Many of the animals, birds and insects we know and love are in danger of extinction because of human behaviour. Not just the unusual, breathtaking species, but the ones we grew up with and felt comforted by in picture books and films – and sometimes on childhood visits to the zoo. From tigers to leatherback sea turtles, from the Javan rhinoceroses to whales, many species are on the verge of extinction or in dire and dangerous circumstances because of human behaviour and its subsequent threat to biodiversity, the loss of natural habitats, the effects of climate change, overfishing and illegal practices such as poaching and wildlife trafficking.
A recent United Nations landmark report makes it clear that the threats to the biodiversity of our planet continue unabated. Developed by more than 100 experts from 50 countries, the report (released by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services) says that close to 1 million species – nearly an 8th of all the life on the planet – will not survive unless we act to combat deforestation, the extinction of species and climate destruction. There are particular threats to more than 40% of amphibians, 33% of coral reefs and over a third of all marine mammals, says the report. Land clearing, crop production and fertilization cause about 25% of greenhouse gas emissions, which in turn are increasing the planet’s temperature to unsustainable levels for all wildlife.
Such human-caused climate change and habitat loss threaten many species with extinction for all sorts of very subtle and interrelated reasons. Take the striking North American Monarch Butterfly, an insect that makes one of the longest known insect migrations each Autumn from its summer homes in the northern U.S. and Canada to winter habitats in California and Mexico. According to the USA’s National Wildlife Federation, the latest count in 2018 found the number of west-coast monarchs spending the winter in California had plunged to only 20,456 butterflies – a drop of a whopping 86 per cent since the previous year – and that there’s been a total decline of more than 80 per cent over the past 20 years. Increasing carbon dioxide levels may be making milkweed, the only food monarch caterpillars will eat, too toxic for them to tolerate, while higher temperatures may be driving summer breeding areas further north, making migration routes longer and so more difficult. (If you’re in the USA or Canada, take part in the Monarch Joint Venture and plant milkweed or become a citizen scientist – more here.
When it comes to the welfare of animals, it’s not just our human habits and disregard for the interconnectedness of climate issues that’s the problem – it’s also blatant immorality. Illegal wildlife trafficking is a major threat to the survival of great apes and other endangered species as well as to the world’s biodiversity, for example, and the second biggest threat to animals after habitat loss. Only around 340,000 chimpanzees remain in the wild, and at least 3,000 great apes, including orangutans, gorillas, bonobos and chimpanzees – which are all endangered species – are lost from the wild every year as a result of illegal trade (find out how you can support the Jane Goodall Institute ForeverWild campaign to help stop wildlife trafficking here.
Elephants create and maintain the ecosystems in which they live and make it possible for lots of different plants and animals to live in those environments as well, yet their numbers have also dropped, by 62% over the last ten years worldwide, thanks to poachers who want their ivory, meat and body parts to sell on the black market. The Asian elephant, whose habitat ranges over 13 countries across Asia, is an endangered species with less than 40,000 remaining worldwide, while an estimated 100 African elephants are killed each day, leaving only 400,000 remaining in the wild. (World Elephant Day, which this year falls on 12 August 2019, is a group that campaigns throughout the year to help save elephants from poaching – more here.
Fishing practices and over fishing has also put masses of marine life in peril. The loveable penguin, for example, which has evolved to thrive in some of the world’s most challenging marine environments – they can drink seawater, survive in temperatures as low -60°C and are superbly agile swimmers, yet after albatrosses, they are now the second most threatened group of seabirds in the world. 10 of the world’s 18 species of penguin are threatened with extinction, and even though they live in remote areas, overfishing of their food sources has made it harder for them to find enough fish to support themselves and increasing numbers are becoming tangled and drowned in fishermen’s fine mesh nets (Birdlife International runs a Protect A Penguin campaign – more here.
Animals are also bred so that human hunters can enjoy killing animals as a trophy sport or for so called human ‘medicine’ – such as lions in South Africa. Worldwide, 1.7 million ‘trophies’ were legally traded worldwide between 2004-14, around 200,000 of them from threatened species, and of these, 2,500 were brought home by British hunters, including hundreds of heads, feet, tails, hides, tusks and horns from some of the most endangered species such as rhino and elephant (you can read more on this here…
Thousands of lions bred in farms to be shot by hunters and killed for ‘medicine’.
Tiger farms in Laos fuel demand for tiger parts on black market – Washington Post.
Be informed. Understanding why our climate is getting warmer and what the solutions are is key to helping abate these situations. To find out more about some of the world’s most endangered animals, see here. If you want to give to animal charities, be sure to make sure your donation goes to the animals rather than human pockets by checking this clever website here.
Be empowered. With your mobile, your wallet and your vote, boldly lobby governments and companies to activate real change. It’s worth supporting the work of Conservation International, who lobby companies and governments around the world effectively – more here. Consider volunteering or fundraising for Greenpeace too – more here.
Be involved. Because close to 1 million species will not survive unless we act NOW, and we are increasing the planet’s temperatures to unsustainable levels for human life.