Why Are So Many Animal Species Becoming Extinct in The Last Few Years?
In the nearby future, many animal species we have today will be a thing of the past. Just as the dinosaurs, conodonts and therapsids, some animal species such as rhinos and elephants will only be appearing in historical books of record where the future generation will refer. The reason behind these predicaments is the continued extinction of several animal species as a result of destructive activities by man. For example, the Northern white rhinoceros are recently thought to be a critically endangered species with only three of these species remaining in the world. In 2015, the government of Kenya placed the only living male of this species under twenty-four-hour surveillance to protect the animal from the wrath of aggressive poachers.
Human beings have been placed the center of controversial debate as the main contributor towards destruction of nature and its dire consequences of animal species extinction. However, a different group of scholar feel different, and support human activities as the reason behind significant development that has seen the world remain the best habitat for several species in the world. Man has fashioned tools that are able to regulate environmental condition and create resilience in the ecosystem (De Groot 263). For example, demarcation of national parks and game reserves from interference and creation of animal hospitals where injured and sick animals can find refuge is a significant approach towards protecting endangered species.
Causes of Animal Species Extinction
Over the past few centuries, animal species extinction occurs as a result of human activity. In fact, 99% of recently threatened species are vulnerable to human activities, especially those that cause loss of habitats (deforestation and desertification, pollution, fishing and hunting) (Goodall 14). Current scientific studies indicate that between 100 and 10,000 species, from both microscopic organisms to large animals and plants are subjected to extinction every year (Goodall 5). This rate of extinction is considered 100 to 1,000 times faster compared to historic extinction rates. Great number of species is killed when human beings over hunt and over fish, pollute the environment through industrial processes, destroy habitats through deforestation and faming, and introduce new species to new areas. Considering the high rate of deformation in the biosphere, and the fact that every species’ extinction subsequently causes the extinction of other species that mutually relate to that species within a complex ecological web, numbers of extinctions are likely to increase in the coming decades as ecosystems unravel.
Nonetheless, the scholars opposed to the conception that man is the main contributor toward animal species extinction clan that nature is the main contributor to these extinctions. The question they ask on this matter is, if the man was the main contributor towards animal species extinction, is he the one responsible for disappearance of dinosaurs? Past studies on animal species’ extinction indicates that past extinctions were as a result of natural causes such as volcanic eruptions, natural climatic changes and asteroid fall. In some occasions, powerful species might have destroyed the weak ones in the natural selection or what is referred to as “survival for the fittest”. For example, some historical studies claim that a huge meteorite hit the earth almost 65 million years ago causing extinction of over 50 percent of animal species that were alive at that time. New study published in the Journal Science confirmed that huge eruptions took place almost at the same time causing a vast number of both animal and plant species to disappear in a huge blanket of lava that was large enough to cover the entire United States of America and Western Europe (Board 9). Some ancient species like conodonts and therapsids were thought to have been destroyed in these great volcanic eruptions (Goodall 27). These volcanic eruptions came with release of toxic gases that cause death of many animal species and triggered climatic change that led to the End-Permian extinction and End-Triassic Extinction. Even to date, there are natural calamities such as drought, floods, storms, volcanic eruptions, landslides, heat waves and earth quakes that has caused disappearance of significant portion of animal species.
On the other hand, those opposed to man significant influence in the ecosystem have different opinion. They claim that transport systems, industrial processes and construction processes are main contributors to environmental pollution. These activities have caused land, water and air pollution, affecting both fauna and flora, both directly and indirectly. Gases emitted in industrial processes and transportation system include chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and other greenhouse gases. Several studies have confirmed that greenhouse gases are liable for global warming effect. Global warming causes changes in climatic conditions resulting to unpredictable weather conditions that lead to storms, floods and famine. Chlorofluorocarbons are responsible for depletion of the protective ozone layer that guards the earth’s atmosphere from harmful glares of the sun. On the other hand, acidic gases (such as chlorine, hydrogen chloride and hydrogen sulphide) have direct impact on the health of animals which may lead to death. Secondly, acidic gases cause formation of acidic rain that affects flora hence affecting animals within the food web. Fauna and flora die from exposure to toxic pollutants in the air and soil. Major oils spills such as Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster lead to death of sea animals and fish in 2010 (Board 10). Pollution causes gradual changes in climatic and weather conditions. These steady changes can affect individual species to a greater extent that they can no longer survive in the new conditions of their changing habitat.
On the contrary, studies opposed to the harmful role played by man in causing animal extinction claim that human beings have played a significant role through ecosystem management approach. Through ecosystem management tactic, human being are able to establish area that require critical concern in an ecosystem in order to restore resilience (Chapin 241). Through conducting animal count in a certain ecosystem, it is possible to understand the areas that require support in a food web. For example, once the number of primary consumers and secondary consumers or predators have been identified, it is possible to control the ecosystem by ether introducing new predators or reducing the number of predators. Also, once the endangered species are identified, they can be protected to ensure continuity of their progeny (Chapin 241).
However, human beings have being blamed as main contributors towards extinction of animal species because of poaching. One of the greatest challenges in conservation of wildlife is poaching. Malicious poachers kill big animals such as lions, leopards, cheetahs, rhinos, and elephants to get their teeth, tusks, skin and talons for sale. Killing of these big predators distorts the ecological balance causing subsequent death of other animals along the food chain (Goodall 123). Rhinos and elephants’ population has significantly reduced due to increased cases of poaching. Northern white rhinoceros species are on the edge of extinction due to increased poaching incidences in Africa. Overhunting results to ecosystem imbalance that consequently leads to environmental stress and distortion of ecosystem resilience (Goodall 121). On the other hand, overfishing has also contributed to imbalance in the water ecosystem. Uncontrolled fishing has lead to extermination of unique fish species such as the Gravenche, Blackfin Cisco, Harelip Sucker, Blue Walleye, Harelip Sucker, and Galapagos Damsel among many others.
The debate on the role played by man in destroying and preserving animal species portrays the both side of man’s activities. It seem that man’s activities have both advantages and disadvantages that vital and also destructive the ecosystem. Though there is hardly any success in controlling extinction of unique animal species, conservationists globally are working to address these problems and get the best approach to protect endangered animals and their natural habitats. The greatest challenge in addressing animal species extinction through controlling human activities is the continuously increasing population. Increasing human population is imposing high pressure on the available natural resources leading to subsequent destruction of fauna and flora. In most cases, conservationists have focused their efforts on conserving species-rich ecosystems such as coral reefs and rainforest and overlooked other key areas that demand critical attentions. Comprehensive strategies employed to save biodiversity should also consider habitats with fewer species like tundra, polar seas and grasslands. While a great deal of concern over extinction majors on worldwide lost species, a greater number of biodiversity’s benefits have major effect at a local level and protecting the local population is the best way to ensure long-term survival for these species.
Board, Illinois Endangered Species Protection. “Checklist of endangered and threatened animals and plants of Illinois.” Springfield, IL, 2011.
Chapin, F. Stuart, et al. “Ecosystem stewardship: sustainability strategies for a rapidly changing planet.” Trends in Ecology & Evolution 25.4 (2010): 241-249.
De Groot, Rudolf S., et al. “Challenges in integrating the concept of ecosystem services and values in landscape planning, management and decision making.” Ecological Complexity 7.3 (2010): 260-272.
Goodall, Jane, Thane Maynard, and Gail E. Hudson. Hope for Animals and Their World: How Endangered Species Are Being Rescued from the Brink. New York, NY: Grand Central Pub, 2009.