By Mark Wachtler
December 1, 2013. (ONN) There’s always been great disagreement over the crossroads where humans overlap with nature. Experts estimate that billions of animal species have gone extinct, the vast majority before mankind set foot on planet Earth. But with the world’s population exploding at a rate faster than previously estimated, a number of beloved animals are scheduled for extinction sooner than we may have time to save them.
Poachers often hack off the faces of rhinos for their ivory horns, leaving them to slowly die. Image courtesy of National Geographic.
One week ago, Live Science published their list titled, ‘7 Iconic Animals Humans are driving to Extinction.’ The authors set the grim setting with the report’s opening sentence. ‘It's hard to imagine a world in which elephants, orangutans, lions and other iconic wildlife only exist in stories, photos and zoos,’ the authors soberly write, ‘But that may be where the future is heading for some of these animals. Several creatures around the world are being pushed toward extinction by humans, through hunting and habitat loss.’
Humans versus the animal kingdom
Ironically, it’s actually not difficult at all to imagine a world without animals. Most science fiction comics, books and movies are completely absent any animal life. It would seem that in the future, the only animals that will be allowed to survive are those that can evolve into human-like creatures and fend for themselves – think Chewbacca from Star Wars.
If an impartial observer were to look backward and forward in time, it would seem obvious what path humans and animals are currently on. While the time frame is yet unknown, the steps to animal extinction are clear. As mankind’s population expands, uninhabited lands will become inhabited and animals will be sent off to government-run reserves, or reservations as our Native American friends like to call them. As the wildlife reserves shrink and eventually disappear, animals will only be found in zoos. But absent a natural environment to draw from, inbreeding and genetic flaws will eventually make reproduction impossible.
That doesn’t mean all animals will go extinct. Many animal species seem adequately equipped to survive in a human environment. Many, like rats, cockroaches, pigeons, carp, dogs, and a thousand others not only adapted, they’ve managed to thrive. But other, more beloved animals, will not be so lucky. The authors at Live Science explain, ‘Growing populations of humans, and rising demand for agricultural products and the animals themselves via poaching, are elbowing these iconic animals to the brink. This stark reality has become even more palpable since the United Nations issued a report this summer estimating that the global population will reach 11 billion by 2100, faster than previously estimated.’
Seven animals humans are driving to extinction
The report reminds readers that there are many, many more animal species being driven to extinction right now. This is only a sampling of some of the animals that are typically appreciated and beloved by all. In fact, the authors call this the ‘sixth largest extinction in the history of the planet.’ Below are seven animals humans are driving to extinction (from Live Science):
There are only 20,000 lions left in Africa, researchers from National Geographic warn. Roughly 50 years ago, there were more than 450,000 lions. That’s a decline of 95%. Currently, five lions per day are killed and the authors say that wealthy Americans are the culprits most of the time.
One National Geographic expert explains, ‘Trophy hunters, mostly Americans, kill about 600 lions per year, typically males with large manes. More than 90 percent of these trophies are taken back to the United States and the activity often takes place in "canned" hunts where lions are placed in small enclosures or even cages and then shot.’
Sadly, the world’s leopards have disappeared at the same alarming rate as their lion cousins. The report says that 50 years ago, there were roughly 700,000 leopards in the world. Today, there are only 50,000. Vanishing at an even faster rate than lions, the report estimates 5,000 leopards are killed each year, usually for their magnificent spotted fur coats.
Disappearing even more rapidly than the first two examples, orangutans mainly exist in Borneo and Sumatra where corporate deforestation is occurring at an alarming rate. According to researchers, there are only about 6,000 orangutans left in the world and that number is decreasing by about 1,000 per year.
Another animal disappearing at a blinding speed is the rhino. Prized for its ivory horn, which sells on the black market for approximately $30,000 per pound, the animal has just been declared extinct in one of its native countries – Mozambique. Showing that things are only getting worse for the animal, South African officials report that the illegal act of poaching rhinos has doubled just since 2010. It is estimated that one African rhino is shot and killed every 9.5 hours.
Another unfortunate victim of the rising Asian black market for ivory is the elephant. Experts estimate that five African elephants are killed every hour. Currently, there are 300,000 left. But with their numbers being poached at a rate of 40,000 per year, elephants may be one of the first animals on this list to go extinct.
Madagascar is home to what scientists believe could be thousands of undiscovered species of animals. Much of the island off the southern coast of Africa had been rarely touched by humans until recently. And like the rest of the planet, man’s population explosion on the large island has caused vast amounts of forests to be cleared for human expansion. There are many varieties and species of lemurs, which are described in the report as ‘primates with fox-like faces.’ But experts point out that 91% of those are endangered or threatened right now.
Sharks may be the most feared predator in the ocean, but they’re no match for humans. And thanks to Asian demand for shark fin soup, the animals are disappearing at a dizzying pace. The shark crisis also happens to be the source of possibly the worst news, and then the best. As researchers explain with horror, shark hunters are so obsessed with obtaining as many shark fins as possible, they’re literally hacking off the fins and throwing the fatally wounded fish back into the ocean to slowly die. The good news is that recent data shows the demand for shark fin soup in China declining rapidly, roughly 50-70 percent over the past two years.
The above list of animals going extinct right before our eyes isn’t the only ramification of a human population reaching 11 billion. If the world’s population continues to grow at its current pace, man will be pushed onto every available inch of habitable land just to survive. And when that happens, there may not be room for the animals anymore.
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