World Wildlife Day 2021 will be observed with emphasis on the role of forests in saving animals. This year’s theme ‘Forests and Livelihoods: Sustaining People and Planet’ also focuses on the pivotal role forests play in the livelihood of hundreds of millions of people. While international organisations and governments are doing their best to stop poaching and save natural habitats, here’s a look at some animal species that have gone extinct or are on the verge of extinction due to reckless human behavior.
At the start of the 20th century, about 1 million rhinoceroses of different subspecies were present in Africa. After almost a hundred years, the number had dropped to 2,300 in the year 2001. The Western Black Rhinoceros was among the first casualties. Its population came down due to a number of reasons including the hunting of the mammal and burning of forests for farming. It was largely affected in the late 20th century when Chinese medicine practitioners claimed that the Rhino’s horn could practically heal everything.
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Zanzibar leopard faced an existential onslaught in the 20th century amid growing apprehensions among local communities. A native of the Zanzibar archipelago in Tanzania, the leopard was believed to have dark powers. A widely-held rumor during mid-1950s claimed that the Zanzibar Leopard worked with the witch. As a result of the rumours and hate, the animal was hunted down to extinction. However, a ray of hope rose in 2018 when a biologist claimed to have captured a Zanzibar leopard on camera.
Also known as the Black-faced Honeycreeper, the Po’ouli was only discovered in the 1970s. These beautiful birds became extinct before the 21st century. By 1995 there were only few known colonies of the bird left in Hawaii. By 1997 the figure further declined to just 3 birds and they were gone before the year 2000. According to researchers, the bird was sensitive to the environment and caught diseases as the environment changed. Researcher also reckon the extinction could have been caused due to lack of food sources. Po’ouli birds fed on tree snails but they became rare due to excessive farming.
The Madeiran Large White Butterfly was last collected in 1977 and could not be found again despite an extensive survey conducted between 1980s and 1990s. The white-coloured creature had black tips on its feathers and was extremely popular among collectors. Biologists say the butterfly might have gone extinct due to a virus infection. Another possible reason could be the migration of a predator to the Madeiran’s area.
European settler-colonists hunted Quagga to extinction in the 19th century. The mammal was a sub-species of plains zebra. Colonists saw the grazing animal as a competition to their livestock, mainly goats and sheep. Scientists in UK and South Africa are making attempts to retrieve at least the genes responsible for Quagga’s distinction from zebra.
Scientists are still studying how passenger pigeons went down from a species of one billion to none in just fifty years. A report published in 2014 pointed towards a disease that could have wiped out the species. While the report was widely criticized over lack of data and credibility, it provided important insight into the extinction of an abundant species.
Northern White Rhinoceros are not extinct but they might soon vanish from the planet. They are the world’s rarest rhino with only two of their kind left. Unfortunately, both of them are female rhinos, meaning they cannot mate and reproduce. However, scientists are trying to revive the lost species with artificial insemination and surrogacy. BioRescue, an international consortium, raised hopes when they announced in January they had created two northern white rhino embryos in a lab.
Also called the Tasmanian Tiger or Wolf, Thylacine is an extinct carnivorous marsupial. The dog- like animal was the only member of Thylacinidae family to survive into modern times. At one time, they were widely spread across Australia, but have not been spotted for more than seventy years. They are said to have vanished because of extensive hunting. Every year several Australians report Thylacine sightings but scientists say the animals people claim to have seen are most likely pademelons.
The Yangtze River Dolphinare was a freshwater dolphin that became extinct in 2002. The dolphin is also known as baiji in China. Its last known member was Qiqi. Few sightings of baiji have been reported since 2005 but scientists say that it is very unlikely as the habitat required for their survival has already been destroyed. Efforts are now being made to revive its habitat so that there is some possibility of survival if any member is present.
Bramble Cay Melomys is the first mammal to vanish due to climate change. The small rodent became extinct in 2016. It was last seen in 2009 and failed attempts to trap it in 2014-2016 prompted scientists to declare it extinct. The rodent species is also known as mosaic-tailed rat. The government of Australia also recently confirmed that the mammal has vanished.
The United Nations is urging students to create banners and online forums for awareness about animals and their habitats so that local communities contribute more towards their preservation. The global body is calling for use of hashtags #WorldWildlifeDay, #WWD2021, and #ForestPeoplePlanet on social media.
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