A photograph of elephant tusks collected by poachers.

An Overview of Animal Extinction and Preventative Measures

The United Nations warned that every day, 150 species of animals become extinct.

Dobby the Aardvark is a recent addition to the Chester Zoo in England. His appearance closely resembles the Harry Potter character.

Aardvarks are not classified as extinct but, due to human population growth and hunting in Africa, their numbers are decreasing.

They are among the many endangered species and, hopefully, will not be among those that are extinct.

What is an Extinct Species?

A cave painting of a Eurasian Auroch, an extinct animal and the ancient ancestor of cattle.
image source: discovermagazine.com

When the last known specimen dies without leaving a genetic successor, it classifies the species as extinct.

There is no time frame for how long it should take for a species to go extinct.

Sometimes, there are discoveries of species that were once thought extinct, such as the New Guinea singing dog and goblin shark.

The Red List, formed over 50 years ago, confirms the disappearance of a species.

Set by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), expert biologists, conservationists and statisticians gather the information.

Types of Animal and Plant Extinction

Phyletic extinction, or pseudoextinction, is when a species disappears but leaves another more evolved one.

For example, the woolly mammoth and the elephant.

In other words, while the originals are extinct, its lineage continues.

Terminal extinction is when a species disappears without leaving descendants.

This type of extinction is subdivided into:

  1. background (normal) extinction: when the disappearance continues gradually.
  2. mass terminal extinction: this is worldwide extinction due to a common trigger. It must be quick and affect a large number of unrelated organisms. For example, asteroids and the dinosaurs.

The Causes of Animal Extinction

A photograph of a Pina Island Tortoise, a critically endangered animal near extinction.
image source: iberdrola.com

Natural selection plays a hand in a species’ extinction, particularly in animal extinction. The majority of reasons are deforestation and human behaviour.

Demographic and Genetics

Species with a small population are already at a great risk of extinction.

Regarding natural selection, some animals might be stronger and more adaptable to certain circumstances. Others are weaker.

Overexploitation / Overharvesting

This concerns harvesting animals (and plants) faster than they can reproduce. Therefore, it is harder for the species to renew its numbers.

Despite reasons for doing so, there is a limited amount that a species can be harvested before it threatens them.

Habitat Loss

The main causes of habitat loss are deforestation and urbanization.

As the human population grows, there is a greater need for more land.

Once the land is cleared, the next step is urbanizing it for living spaces. As a result, it shrinks habitats for animals and plants.

After losing their homes to human development, 80% of the world’s species live in natural forests.

Invasive Species

Invasive species are those that are non-native, introduced to a new ecosystem.

While it sounds harmless, this can prove a threat to the native species should they be weaker or less aggressive.

The native species compete with the new, exotic species for basic needs, such as food and water.

If the new species is stronger and more aggressive, it puts the native species at greater risk of extinction.

Climate Change

The greenhouse effect results in a rise in global temperatures and sea levels.

A temperature increase by one degree can affect plant and animal life.

Cars and factories burn fossil fuels, increasing the carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere.

The decomposing landfills and increased livestock add methane to the air.

Regarding deforestation, the less green plants there are, the more the atmosphere goes unbalanced.

Pollution

Whether from cars or factories, it heavily affects every species.

Acid rain destroys forests, and therefore, destroys the food and homes of animals.

Oil spills kill coastal plants and sea animals.

Harsh chemicals, even poisons, wash into waterways.

Plastic trash, or any trash thrown anywhere but a recyclable trash can, tangles with wildlife.

Pollution is a long-standing problem that threatens not only plants and animals, but humans as well.

Hunting and Illegal Trading

The black market threatens over 300 species that are on the verge of extinction, including those yet to be on the Red List.

Mentioned below are some examples of extinct animals.

Woolly Mammoth

A computer generated image of a woolly mammoth during the last ice age, a now extinct animal.
image source: theguardian.com

Lating name: Mammuthus primigenius. 

The Mammoth lived during the Pleistocene era, the last ice age, and is the ancestor to today’s elephant.

Unlike their descendants, mammoths adapted to the cold weather of North America and Eurasia. It was all thanks to their thick skin and heavy woolly coats.

Another difference is their tusks: they were bigger than those of the elephants. Additionally, while elephants are around 12 ft. (2 – 3 meters) in height, a mammoth was around 14 ft. (4-5 meters).

Scientists conducted numerous studies on the extinction of the woolly mammoth over 7500 years ago.

Highly likely, they died off when the weather became warmer and their food supply changed.

Humans were partly responsible. However, recent studies show humans may have not been as involved as climate change.

Dodo Bird

An artistic interpretation of a dodo bird.
image source: japantimes.co.jp

Latin name: Raphus cucullatus.

A flightless bird that is the ancestor to the pigeon and dove.

They inhabited the islands of Mauritius and Reunion.

Dodos had no natural enemies. It was not until the arrival of humans that their population decreased.

These flightless birds did not fear humans, which made them easy prey.

Sailors, along with the rats, cats, dogs and pigs they brought, killed them for a change in diet.

Another cause for their extinction is when sailors cleared forests of fruit. It depleted their food supply.

All in all, the cause of their extinction is a changing ecosystem and human behavior.

The last confirmed sighting was in Mauritius in 1662.

In 2003, scientists placed the dodo bird’s extinction around 1690.

Stellar’s Sea Cow

An artistic interpretation of a Stellar's Sea Cow swimming in shallow waters with fisherman above it in a boat, ready to hunt.
image source: vulkaner.no

Latin name: Hydrodamalis gigas.

The Stellar’s Sea Cow is the close relative to the dugong and manatee.

The thick layer of fat kept their body temperature in cold waters and shielded them from arctic ice and rocks.

However, being poor swimmers, they were only able to spend four to five minutes in the water.

Additionally, their low nature and lack of aggressiveness made them easy prey for hunters and their natural enemy, sharks.

Many found refuge in a remote scrape of the ocean instead of land. They became the last survivors of the Pleistocene era.

Within 27 years, after formally described by scientists, they were hunted to extinction.

Every aspect of its lifestyle and habits made it an easy target:

  • Their kelp diet forced them closer to shallow waters.
  • Due to their calm social behavior, they did not hide away.
  • Their thick blubber meant they needed to stay close to the surface, and apparently, made them tastier.

The Fur Trade and Extinction

The Stellar Sea Cow was a victim of the international fur trade, making them a victim of fashion.

Moreover, Russian traders stocked up on its meat.

Fur traders never understood that the sea cow could be hunted out of existence.

As a result, it marked the connection between humanity’s behavior and extinction.

Sea Mink

An artistic interpretation of a sea mink by a river bank, holding a fish on a rock, ready to eat it.
image source: fanon.fandom.com

Latin name: Neogale macrodon. 

This type of weasel once roamed the eastern seaboards of New England and Canada.

Unfortunately, little is known about the species. They went extinct before scientists could analyze them.

Being larger than their relatives made them more desirable for fur traders.

In expanding the European fur trade, it required the removal and killing of the sea mink.

Before the Europeans arrived, Native Americans captured the sea mink and used their pelts and meat.

However, the Native American’s hunting was less intensive. Therefore, it would not have depleted the sea mink’s numbers to the point of extinction.

The last sighting of the sea mink was in the Gulf of Maine in 1880.

Thylacine / Tasmanian Tiger

A black and white image of a thylacine.
image source: nytimes.com

Latin name: Thylacinus cynocephalus.

Throughout Australia, the thylacine lived in open forests, wetlands and grasslands.

They were formidable predators, attacked by no native animal.

When the European settlers arrived, they brought their cats and dogs, changing the thylacine’s dominance.

In addition, there came a new major threat: humans.

The Dingo and the Thylacine’s Extinction

Brought from Asia, the Aboriginal people adopted the dingo as pets.

The dingo was a pack hunter and a better predator than the thylacine.

They out-competed the thylacine for food, which led to their thylacine’s extinction on the Australian mainland.

Dingos never made it across the ocean to Tasmania. The thylacines, therefore, survived and co-existed with the Aboriginal people in Tasmania.

When European settlers arrived, soon after, the thylacine was still fairly common.

They went extinct within 150 years.

On May 6, 1930, a farmer in northeast Tasmania shot the last thylacine.

Javan Tiger

A black and white image of a Javan Tiger in Javan.
image source: en.wikipedia.com

Latin name: Panthera tigris sondaica.

The Javan tiger was slightly smaller than others of the Panthera tigris sub-species.

Compared to most tigers, including the Panthera tigris sub-species, the Javan tiger was smaller. However, it did have more stripes than others, such as the Bengal and Sumatran tigers.

When humans occupied the land, they converted the land into fields. It resulted in the destruction of the Javan tiger’s natural habitat.

Humans also hunted the Javan tigers for their pelts.

In 2003, the Javan tiger was declared extinct, along with the Bali tiger.

The Bali tiger and Javan tiger were two out of three sub-species of Indonesian tigers.

The third is the Sumatra tiger and, due to continued hunting and deforestation, it is listed as critically endangered.

Tecopa Pupfish

A photograph of a pure Tecopa Pupfish swimming in an outflow of a hot spring.
image source: kidadl.com

Latin name: Cyprinodon nevadensis calidae.

It was diversely found in North America, residing in Tecopa Hot Springs.

The popularity of the hot springs made alterations to the pupfish habitat.

It led to the construction of bathhouses, which enlarged the hot springs and diverted outflows.

Bathouses, Hybridization and Tecopa Pupfish Extinction

In 1965, the construction of bathhouses merged and re-channeled north and south outflows.

This created swifter currents, and later, caused downstream water temperatures to rise above the level the Tecopa pupfish adapted to.

It also causes the Amargosa River pupfish to migrate and hybridize with the Tecopa pupfish.

This mix of species led to the Tecopa pupfish species being near extinction.

In 1978, Assistant Secretary of the Interior Robert L. Herbst said, “The human projects which so disrupted its habitat, if carefully planned, could have ensured its survival.” In other words, the Tecopa pupfish extinction was avoidable.

After searching in 40 locations, in 1981, scientists officially declared the Tecopa pupfish extinct.

West African Black Rhinos

A photograph of a West African black rhino grazing the lands of Africa.
image source: cnn.com

Black rhinos have long been on the critically endangered list.

The West African black rhino is one of the most recent species to go extinct.

Habitat Loss, Hunting and Horns

When humans moved into West African rhinos’ home range, they killed many rhinos, as did the farmers and settlers.

They did not want the rhinos eating their crops or wandering in their settled areas.

Soon after, the rhinos’ popularity rose in game hunting. Locals and foreigners participated.

This occurred before hunting regulations and conservation efforts.

Poachers and illegal hunters took one prize: horns.

During the 1950s, Mao Zedong promoted traditional Chinese medicine, instead of Western medicine, to unify the country.

One traditional method said that powdered rhino horn cured everything, even cancer. This is when poachers came to Africa.

Between 1960 and 1995, poachers killed 98% of the West African black rhino population for medicine, as well as for ceremonial knife handles in the Middle East.

By 2001, only five survived in different locations and a possible three more.

Researchers concluded that the last were killed in 2003.

After going unseen for a decade, researchers declared the animal extinct in 2011.

Ways to Prevent Animal Extinction

A chart showing the many ways to prevent animal extinction.
image source: endangered.com

Notable cosmetic brands have gone vegan, cruelty free or both.

There are already cosmetic brands that are vegan and cruelty free from the start.

The World WildLife Fund found ways to save critically endangered animals, such as polar bears, orangutans and marine turtles.

The National Wildlife Fund uses different methods to promote awareness, such as strengthening the Endangered Species Act and restoring, protecting and connecting the habitats.

There is just as much that can be done by consumers to protect the animals that are in danger, such as:-

  • Buying eco-friendly products.
  • Following the 3-R rules: Recycle, Reuse, Reduce.
  • Avoiding the purchase of souvenirs from endangered species.
  • Eating less meat. This does not necessarily mean becoming a vegetarian or vegan. It simply means decreasing the amount of meat you would usually eat. This can also prove beneficial to one’s health.
  • Becoming aware of the clothes and accessories we buy, of whether they are eco-friendly and not made of animal skin.
  • Being part of the solution and creating greater awareness to help the environment and its living creatures.

These are some of the small changes we can make to prevent further animal extinctions.

In doing our part, scientists continue to pursue chances of resurrecting once extinct animals, such as the Eurasian aurochs.

Conclusion on Animal Extinction

A photograph of elephant tusks collected by poachers.
Elephant Tusks. image source: aaas.com

For vanity, fame and land, an animal should not have to pay the price.

In protecting animals, we protect the environment. They should be treated as any decent living being would treat another.

Until he extends the circle of compassion to all living things, man will not himself find peace.

-Albert Schweitzer.

Leave a Reply