Endangered Species

Extinction and Extirpation

Extinction and Extirpation

Extirpation Means ‘Local Extinction’

Everyone knows what the words “extinct” and “extinction” mean. They tell us that a species has vanished from the earth, just like the dinosaurs. Since life began on our planet, about 99 percent of all species that ever lived have gone extinct—most of them due to natural causes. Extinct are the tyrannosaurus rex, the woolly rhinoceros, the mastodon, the trilobite, and the saber-toothed tiger.

Humankind played no role in most of these extinctions. However, we are responsible for many hundreds of the most recent ones. The passenger pigeon is gone because of us; so is the wild dromedary camel, the dodo bird, the Javan tiger, the dusky seaside sparrow . . . the list could go on and on.

But many other species, although not yet extinct, have disappeared from large areas of their original, natural habitat. Wildlife experts say that these creatures have been extirpated from parts of their former range.

“Extirpation” means completely gone from a particular region—in other words,”locally extinct.” For one example, the American red wolf used to be common throughout much of the Southeastern U.S. But by 1980, Canis rufus had been extirpated everywhere but along a narrow strip of coastal eastern Texas. If that last small band of less than two dozen wolves had been killed off, the species would have gone extinct. Fortunately, they were spared.

In fact, the remaining red wolves were rounded up and placed in a captive breeding program. Since then, some of these captive animals have been released into one area of North Carolina, where they have since been breeding successfully. Red wolves still roam the wild thanks to the efforts of wildlife conservationists.

Similar successful efforts have been made on behalf of other animals, including the California condor, the American bison, and the white rhinoceros. Some of the saved species have then been able to repopulate areas from which they were extirpated by humans.

However, many other species have not been so fortunate. They have gone extinct—and extinction is forever.

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