A PREVIEW TO ENDANGERED AND EXTINCT SPECIES THE HISTORY OF ENDANGERED SPECIES IN NORTH AMERICA
May 2, 2013
A PREVIEW TO ENDANGERED AND EXTINCT SPECIES
THE HISTORY OF ENDANGERED SPECIES IN NORTH AMERICA:
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North America is a large continent with very specific habitats of endangered species. Although it may seem that there a an abundance of one species, it may well be that the various habitats have sub-species of one name, e.g. a wolf. If wolves seem to a common species as nationwide, it is much more complicated.
When the indigenous tribes lived in the North American continent, they lived in harmony with the nature, and took only what they needed. They believed that all living things had a spirit, so they respected everything alive. The living things were seen as a gift, not a source of profit. The animals living at that time were large – even huge – in numbers, and the hunting did not harm the sustainability of habitat or species.
Things took a turn for the worst, when European settlers entered the continent, saw its natural riches and started to exploit them. This is the time when the destruction of endemic animals and nature started. Things went even so far in certain areas that the tribes had to relocate to be able to find game for food. One such example is the wild turkey. Once living in millions in the native woods, the settles saw it as an easy meal and it was hunted down to extinction, only few survived the slaughter, and the wild turkey is the grandfather of the American turkey today.
The same happened with forests. The settles logger mercilessly destroying thousands and thousands of acres of endemic forests and with the forests they also destroyed the habitats of e.g. the wild turkey and many other endemic animals.
As the march of the settles advanced to the west, the destruction was inevitable in the name of progress. Dirt roads were built to connect settle villages to one another. The construction of the railway destroyed vast areas of nature, even dividing habitats in half (the buffalo) and broke the peace of nature with lots of noise, not to mention the beginning of air pollution from coal used in train engines. The same development happened in different parts of the world, in India (by the British) and in Africa (by the Frenchmen). No one nation is to blame, it was the cause of human nature to take advantage of natural resources without thinking of the consequences. The settlers did not know what they had started, and continued the same way of systematically taking more than the needed and turned it into profit, a usual practice in those times, and it seems to continue.
At the same time, as progress continued it march, the indigenous tribes were driven to smaller and smaller areas causing land disputes and tribe wars in increasing numbers. The final outcome of all this was the creation of the Indian reservations. And that was the countdown of their ancient cultures.
The same has happened quite recently in the South American continent, as the logging and deforestation of rainforests continue and threat the one last of the original tribe still leading lives in traditional way; it is also happening in Africa, as few countries are planning to build hunting safari parks to the habitats of indigenous tribes still unspoilt by the modern civilisation.
Plants Extinction of plants and trees can have a direct impact on human society. A sap found in 1997 by Dr. John Burley, research director of Harvard University's Arnold Arboretum, was tested by the National Cancer Institute and determined to be 100 percent effective in preventing cell replication of the AIDS virus. The plant sample came from an ancient swamp forest tree in Sarawak, a Malaysian state on the island of Borneo. When Dr. Burley returned to the spot a year later for another specimen from the tree, only a stump remained, and no other trees of the same species could be found. The substance is being reproduced synthetically, but it is not known whether it will be as effective as the original compound. Plant extinction has accelerated in the past few centuries. An estimated 5,050 plants, including species, varieties and other taxonomic groups, have become extinct worldwide since 1700. This implies at least 17 plants have been lost per year since 1700. Yet however high this rate appears to be, it is probably a low estimate. A 1998 study found that 380 species, a number that does not include varieties or sub-species, have recently become extinct. Introduction of alien species of plants can overwhelm native species and cause their extinction. Plants have also disappeared as a result of pollution in the form of acid rain caused by power plant emissions, heavy metal (especially lead) accumulations and other toxins in the air. Livestock overgrazing is responsible for the extinction of countless plants, and endemic island species are among the most vulnerable. Such plants may occupy only a few acres.
All ecosystems are plant-based. Plants produce oxygen, making life on Earth possible, and perform a vital task for other life forms by absorbing vast amounts of toxins and carbon dioxide. Not only do many plants fade to extinction undocumented by botanists, but only a small percentage of living plants have been scientifically described.
Invertebrates Invertebrates are key members of many ecosystems. Insects pollinate plants, while mollusks and gastropods form the basis of many aquatic food chains. Documentation of invertebrate extinction is incomplete, but a minimum of 375 species have become extinct worldwide in the past few hundred years. Butterfly populations have declined from loss of host plants, pesticide use, over-collecting and loss of species upon which they depend. The Xerces Blue (Glaucopsyche xerces) is the only native species in the US to have become extinct in the early 1940’s.
Invertebrates play key roles in many of the world's ecosystems as food sources, for people as well as animals. Some, such as coral and mollusks, create habitats for thousands of species. Butterflies, mollusks and snails are among the planet's most beautiful creatures, yet conservation programs often neglect these important species.
Vertebrates Vertebrate extinction worldwide since 1500 total at least 372 species of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish. The largest number – 157 species – were birds, while 100 mammal species, 28 reptile species, 6 amphibians and 81 fish species disappeared. The number and rate of extinction have increased gradually in recent centuries.
Fish Extinction The 2000 IUCN Red List lists a total of 81 species of fish that have become extinct over the past 400 years. In addition, a large number of fish have been extinguished in Central and South American lakes. The introduction of exotic fish threatens many freshwater species, and over fishing is virtually eliminating a large number of saltwater species. It is likely that many of the 156 species listed as “critical” in the 2000 IUCN Red List will be listed as extinct in the near future.
Amphibian Extinction Six species of amphibians – all frogs – are known to have become extinct since 1500. No recorded amphibian extinction have taken place on islands, despite the large number of endemic amphibians native to large islands such as Madagascar, New Zealand, Cuba and Puerto Rico. Many of these, however, now face this threat. Yet it is likely that amphibian extinction occurred as a result of the draining of wetlands or due to their use in growing rice following the colonization of the islands by native peoples thousands of years ago.
A large number of frogs, at least 20 species, have not been seen for many years, and many may soon be declared extinct. Some of these are among the most unusual examples of evolution on Earth. Many species are believed to be victims of ozone depletion, which increases the amount of ultraviolet radiation reaching the Earth, destroying frog eggs and often adult frogs as well.
Reptile Extinction All but one reptile extinction have occurred on islands. At least 28 island reptiles have died out since 1600. A large number of reptile extinction took place in the Mascarene Islands, a group of islands in the Indian Ocean, east of Madagascar. Elsewhere in the world, reptiles have been eliminated mainly as a result of the combined effects of non-native species, such as rats, cats and mongooses. Predators prey and compete for habitat and vegetation, livestock overgraze and settlers destroy habitats.
Bird Extinction A bleak picture has emerged, showing a dramatic rise in the rate of bird extinction over the past 200 years. At least 157 species of birds have become extinct since 1500, and many more have not been seen in decades. An important dimension of these extinction is the fact that birds are considered indicators of the planet's health. Birds are sensitive to environmental pollution, habitat loss and other signs of deterioration, as canaries were used by coal miners to test for the presence of lethal methane gas. Their extinction will also affect the ecosystems in which they once lived, since many birds pollinate plants or disperse seeds, and without them, these plants die off. The story of the dodo is an example of such a relationship. In 1973, Dr. Stanley Temple, an ornithologist, made a remarkable discovery about the dodo. He noticed that a beautiful tree native to the island, the calvaria or tambalacoque tree, was reduced to 13 dying specimens, all more than 300 years old.
Mammal extinction The Steller's sea cow was an enormous 24 to 30 feet long marine mammal, similar in appearance to the dugong and the manatee. The sea cow was larger, however, and swam in the cold arctic waters of the Bering Sea, enduring temperatures that would kill its closest relatives. The slow and sluggish sea cows were killed off only 27 years after their discovery.
ENTRY OF SETTLERS
An Abundance of Wildlife Early European voyagers landing on the East Coast of North America were astounded to see animals in numbers they had never before witnessed. Fish swarmed in the millions. Along the craggy rock-strewn coasts of Maine and the Canadian maritime provinces lived a large mink, almost double the size of the American species found elsewhere in the country. The sea mink's pelt had twice the value of the inland species in the fur trade. The last known sea mink was killed in 1880.
The male Labrador duck had striking black-and-white plumage, while the female was mousy brown. During the 19th century, these birds were often seen in fall and winter off New York's Long Island and on the New Jersey coast. Along with virtually all waterfowl of the day, they were shot for the feather and food markets
Further north, a flightless bird walked upright on its flipper feet. At a length of 3 feet, the great auk (Alca impennis) was the size of a large penguin, and could have been mistaken for one. At one time, these birds ranged along most of the coasts and islands of the North Atlantic, from northern France through Scandinavia, England, Scotland and Iceland, to North America's eastern coast as far south as Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts. When cornered on land, however, they were helpless. Both parents raised the chicks, and they refused to desert their nests, even when attacked. For centuries, hunters took advantage of this trait, killing them during their breeding season. When the auk was nearing extinction in the 19th century, hunters went to search them for museums and egg collections. The eggs and skins of the Garefowl, as known to Europeans, were sold at auction in London and to European museums for very high prices.
Other marine creatures barely avoided extinction during the period of unregulated killing of wildlife that began in the 1600s. The Atlantic walrus herd off the Canadian coast numbered at least a quarter of a million animals prior to European exploitation. From 1925 to 1931, the last large population in the Canadian Arctic on Baffin Island was wiped out by the killing of 175 thousand animals. Only 25 thousand walruses remain in this region. Russia classifies the species as vulnerable and the population in the Laptev Sea as rare.
Although the Pacific gray whale has now recovered from near-extinction from whaling, few people are aware that this species once lived in the Atlantic as well. Large numbers of Atlantic gray whales migrated along North America's eastern coast. Atlantic gray whales swam south along the shore of the coasts of Maine, Massachusetts and Long Island, down to the Florida Keys, where their calves were born. By the early 1700s, New England whalers had completely eliminated this whale.
The Blackfin Cisco (of the salmon family) and Deepwater Cisco, native to Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, "jumbo herring" became commercially extinct by the late 19th century, after the World War I. Large fishing vessels caught up to 15 million tons from one lake per year and they were declared extinct by the World Conservation Union, along with the longjaw cisco.
This over fishing was repeated in the Atlantic waters off New England and southern Canada. Cod, halibut and flounder abounded here, providing ample fish for centuries to local fishing communities. Factory fishing ships began fishing in the 1950s and soon depleted the stocks. National legislation banned them from the Atlantic coast and smaller vessels took their place. With few restrictions on take, and too many fishermen, the stocks crashed in the 1980s and 1990s. With the encouragement of the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMF, fishermen turned to small sharks known as dogfish and in a few years, they also became depleted due to their extremely slow reproductive rate, a fact not appreciated by the NMFS. Fishery conservation legislation has been enacted, but these stocks may never return to former abundance.
All along the East Coast, colonists built cities at river deltas, which were surrounded by vast salt marshes. These locations were considered prime seaport and manufacturing sites, and the marshes were filled in and polluted, ruined by construction of drainage ditches to control mosquitoes and halt malaria. These ditches created habitat for mosquito breeding and caused the water level in the marshes to drop. Water bird populations declined as a result, and they no longer filled their role as fish and shellfish nurseries, water filters and flood controls.
At the southern tip of the United States, the Florida Everglades, one of the largest wetlands in the world, once provided nesting and feeding ground for millions of egrets, herons, pelicans and other water birds. This sawgrass wilderness sheltered vast numbers of American alligators. Cougars, known as Florida panthers, were common, and preyed on the small Everglades white-tailed deer. Water diversion projects for agriculture and the new human population of Miami and coastal cities resulted in Everglades drying out. Exotic plants have proliferated in the marshes, overwhelming the native grasses and choking waterways. Ninety percent of the populations of water birds disappeared. The American crocodile, a saltwater species inhabiting coastal areas, was once numerous in Florida Bay and in the mangroves of the Keys. Today, this is one of the most endangered species in the country, numbering fewer than 400 animals, critical in number.l
Many Everglades bird species are also endangered, and one recently became extinct: the dusky seaside sparrow. By the time it received the protection of the US Endangered Species Act, this subspecies was nearly extinct. Its limited habitat of spartina grass on Florida's central Atlantic coast had been flooded for mosquito control and drained for the construction of nearby NASA facilities. The last purebred dusky seaside sparrow died at the age of 13 in 1987. The breeding program was not successful, and by 1997, the related subspecies had also become endangered.
Two spectacular water birds, the American flamingo, and the scarlet ibis, were once residents of south Florida. Both species were eliminated in the 19th century by commercial demand. The feather trade of the late 19th century nearly exterminated the majority of North America's wading birds and many of its seabirds through unregulated slaughter for plumes to adorn ladies' hats. Egrets, roseate spoonbills, herons, terns and other birds with long or colorful feathers were killed indiscriminately.
The Eastern Forests Ancient hardwood forests stretched for thousands of square miles in eastern North America. Massive oaks, chestnuts, hickories, walnuts and beech trees dominated, some reaching heights of more than 100 feet, with trunks 20 or more feet in circumference. Giant hemlocks and many kinds of pine dominated some areas. The passenger pigeon was most abundant in these forests, and its range extended from southern Canada, New England and the Great Lakes west to the Great Plains and south to Virginia. This is the only pigeon (living or extinct) that flocked and nested in vast numbers, darkening the sky during their migrations. Prior to settlement of the continent by Europeans, as many as 5 billion birds inhabited Kentucky, Ohio and Indiana alone. The forests that stretched nearly unbroken across eastern North America were crucial to the survival of the passenger pigeon flocks. Nut trees (oaks, hickories and beeches) produced large crops only every few years. By the 18th century, naturalists began to observe that nesting colonies were disappearing; the last great nesting in New England took place in 1851 near Lunenburg, Massachusetts. In 1892, it was noted that “the extermination of the passenger pigeon has progressed rapidly during the past twenty years, and their total extermination might be accomplished within the present century". This statement proved correct. The incredible wildlife spectacle of billions of passenger pigeons ended completely on March 24, 1900, when the last wild bird was killed in Pike County, Ohio. A captive passenger pigeon named Martha, about 29-years-old and the last of her species, died at 1 p.m. on September 1, 1914 at the Cincinnati Zoological Gardens. Logging and settlement of the eastern hardwood forests destroyed forever the ancient habitat of these lovely pigeons.
European settlers destroyed this rich ecosystem by commercializing the resources, turning ancient forests into short-term logging profits and wild birds, deer and fur animals into commodities. The new Americans, adopting the European approach to nature, tamed the wilderness and began a program of eliminating natural predators. They considered the reverence with which Native Americans had treated all living things to be a weakness.
When colonists arrived, the wild turkeys was abundant in eastern forests. Uncontrolled hunting and the cutting of forests eliminated these birds from state after state: Connecticut by 1813, Massachusetts by 1851, New York in the mid-1800s, South Dakota by 1875, Ohio by 1880, Wisconsin by 1881, Michigan by 1897, Illinois by 1903, and Iowa by 1907.
Once the eastern forests echoed with the howls of gray wolves, common throughout the continent except the Southeast, where the smaller red wolf roamed. Both these wolves were deliberately persecuted into extinction by colonists who placed bounties on their heads, effectively eliminating them from the wild in the eastern United States prior to the 20th century. Seven races of the gray wolf are now extinct, bountied and poisoned by settlers. About 1911, the Newfoundland race was the first to become extinct. This pure white, big wolf had a scientific name inspired by the Beothuk Indian tribe of Newfoundland; both the wolf and the tribe were exterminated by Europeans.
The red wolf became extinct in the wild in the 1970s, after centuries of persecution and habitat loss. Two subspecies, the Florida black wolf and the Texas red wolf are extinct, and only one race survives. The last members of the species were taken into captivity and bred successfully. A reintroduction program in portions of its original range has brought the species back, and about 100 red wolves now live in the wild.
In the northern woods, eastern subspecies of the American bison, elk, caribou, moose and white-tailed deer were extremely common. An unrestricted slaughter of these ungulates went on for centuries. The Eastern elk became extinct due to hunting to obtain its teeth, used as watch-chain insignia by a private organization, the Fraternal Order of the Elks.
Hunting caused the extinction of the Eastern bison by 1800. The last herd of Eastern bison was slaughtered in Union County, Pennsylvania in the winter of 1799 to 1800, as the animals huddled helplessly in the deep snow; the last individuals of this race were killed near Charleston, West Virginia in 1825.
Caribou and moose, native to northern New England and southern Canada, were hunted to extinction in the United States in colonial times, surviving only in Canada.
The white-tailed deer has reoccupied its former range in the northeastern United States.
Endless Grassland Stretching more than 1,000 miles from Illinois west to the Rocky Mountains, and from southern Canada south to Texas, the North American Prairie seemed endless.
An estimated 50 million American bison thundered across the prairie. Coexisting with these bison were Plains tribes of Native Americans: Pawnee, Blackfoot, Crow, Ojibwa, Sioux, Mandan, Comanche and others. The world's first national park, Yellowstone, was set aside in 1872, protecting some 2 million acres of mixed grassland and forest and the last wild bison in Montana and Wyoming, but Native Americans were excluded. The US government encouraged the slaughter of bison as part of a deliberate campaign to vanquish the Plains tribes by removing their means of subsistence; the slaughter was also a free-for-all hunting spree by crews working on the transcontinental railroad after 1830. With the completion of the railroad, the great herd became split in half, and migrations that once took them from Montana to Texas were ended by a shooting spree lasting until the late 1880s. Only the protection of two small herds in Yellowstone National Park and Wood Buffalo National Park in Alberta, Canada, totaling about 541 individual bison, prevented the extinction of the species. Other grassland wildlife was slaughtered for the meat trade.
Dominant among all the prairie predators, the grizzly bear was ery common on the prairie, these bears lived over most of western North America, from the Arctic Circle to northern Mexico. Hunters made expeditions to kill these animals, and they eliminated grizzly bears from one area after another. South of Alaska, only Yellowstone National Park and Glacier National Park harbored grizzly bears by the 1940s.
Fur trapping intensified in the 19th century, professional trappers combing the countryside, setting leg hold traps and spreading poison to kill the most valuable fur animals such as beaver and river otter. Within a short time, both animals had disappeared from large parts of the country, including most of the Midwest. Trappers killed until these once common rodents became rare in many parts of the country. Their fur was highly valued and used in the manufacturing of top hats in England and Europe. These animals, which had never been abundant, disappeared from two-thirds of their original range south of Canada.
Other predators, such as the gray wolf, the kit and the swift fox were nearly eliminated from the United States south of Alaska. Fur trapping was followed by control programs to benefit livestock ranchers. The gray wolves of the prairie were often white or pale gray and were entirely eliminated.
The fleetest animal in North America nearly became extinct. The pronghorn, a species found only on this continent, is not a typical antelope, but the last survivor of a family of ungulates long extinct. By the turn of the century, so many pronghorn had been shot by settlers and meat hunters that the species was reduced to endangered status. Yellowstone National Park was crucial to the species' survival by protecting remnant herds.
Another victim of the slaughters of the 19th century was the Badlands bighorn sheep. The last record of this grayish brown sheep in North Dakota was an old ram killed about 1905, and the dates of extinction of the South Dakota and Nebraska populations are unknown..
Today, the tallgrass prairies have become wheat and corn fields, crisscrossed by highways, and dotted with towns and cities. Even in the few areas where native grasses were not plowed under, diversity of grass species has declined from 200 to 30 species in most areas because of heavy livestock grazing.
Western Landscapes In the southwestern United States and northern Mexico, deserts harbored a great wealth of species. The Mojave, Sonoran and Chihuahuan Deserts of the southwest differ from one another in their vegetation, topography and wildlife. They are mostly federally owned, and management has been primarily to benefit livestock owners and other users.
The Sonoran Desert's unique and beautiful plant life has declined in the decades since 1970 because of unrestricted development for suburban. Most residents in the Southwest have eliminated natural desert vegetation and planted grass lawns in front of their homes, requiring almost constant watering and heavy use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides, all pollutants of the water table.
Merriam's elk was native to various mountain ranges of southern Arizona and New Mexico. The antlers of this elk were the largest of all the elk races. Vulnerable because of its restricted range, it was hunted by cattle ranchers in the late 1800s, and crowded out by livestock. The last individuals were killed around 1906 in the Chiricahua Mountains.
Thousands of elk and bighorn sheep died from diseases brought by domestic cattle. Lacking natural resistance, entire populations died soon after they came into contact with domestic cattle and sheep that carried disease.
After the end of the Mexican War in 1848, American settlers poured into California and agriculture began on a grand scale. In the late 1800s, California became thickly settled. The grasslands, deer, elk and the distinctive California grizzly bears that roamed California's valleys were eliminated by hunting and habitat destruction.
In northern California, Oregon and Washington, ancient forests of hemlocks, pines, cedars and coast redwoods had grown undisturbed for thousands of years. These forests lined 2,000 miles of Pacific coastal region from northern California through British Columbia, ending in southeastern Alaska. Although the sequoias and coast redwoods have escaped extinction, they are far rarer than they once were, and the redwoods continue to be cut to be made into lawn furniture and decks.
A race of bison native to these forests, the Oregon bison, were once native to southern Idaho, northern Nevada to southeastern Oregon and northeastern California, but they died out soon after the arrival of the early explorers.
Threatened Species of the World The 2000 IUCN Red List found 3,507 vertebrates and 1,928 invertebrates in high degrees of threat worldwide. Plants classified as Critical, Endangered or Vulnerable totaled 5,611 species. These are minimum figures because only birds and mammals have been thoroughly examined for status. When assessments are carried out on the remaining species, the list will doubtless grow far longer.
Many of the most magnificent, graceful, beautiful and zoologically curious animals on Earth are threatened with extinction. A growing number of these, such as sea turtles, sharks and crocodiles, have survived virtually unchanged for hundreds of millions of years, and if not for the human activities that are pushing them toward extinction, they would likely survive millions more.
Almost all the graceful cranes on Earth since the Miocene Epoch, are endangered from loss of habitat and hunting.
The most surprising finding was the high number of mammals listed: 2,046 species, of which 1,130 species were in higher categories of threat (Critical, Endangered and Vulnerable). Thus, of the approximately 4,000 species of mammals, 28 percent are highly threatened, and more than half are in some degree of threat.
The rate at which animals and plants are declining has reached such proportions that even familiar species considered common with stable populations only a decade ago are now threatened.
Animals listed as Near-Threatened or Data Deficient totaled 3,324 species, of which 2,364 species are vertebrates in the 2000 IUCN Red List. The grand total of 8,759 vertebrates in all categories comprises 20 percent of all mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish on Earth. In the early 1980s, only 1,000 vertebrates were listed by the IUCN. This means that in just 20 years, this total has risen by almost 900 percent.
Many zoologists and conservationists are now resigned to the rising level of extinction and believe that, within a century, 80 percent of all species living today will be extinct. Such predictions may be overly pessimistic, but unless the public is made more aware of the precarious status of a growing number of plants and animals and demands strong action, the prognosis may be fulfilled.
What is Threatening Species? Human activities are at the root of virtually all extinction threats. Destruction of fragile habitats, wetlands, coral reefs, tropical and temperate forests, rivers and grasslands has accelerated in recent years due to human population increases and commercial exploitation of forests, ocean fish and other wildlife, as well as the introduction of non-native species, either intentionally or accidentally. The massive pollution and chemical contamination of air, water and soil and even the atmosphere that surrounds the Earth are altering the climate and bringing about unforeseen declines in wildlife and plants. The list of the agents of extinction could be:
Human Population Growth Habitats Under Threat Non-Native Species Introductions Persecution, Hunting and Trade Pollution and Disease Traits of Vulnerable Species
The prognosis for the human population growth
The predicted growth of human populations is in itself a threat to all species, because there are more to feed and there are always those who want to stretch the limit of legality for their own benefit and also palate.
By identifying the traits that characterize species likely to become endangered or fade to extinction, it is possible to afford them and their habitats extra protection and carefully monitor their status. The tragic losses of so many of these "red flag" species should be avoided in the future, and can be, with immediate action. Ideally, species should be conserved when their populations are still healthy, before they become genetically impoverished and their populations fragmented.
Reasons why species have become extinct: 1. Endemic species, or animals and plants that are restricted to a relatively small area, such as an island, are inherently vulnerable to extinction. They have incurred the greatest number of extinction in the past 400 years. 2. Specialization of habitat or diet has caused much extinction. Animals that depend on a certain type of habitat or food source and cannot adjust to alterations, whether natural or human-caused, are extinction-prone. 3. Long-lived species with low reproductive rates and low natural mortality are vulnerable to extinction. 4. Flightless birds and slow-moving animals are helpless in the face of hunting pressure and kills by introduced predators and humans. 5. Large animals have been vulnerable to over hunting since the Pleistocene Epoch. In recent centuries, whales were added to the list of large species unable to escape guns or harpoons. 6. Wild animals and plants which have a value as food, pets, ceremonial objects or marketable products to humans are prime candidates for extinction. The list of animals that have been hunted to extinction for food is long. 7. Altruism, or the unselfish care for members of one's own species, highly admired as a human trait, has been fatal to many animals: e.g. the Passenger Pigeon, Dodo, Carolina Parakeet and Steller's Sea Cow. In their evolutionary history, this behavior served to preserve bonds between animals and to frighten off predators. When confronted with guns or other weapons wielded by humans, animals that come to the aid of fallen mates or flock mates can be easily killed themselves. 8. Species breeding in colonies or requiring large numbers of their own kind for protection, to locate food sources or for other means of survival, are vulnerable to extinction. 9. Governments around the world grant logging or mining contracts on a daily basis. Thousand-year-old forests and wildernesses covering vast areas are bargained away in deals made between corporate representatives and government officials, often through bribery.
What can be done?
1. Preservation More and more countries are taking a keen interest in the preservation of wildlife, and some have ancient protective traditions. The Asian country of Bhutan has a Buddhist ethic of not harming living things. It is the only Himalayan country to have protected the majority. A wintering population of endangered Black-necked Cranes is zealously protected by the Bhutanese who live in the valley where the cranes come each year; they regard the birds as integral to their lives and believe that, without them, their harvests will fail.
2. Education Educating children to respect the environment and conserve endangered species leaves a lasting impression if begun in grade school and continued throughout schooling. Children have an innate sympathy and love for animals, and become enthusiastic conservationists. Education about national laws and native wildlife and plants of the region encourages students to have a lifelong desire to protect them and a sense of guardianship that results in opposition to actions that would harm them. Environmental education is required in about two-thirds of US states, from grade school onward.
3. Government National Wildlife Refuges are vital habitat for thousands of threatened and declining species and were first set aside during the Theodore Roosevelt Administration to protect endangered sea birds being killed for their plumes. Now refuges and preserves are key to the survival of Red Wolves, Bald Eagles, Whooping Cranes, Florida Panthers and numerous rare plants, butterflies and other wildlife. In many of these refuges, oil drilling and other exploitation occurs, causing damage to ecosystems and threatened wildlife. The protection these refuges receive is far less stringent than that of national parks and monuments. In some refuges, high-speed roads cut through the middle of marshes where an array of rails, turtles and wetland species end up run over by vehicles. In the largest refuge, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, most of the land is open to oil drilling, where water and air pollution have been severe problems.
4. Tools A great blossoming in natural history information has erupted in recent years. Internet websites, accessible to all, have been dedicated to endangered species research programs, biological studies, organizations devoted to helping animals and data compilations. The Internet sets up communications between people around the world, in which education, advice, and even funding help for threatened species and ecosystems can be arranged. Critical situations threatening species can be publicized immediately around the world. On the Internet, students and the public can follow the movements of individual sea turtles, great whales and many other animals equipped with radio transmitters sending signals to satellites. Libraries can be accessed, and websites set up by state, federal and private entities provide highly specific information on endangered species and the environment. Experts may be consulted through these sites.
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It has been evident for a long time that man is nature’s and his own worst enemy. Our governments need to take preservation and conservation issues seriously, if they want to leave a sustainable legacy. The future generations may have few words to say about us, but that is only expected. What the government permits allow companies to do to nature is horrible, and the legislative organs should take measures immediately to stop all harmful and polluting active and future doubtful undertakings. Best examples could be fracking inside a natural reserve, tar sad pipe lines running through states with the potential spill danger, over fishing the world’s oceans, killings of cetaceans for scientific purposes, futile dolphins slaughters, exotic animals used in circuses, traditional medicine and as pets, oil spills on the oceans (Exxon and BP), natural disasters causing great danger by radioactive radiation and future mutations and risks for cancer… the list just keeps getting longer week by week.
Sometimes it seems that all the attempts to fund the conservation work to protect animals and their habitats is just futile, because the more humans try to protect and preserve, others try harder to get as much as they can as quickly as they can. Exploitation of nature and its resources is still going on strong, and nations should unite in their efforts to protect endangered species and their habitats from any harm, even at the expense of huge consortiums and their lobbyists.
Even if it seems bleak, we do all we can to educate and share the knowledge of the threats to animals caused by human decisions and actions.
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