable to the hunter’s weapons and traps. They died out in the early 20th century. There is currently a plan underway by an activist group called Revive and Restore to breed the passenger pigeon back into existence.
A more contemporary example of recently extinct animals due to human intrusion is the Baiji dolphin. The last documented sighting of the Baiji Dolphin was in 2002.
The demise of the Baiji dolphin has been attributed to overfishing, habitat loss, pollution and poaching. Deemed to be highly valuable, the dolphin’s skin and was used to make handbags and accessories. Baiji dolphins are thought to be the first dolphin breed to become extinct.
Javan Tigers were officially declared extinct in 1994 although they had been dying off for many years prior, following the decline of their most important prey, the Rusa deer, in the 1960’s.
The primary cause of the recent extinction of the Javan Tiger is due to deforestation. To illustrate this point: In 1938, natural forest covered 23% of the island of Java. By 1975, only 8% of forest remained.
The Golden Toad, named for its neon orange color, was originally discovered in the tropical cloud forest of Monteverde, Costa Rica in 1966. Classed as an ‘explosive breeder’ due to its mating habits, the decline of the frog in the late 80’s came as a huge and sudden shock. Global climate change and habitat loss were ultimately determined as the cause of the Golden Toad’s recent extinction.
The loss of the toad had a lasting impact on the Monteverde community. Devastated by the abrupt disappearance of the frog, scientists and locals developed a nature preserve surrounding the tropical cloud forest in order to safeguard the remaining flora and fauna. Although the golden toad hasn’t been sighted in over 20 years, herpetologists in the nature preserve still search for it during peak breeding season in the hope of finding some alive.
Western Black Rhinoceros
Having inhabited earth for over 50 million years, the Western Black Rhinoceros was declared extinct in 2011. With their horns considered valuable to Chinese medicine, 98% of black rhinos were killed by poachers between 1960 and 1995. It is alarming to think that the rhino population went from 1 million in 1900, to only 135 in 1980. By 1997, only 10 remained alive.
The unnecessary extinction of the black rhino is a sad and tragic tale. These animals were hunted and killed needlessly for its horn. Perhaps, if they had been properly protected and bred, they might still thrive among us today.
Some Closing Thoughts
From these examples, it is clear to see that the human are responsible for the mass destruction of these beautiful creatures, some of whom predated us by many millions of years. Thankfully, measures are now in place to prevent the further decline of many endangered species. However, for some it is already too late, and for others, impending extinction is already inevitable.