Yesterday, May 15th 2020, was World Endangered Species Day.
Researchers, conservationists, wildlife enthusiasts and photographers took to social media to spread the message about animals that were on the IUCN Red List. They spoke about animals that are classified as Vulnerable & Endangered and spoke of how humans have the power to safeguard their uncertain future.
But at this point, I realized that talking about the uncertain futures of currently-alive animals just wasn’t enough. If we don’t show people what the impact of human activity and the resultant climate change looks like, we won’t be able to garner enough compassion and love towards conservation.
So, I’ve decided to take a new route. To show the world the magnificent creatures who were once with us, but who are now lost to us forever, thanks to deforestation, pollution, rising temperatures – and every other human-made menace.
Here’s a list of 5 brilliant, beautiful and extinct animals whose deaths we’re responsible for:
Steller’s Sea Cow
This gentle aquatic giant became extinct a mere 30 years after it was discovered in 1741! They were hunted to death by sailors on the sea, for their meat and fur. The hunting was so fast and relentless, the poor animals didn’t have enough time to reproduce and replenish their lineage.
Steller’s Sea Cow belonged to the same class to which today’s manatees and dugongs belong. They were a whopping 30 feet long and at one point you could see them languidly grazing on the sea bed with their calves.
The sad thing is, the Steller’s Sea Cow was driven to extinction before it could even be properly studied. As a result, we know so little about it. Such a huge loss to the world!
The one and only bear species to originate from Africa, Atlas bears were found across the African continent from Libya to Morroco. Resembling smaller versions of North American bears in appearance, Atlas bears were driven to extinction in the mid-1800s.
The rise of the Roman Empire brought about the fall of the Atlas bear population. Once Roman emperors started conquering parts of Africa, troops would capture Atlas bears and take them captive to Rome. There, these creatures would be forced to fight in public games (called Ludi), against deadly opponents like armed gladiators and other animals like tigers and lions. To break the bears’ spirits, trainers would starve and whip them into submission.
Also known as the whēkau, this avian species was once the glory of New Zealand. Nesting on the ground and feeding on everything from insects to bats to ducks to kiwis, they were one of the most fearsome predators on the island. It was named the “laughing owl” because of its unique cry, which sounded like a shrieking laugh.
But the arrival of settlers to New Zealand and the deforestation and construction of cities that followed, pushed these birds closer to humans, where they lost access to their normal food, which was deeper in the jungles.
Additionally, the introduction of non-local animals like cats, rats, ferrets and weasels into New Zealand hastened the Laughing Owl’s journey to extinction. Not having evolved the skills needed to fend-off these new predators, Laughing Owls died a slow and painful death.
It’s a known fact that the tiger is one of the most endangered species on the planet. While some headway is being made in tiger conservation today, this wasn’t the case during early-to-mid 19th Century.
Once found all over Central Asia, the Caspian tiger species met a tragic end sometime in 1970 as a result of an illegal hunting expedition in Turkey’s Hakkari province. This type of indiscriminate hunting of the tiger for its fur, claws and teeth; plus the illegal trade of Caspian tiger cubs, forced the magnificent species to extinction.
Today, you can see similar human activities driving other tiger species towards extinction. If you’ve watched the show Tiger King, you’ll know that keeping tigers in zoos and so-called “rescue centers” (yes, I’m talking to you Carole – and others like her), will not save these creatures….they’ll just delay the extinction and draw out the pain and torture these animals face.
These days scientists are trying to revive the Caspian tiger species by cloning them using previously-collected DNA. But, there’s no guarantee this will work. That’s why it’s important that something is done to ensure that other tiger species don’t go this route.
Bramble Cay melomys
The last animal on our list happens to be the very first animal to have become extinct directly as a result of climate change. Bramble Cay melomys are also the latest mammals to go extinct – having died out in 2016.
Living on the Torres Strait of the Great Barrier Reef just a few years ago, Bramble Cay melomys are now dust and bones, relics in Australia’s natural history museums.
This tiny brown rat was named after its choice of accommodation. Living in cays (which are low-lying banks, corals, rocks and other water-facing spaces on islands), this rodent species was endemic to the vegetated coral of Bramble Cay.
Increasing temperatures around the world have for long led to accelerated melting of polar ice. This has resulted in the rise of water levels in oceans around the world. As a result, the low-lying homes of the Bramble Cay melomys were flooded, drowning large populations and forcing the remaining out of their homes and into the open, where predators stalked.
Following the failed efforts by the Australian Government to trap a few melomys and re-populate the species, the animals fell victim to climate change.
We need to step up and do something about this now
As of today, countless species have gone extinct. Each of these animals and birds had something unique to offer the world. But we won’t ever get to see them or share this planet with them, because of our own mistakes, greed and indifference.
As the Covid-19 pandemic has shown, just stepping away from our normal routines for a few weeks can allow nature to course-correct and put things right.
Carbon emissions have reduced worldwide. As a result, global temperatures have stabilized. Sea ice isn’t melting as fast as it used to and the ozone layer isn’t depleting at such a fast rate, as in the past.
Animals who were driven away from their original feeding or mating or birthing grounds are finally returning home. Everything has started to come full circle as the Earth has begun healing itself.
But, we don’t need the threat of the coronavirus to replicate these environmental benefits. All we need to do is make conscious decisions about the way we live. Doing so can go a long way in ensuring that the animals that are alive today, don’t just become names we tick-off on a future list of extinct animals.