An Extinct Animal: A Woolly Mammoth Model At The Royal British Columbia Museum. Photo: WolfmanSF
Are Large Numbers Of Our Earth’s Animal Species Going To Go Extinct?
It may already be happening. Many scientists believe that the earth likely is spinning on the verge of a mass extinction of animal species—something that has occurred five times since life originated on the planet. The most famous mass extinction is also the most recent—it was the one that swept dinosaurs from the face of the earth more than 65 million years ago.
Each mass extinction has destroyed well over half—up to 90 percent—of all the earth’s species. There have also been many lesser extinction events, including the one that carried off the woolly mammoth and many other ice-age species 10 to 15 thousand years ago.
While the planet’s biodiversity—its total number of species—probably has never been higher, human activity has been squeezing a large percentage of these organisms toward the edge of existence. Problems related to humans such as widespread habitat loss, illegal hunting, and climate change are having a particularly strong impact on the world’s large mammals—everything from elephants to polar bears. This is because large animals produce fewer young and need to range over larger areas in order to survive. But all sizes of animals are being affected. According to biologists at Stanford University, as many as one-third of the world’s vertebrate species currently are Threatened or Endangered. [click to continue…]
The Passenger Pigeon Has Been Extinct For A Century. Only Stuffed And Mounted Specimens Remain.
One Hundred Years Ago This Month The Passenger Pigeon Vanished From The Earth
The fate of the passenger pigeon stands as a strong reminder that any species, no matter how numerous, can slip into extinction within a short period of time—and that being extinct means that a unique piece of creation is gone forever.
The passenger pigeon was a North American bird that in size and color looked quite a bit like the mourning dove. As late as the 1860s they were probably the world’s most numerous species of bird: They traveled in flocks estimated at over a billion, and when they were on the move they darkened the skies for hours. When they roosted in trees at night, the combined weight of birds would sometimes shear off a limb and send it crashing to the ground.
But people shot and netted them because they were good to eat—uncountable numbers were harvested for sale in the markets of Eastern US cities—and also because they ate the grain crops of Midwestern farmers. By the 1890s they were already becoming scarce, with hunters actually having to look for them in the woods rather than standing in one spot and firing away as thousands flew over. [click to continue…]
Monarch Butterflies Are Getting Increasing Scarce. Photo: Keenan Adams, USFWS
These Beautiful Flying Insects Are In Major Trouble. Here’s What You Can Do.
All across North America and Mexico, the numbers of monarch butterflies are dwindling. A conservation organization called the Xerces Society estimates that the monarch population has declined by 90 percent over the last 20 years. There are several reasons for this decline including global climate change and habitat loss, but the biggest factor seems to be a decrease in the amount of milkweed available to the butterflies. Milkweed is a plant that grows in open areas—on the edges of fields and in fields that have become overgrown. Monarch butterflies lay their eggs on milkweed, and the young caterpillars that hatch out of those eggs feed on its leaves.
During recent decades, large commercial farms across the continent have been spraying their fields with chemicals that kill weeds such as milkweed without harming the crops. Less milkweed has meant many fewer butterflies. Commercial farmers and Monsanto, the chemical company that manufactures one of the most widely used weed-killing chemicals, are unlikely to stop destroying milkweed without a lot of pressure from the American people and government, and time may be running out. [click to continue…]
A Rare Reason For (Cautious) Celebration On The Endangered Species Front. Photo: Michael Gabler
The Population Is Up For This Colorful Endangered Dog Of The African Plains
The African wild dog is the most colorful member of the canid family in more ways than one. Lycaon pictus is also called the painted dog because of it’s beautiful, multicolored coat. But this endangered animal’s family life also comprises a fascinating picture.
Like wolves, wild dogs live in packs in which an alpha male and an alpha female—usually the parents of most of the other dogs—are the only animals that breed. All the other pack members help care for the alpha pair’s young. In order to avoid being detected by hyenas and lions, which are larger than wild dogs and like to steal their kills and kill their young, pack members communicate through a series of soft squeaking sounds that larger predators have a hard time hearing.
When one of the alpha animals dies, the pack often breaks up as individual dogs set out in search of mates who are not their brothers and sisters.
The wild dog’s favorite prey animals are antelope, wildebeest, zebras, and warthogs.
Until the 20th Century, wild dogs were common throughout most of Africa. In fact, author Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen), who wrote a book called Out of Africa, claimed to have seen 500 wild dogs traveling together on Kenya’s Serengeti Plain in the early 1900’s.
But shrinking habitat, conflicts with humans, and diseases such as distemper that they contracted from domesticated dogs all took their toll, and by the 1990’s scientists were estimating that there were 5,000 or fewer of them living in scattered areas, mostly in the southern half of the continent. Wild dogs were—and still are—considered to be among the most endangered of Africa’s mammals. However, according to a recent report in the The New York Times the painted dog’s population numbers recently have begun to recover. [click to continue…]
A Red-Eyed Tree Frog. Photo Taken in Costa Rica By charlesjsharp
Teachers And Students Take Note: Here’s A Free Set Of Books On Threatened Amphibians
Aamphibians are among the animals hit hardest by such environmental factors as climate change, manmade chemicals in the air and water, habitat destruction due to human activity, and a deadly fungal illness that has been spreading around the globe. Many frogs and other amphibian species have been designated as Endangered or Threatened—and some have even gone extinct.
Fortunately, there are a number of groups dedicated to the fight to conserve amphibians and the wild, wet habitats they need to survive. One such organization is called the Amphibian Survival Alliance. Currently, the ASA is hoping to attract as many like-minded people as possible to the cause of amphibian conservation—and one way they are doing this is by giving away an electronic version of a gorgeous collection of books containing information about all the earth’s Threatened and Endangered amphibian species. [click to continue…]
Illegal Hunters Are Killing African Elephants At An Alarming Rate. Photo: nickandme|2006
Illegal Hunting Is Endangering The Last Of The Wild Elephants In Africa
The African elephant ranks among the most majestic animals in the world. Not only is the elephant earth’s largest land animal, but it is also one of the most intelligent creatures, and its life span is almost as long as ours. When elephant mothers are pregnant, they carry their their unborn babies for more than twice as long as a human mother does. Elephants live in family groups where they take care of one another.
Unfortunately, illegal hunting, or poaching, of elephants has increased greatly over the last 10 years. So many thousands of elephants are now killed all over Africa each year that the animals are in danger of vanishing from the wild. [click to continue…]
Feral Cats Kill More Than Half A Billion Birds A Year. Photo: Stavrolos
Feral Pets And Livestock Take A Terrible Toll On Wild Creatures And Wildlife Habitats
A feral animal is a pet or farm animal that lives in the wild after having escaped or been released. For just a few examples, in America there are millions of feral cats and pigs, and tens of thousands of feral horses and burros.
Feral animals are almost always highly destructive to wildlife and the places where wild animals live because they do not have a natural place in those environments and among those animals. For instance, feral and free-roaming cats are able to kill hundreds of millions of North American birds each year because the birds did not evolve in an environment that included cats. Our birds evolved natural defenses to protect themselves and their young against native predators such as hawks, owls, raccoons, and snakes—but never against cats. [click to continue…]