The tecopa pupfish. The Javan tiger. The golden toad. The Pyrenean ibex. The West African black rhino. Just a handful of species that have gone extinct in the past 50 years. Many people consider “extinction” as a phenomenon that occurred millions of years ago when the dinosaurs died. As succinctly explained by Joe Hanson’s video for It’s OK To Be Smart, and detailed in Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction, we are currently living the next major mass extinction.
Let’s compare a few numbers:
There are an estimated 7.2 billion humans around the globe. Meanwhile, only about 300,000 chimpanzees remain in Africa. It’s been estimated that there are 25,000 polar bears worldwide, and less than 2,000 wild panda bears in China. As of this past December, only 5 northern white rhinos remain on Earth — all in captivity, unable to breed. Their survival rests in the science of artificial insemination technologies.
In addition to these more prominent, well-loved mammals, many other species of life are dying as well. Nearly one-third of all known frog species are endangered or extinct. The Rafflesia species of southeast Asia produce the largest flowers on Earth, and are recognizable by their “rotting flesh” aroma — all threatened by deforestation and the inability to cultivate it. There are species we are just discovering, only to discover that they are already endangered, such as the Plectostoma snail species.
Poaching, deforestation, pollution, and climate change are the major factors contributing to the rapid decline in flora and fauna. All factors which are driven by human impact. But we are not an impending asteroid on a collision course set for Earth. We are a species gifted with intellect and compassion, who can choose to make a change for the better.
Go out and enjoy your nearby parks, zoos, or natural history museums, consider donating to research institutions, recycle your trash, ride your bike instead of driving your car — don’t believe that the problem is too big. It isn’t just up to climate scientists and policy makers, conservationist zoos and aquariums, or genetic breeding programs. We can all choose to make a difference.
Featured image in public domain via the Nordisk familjebok/Wikimedia Commons