10 Animals Tomorrow’s Kids Could Know Only From Books

Lions and tigers and bears, oh my! So runs a famous line from The Wizard of Oz. But at a time when a sixth mass extinction has very likely occurred and when, in the next 300 years, 75 percent of all mammal species will have disappeared, it is all too likely that the next generation of children will hear Dorothy utter those words and ask their parents, “what are those?”

As novelist Lydia Millet wrote in a recent New York Times op-ed, at the rate that animals are disappearing, children one day will know not just dinosaurs, dodos and Great Auks only from books, but many others:

A future mother will most likely say, when asked if her child will meet a polar bear: No, dear. The polar bears lived a long time ago, when ice still floated on the Arctic seas. The last elephants trumpeted out their calls in Africa and India before you were even born. You have nothing to fear from a prowling lioness. Nothing at all. The army fell, she may think to herself. In the end, there were no more reinforcements to send.

Will Barbies and robots be enough for those future children? The hybrid monsters of fantasy video games, the fossil-based reconstructions? Maybe a few stray wild animals that were once our partners in this grandiose place will live on as collective memories, the bygone stars of screen and storybook, but they, too, must fade from the stores and eventually the pixels as time marches on.

Children will manage — “we’re a resilient civilization when it comes to tools and toys,” Millet writes — but, let’s face it, you can’t cuddle an iPad while you’re having a good cry because whatever means injustice in the universe of four-year-olds has happened.

Millet reminds us that children’s literature is densely populated with a vast animal menagerie, from Babar the elephant to Curious George. For “comfort, inspiration, imagination and art,” children — and, I would add, adults — turn to animals, as she writes “Without even knowing why, we believe that to learn how to be human — which we have many years to do, for human beings have longer childhoods than any other species, a feature that to biologists and philosophers alike is one of our race’s distinguishing characteristics — children must be surrounded by animal imagery.”

Could these ten animals (the first two my favorites when I was growing up) only be known to tomorrow’s children via books or toys or Google image search?

1. Penguins

13 species of penguins (out of 18) are threatened or endangered. A world without penguins could very likely be in store.


Image from tsheko/Flickr

2. Koalas
Koalas, the iconic symbol of Australia, are now considered a vulnerable species in Australia.

Alternative Village Fete 2012 - 16

Photo by GarryKnight/Flickr

3. Bluefin Tuna
One of the fastest fish in the sea, the price of $100,000 per fish has made bluefin tuna a prize for commercial fishermen. They are now the sixth most threatened species in the world, on land or sea.

Photo by someda/Flickr

4. Polar Bears
Polar bears, the largest land mammals on earth, are at serious risk of going extinct due to global warming.
I Love to Read

Photo by Shockingly Tasty/Flickr

5. Butterflies

Many butterfly species already only exist through their names and from drawings as they are endangered or threatened. Shown is a picture of Pieris brassicae wollastoni, the Madeiran Large White, which was declared extinct in 2007. A few might still live in the laurasilva forces of the Portugese island of Madeira.

Image from C.Felder/WikiMedia Commons

6. Eels

The European eel’s unusual lifecycle — which involves swimming between freshwater and saltwater environments — has resulted in catastrophic overfishing.
F.B. (pg 254), No 3070, page 2

Photo by Digital Sextant/Flickr

7. Tigers

In just one century, we have lost 97 percent of the tigers on the earth. As few as 3,200 exist in the wild today.
Tiger Can't Sleep

Photo by Jinx!/Flickr

8. Sharks

Once abundant in the waters off of western Europe, the angel shark is now critically endangered. Out of 9,905 trawls from 1995 to 1999, only two were found.
"I'm reading a book about sharks."

Photo by offharmonic/Flickr

9. Beetles

90 percent of American burying beetles have been removed from their original range. East of the Mississippi River, fewer than 1,000 beetles remain; there are still areas of South Dakota with a high population density including the Sandhills — the very route where the tar sands oil carrying Keystone XL Pipeline is to run through.

From the German Edition of Brockhaus, 1937

Photo by Double-M/Flickr

10. Elephants

Hunted for its tusks, the largest animal that walks the earth faces numerous threats in all 37 of the African countries it is native to. In Asia, elephants have almost disappeared in Vietnam.
E is for elephant - finished

Photo by Stacy Spensley/Flickr

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Glennis Whitney
Glennis Whitney6 months ago

Not a happy life for our kids and grandkids to look forward to, just couldn't imagine the world without these precious creatures.

Glennis Whitney
Glennis Whitney6 months ago

Just so sad to think these beautiful animals could become extinct, expansion of the suburbs and roads are the main treat to our precious koalas, especially around Ballina, Northern Rivers and Brisbane.

Natasha Salgado
Natasha Salgado2 years ago

The human species is truly toxic. What world is this with no forests or animals...PITIFUL. What we need is a steady supply of birth control. Just too many bloody people!

Past Member
Past Member 2 years ago

When will us humans realize we cannot carry on the way we are ! We need to urgently curtail our procreation, stop being so bloody greedy and educate the youth. We are at the abyss !!!

Danielle M.
Danielle M.2 years ago

How incredibly sad...greed will be the last thing humans will face in the end days! Shame.

Duane B.
.2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Angie V.
Angie V.2 years ago

Wow... such gorgeous animals.... and so close to extinction...

Chrissie H.
Chrissie H.2 years ago

It is absolutely heart breaking to think that future generations are unlikely to know these beautiful animals because of the thoughtlessness and selfishness of mankind. Regarding global warming,whatever is done now to try and stop it is too little and too late. Simply tragic.

Patricia Norte
Mia Norte2 years ago

(The awful thing is, there are too many humans who *know* what's happening but keep killing, without mercy and as they please, endagered wildlife. The profit involved in such atrocious acts is too much to stop them /: Mankind is indeed the worst type of creature.

The only hope left rests upon those whom want to protect and save the planet. Small gestures or large, each one count, from reducing our own pollution footprint to protesting, or making part of an organization with the best interests for the planet.)

Joseph Zeke
Joseph Zarkowski2 years ago

Their is only one way to deal with this if you want these animals, and this world to survive .
Human global population control.Man himself is with out doubt the single most greatest threat to this world.
I have long said. The industrialized country's of the world should take the lead and create legal public polices to actively limit who can have a child, and how many. Man kind in this world must lower his population, and the ability to procreate at will. If man kind fails to do this the task will be left to nature.And natural selection is ruthless in it's methods.Resources will, and are running out.
If man kind dose not find a way to over come population ,and resource depletion society will brake down to anarchy . And if this comes to pass the world will be doomed. Who will maintain the nuclear power plants around the world.Population control, or extinction . No other way.