You know, among my conservative friends, one of the things I hear most often is the claim that global climate change is not real. Even if it is, they say, wouldn’t it be a good thing for temperatures to be just a tad warmer than they are now? My answer is – not unless they are supposed to be, and more specifically, not unless animal species do not die out as a result.
Sadly, its not just global warming that is causing us to lose some of the most special animals on earth. Habitat loss, over-hunting and the introduction of animals into areas in which they are not native – all caused by humans – are to blame.
What species of animals do we stand to lose over the next 40 years? You may be surprised!
1. Lions. According to the BBC, there are only about 23,000 lions left in the wild, compared with 200,000 two decades ago. That is a pretty precipitous drop, if you ask me! Lions are the world’s second largest cats, following the tigers, and they are found primarily in Asia and Saharan Africa. They are critically endangered in India (only a few hundred left). Because lions have no natural predators, their recent decline in numbers can only be attributed to the loss of habitat and other conflicts with human habitation. Will we lose the “King of the Jungle” in the next 30-50 years? Signs point to yes, unless we do something otherwise.
2. Polar Bears. I will tell you a secret. I cannot resist a cute photo of a polar bear cub! They are amazing, beautiful animals and, sadly, their habitat is shrinking dramatically every year with melting ice caps. Polar bears get stranded and drown in the Arctic Sea, and they cannot find food to feed their young. At current rates, 2/3 of the world’s polar bears will be gone in 40 years. It wouldn’t take a lot more to push them over the tipping point to the brink of extinction. Only about 20,000 polar bears exist in the wild.
3. Galapagos Iguanas. Pictured to the left, the Galapagos Iguana is another endangered species that may not make it another 50-100 years. Found in the birthplace of evolution, only 5,000-10,000 of this species remain in the wild. Obviously, this poor reptile is not adaptive to the changing world. One wonders how many more years the Galapagos Iguanas can survive in the wild. Charles Darwin would be very upset!
While this iguana was once so plentiful that Darwin remarked,
“when we were left at James, we could not for some time find a spot free from their burrows on which to pitch our single tent,”
they have now been largely wiped out by pigs, cats, dogs and rats, introduced into the area by non-indigenous people. Nothing like changing natural evolution by having new creatures come into established habitats.
4. Siberian Tigers. Even more drastic than the lion decline is the one suffered by the Siberian Tiger. From 100,000 down to 8,000 in population, people wonder why this Tiger species is so rare in the wild. In fact, the most sobering statistics is that there are less than 500 Siberian Tigers that still remain in their native areas of Russia. Why are the magnificent cats disappearing? It is a result of habitat loss from logging and development, as well as poaching for fur and body parts required for Traditional Chinese Medicine. Astoundingly, a single tiger is worth $50,000 on the International Market. What can we do to bring that number down? Obviously, the economic worth of a tiger is more than allowing it to live undisturbed in the wild.
5. Whooping Crane. The Whooping Crane has been endangered since the year before I was born. So, in some ways, one might get cynical and think that we really don’t need to worry about this bird. Alarmingly, however, as of just over one year ago, there were only 52 surviving whooping cranes in the Eastern Migratory Population. How much longer can this species survive? In general, the Whooping Cranes winter in Texas, and eat a broad range of food, being ominvores. But with numbers so small, it is only a matter of time before these birds can only be found in textbooks.
6. Green Sea Turtle. The Green Sea Turtle is listed as endangered in Florida waters and along the Pacific coast of Mexico. Globally, their numbers have dropped an astounding 50-60% in the past decade. The main reason for their decline is human harvest of eggs, adults and juveniles in hatching and feeding grounds. Green Sea Turtles also get caught in gillnets, traps and trawls, as an incidental causalty of commercial fishing. Fortunately, there have been some efforts to prevent inadvertent Sea Turtle killings by fishermen. Will those be enough to bring the species back from the brink of extinction?
7. Mountain Gorilla. Hard to believe that one of man’s closest primate relatives could soon be gone from the face of the earth. The world’s remaining mountain gorillas live in four wildlife parks near Uganda and Rwanda. Why are they almost gone? Their habitat is critically endagered as deforestation continues to strip away the forests in which they live. I was astounded to learn that only 720 mountain gorillas are left in the world. This is truly a species for which we must take immediate action if we want our children’s children to ever see these amazing animals.
8. Indiana Bat. This tiny mammal, only 2 inches long in length and weighing a fraction of an ounce was listed on the original Endangered Species List back in the 1970s. The primary reason for their threatened status is the fact that they inhabit only a few caves in the U.S. and Canada, and are seriously disrupted when humans come in to explore the caves. Noise makes them leave their homes. Because only one baby is born to a female at a time, the numbers simply cannot keep up. Their population has dropped by 50% since 1975. Even if you are not a fan of bats, remember that they are critical in keeping certain insect populations down – like mosquitoes. No bats = more mosquitoes. That’s not a good place to be.
9. Puerto Rican Parrot. This is the only remaining native parrot in Puerto Rico and its numbers are now critically low, with less than 50 individuals existing in the wild. Sadly the parrot was once abundant just 100 years ago, but its habitat has been vanishing rapidly with deforestation. Even in captivity, there are only about 140 Puerto Rican Parrots left in the world. They are literally 2 steps away from extinction.
10. Blue Whale. Can you believe that the largest mammal (and arguably the largest animal) in the world is on the brink of extinction? Due in large part to whaling practices, there are less than 10,000 Blue Whales left in the Southern Hemisphere, and not even half that number in the Northern Hemisphere. To put these numbers in perspective, consider that in 1931, a record 29,000 Blue Whales were slaughtered by humans – more than double the entire remaining population. Before whaling, there were about 350,000 Blue Whales in the world. They have been protected by the International Whaling Commission since 1966, but since 99% of the population had been killed off, it has been a slow recovery for these gentle giants.
The innocence and power of a child’s words can sometimes strike you to the bone. Just this morning, my son (who had no idea I was drafting this post) asked me what would happen if humans were gone from the earth. As I often do, I turned the question around on him and asked him what he thought. His answer sends chills down my spine:
The animals would be so happy, they would take over the world again. All the endangered species would start multiplying and would have safe places to live and food to eat. The buildings would crumble within 100 years. All living creatures would have a home. They wouldn’t be afraid any more.
Something to think about, don’t you agree?