- Education and Science
A look at Five Endangered Species
Here are five animals under threat of extinction
There are many species in danger of extinction and extinction is forever.
One of the consequences of human invasion and destruction of the environment is encroachment upon the natural habitats of every other species. This forces animals into smaller and/or marginal habitats and action by hunters reduces numbers to dangerously low levels. Also demand for animal parts for trophies and medicinal reasons encourages poaching. This places even more stress upon both unprotected, protected and endangered species. Depending on where you source your information, you will find different animals that make up the five most endangered species. But there is some agreement; specifically for the tiger, the giant panda and the black rhinoceros. After this there are considerations for cheetahs, blue whales, jaguars, mako sharks (or sharks in general), killer whales, golden seal, big leafed mahogany and others. The consensus for the top four from research by several investigations list the shark including the mako, the giant panda, the tiger and the black rhino, all of which are reduced to a handful of individuals, listed as critical. There are so many contending for fifth to tenth spaces, that for the purposes of this article, we will look at the cheetah as number five.
The shark has been around for hundreds of millions of years, much of that time unchanged. It existed before, during and after the dinosaur era into the present. The shark is perfectly adapted to its environment. However, the shark has been no match for humanity. Played up as an aggressive feeding and killing machine, it became the object of unjustified prejudice. Sharks evolved from their predecessors in the late Devonian period between 416 to 359 million years ago. Fossils of the original shark dating at 400 million years were found in Ohio, which was once under water, they were born hunters. Though sharks have many forms today, they all evolved from common ancestors, the Cladoselache. Though very similar to the dreaded great white shark of today with its torpedo like body, large eyes, large pectoral fins and large tail, the difference is that they had a blunt snout and teeth at the front of the face instead of below the snout like the modern shark. Otherwise, they were identical, both being formidable hunters of fish, squid and crustaceans. Sharks are among the most successful life forms, not having evolved much from their original form over hundreds of millions of years. This success has changed with the advances of human hunting methods that hunts all sharks, the mako included. Asians prize the fins as a delicacy and for medicinal reasons. Thus there is a huge demand for shark fins. Sharks are ruthlessly hunted with no other regard than for the high prices that fins fetch on the black market. For most of the world, shark hunting has been strictly controlled or banned outright. Greenpeace fought a heroic battle to save sharks in one of their last holdouts in the Galapagos Islands. Greenpeace members risked gunfire, arrest and heavy fines merely for protecting this endangered and maligned fish. Film footage made by Greenpeace show how fins are harvested and how sharks are maligned as a species. It is a remarkable documentary, winner of some prestigious awards. The sharks are caught on long lines with bait, hauled in, the fins and tail sliced off and the animal is dumped back into the ocean, still alive but with no means left to swim. They are abandoned to die just for the human lust for the cash that can come from their fins alone. The movie Jaws should be remade to show people attacking sharks and devouring them. The Mako shark is prized because of the tenderness of the meat and no other reason, which is why the Mako is more endangered than most other sharks, but all including the whale shark, the great white, hammerheads, nurse and others are all endangered. In most areas of the world where sharks were once plentiful, are now devoid of sharks, placing the whole of the ecosystem under threat with this population control agent now gone. And now, a new stress is added; the pollution of the oceans with reams of plastic waste and massive amounts of oil from oil well blow-outs at sea.
The giant panda is native to China and lives exclusively on bamboo. Due to the encroachment of people into its dwindling habitat has made this shy animal more scarce and few in number. Added to this is the fact that the only food source of the giant panda has a periodic total die off only to be replaced when the new seeds sprout and grow. During these times, all pandas go through starvation, which stresses the whole population. People like to gather fresh bamboo seed and use it much like rice, but the entire next generation of bamboo relies on the seed as all the parent plants have died after going to seed. The more seed harvested, the less bamboo there is to start the next generation. The old dead bamboo stands become a firetrap and raging forest fires are an additional direct threat to the giant panda during times of severe famine for the species. Giant pandas number less than a thousand individuals and despite a ban on poaching, it continues nonetheless, placing the remaining individuals under threat of total extinction. The difficulty in protecting this species is the lack of policing to protect the few that are left.
Next in consideration is the tiger, which roamed freely as far north as Siberia, throughout all of Asia and into India. Less than 6,000 tigers remain in the wild world wide. The most urgent threat to tigers is poaching for body parts and bones used in traditional Asian medicines. There were several sub-species of tiger, and some are already virtually extinct such as the Siberian white tiger. As humanity has expanded explosively in India and Asia, little room was left for the tiger and they would be hunted ruthlessly due to the threat older tigers posed on humans and cattle. As a consequence, all tigers were hunted. Typically, tigers were taken as trophies alone and for little else. As a result, few if any tigers are seen in the wild in India, Asia and elsewhere were people have taken over. It is a sad commentary that most of the tigers alive in the world today are in captivity in zoos and circuses. Most of the former range of tigers is gone and the tigers with it. World wide, it is estimated that there are less than a thousand individuals left alive. This puts pressure on successful reproduction, limits genetic diversity and places the remaining population in jeopardy due to other stresses like famine and disease. The tiger now has about the same genetic diversity as the cheetah, which is also under threat. As human encroach on tiger habitats, it is not just tigers that suffer, but all the prey animals that they depend on are restricted as well. This drives tigers toward cattle and human beings and results in tragic encounters that usually ends in the tigers death. One less tiger alive brings the whole population one tiger closer to total extinction.
The black rhinoceros has its habitat in southern and east Africa. Local legends, which have been verified by some explorers, has it that the rhino is a natural firefighter, rushing into the zones of spot fires and camp fires to stamp them out before they get out of control. There is even documentary footage of a rhino doing just such an act. All rhinoceros populations are under threat for the same reason; poaching of horns. Since 1970, the Black Rhino population has declined by some 90 percent to less than 3,000 individuals. They are killed primarily for their horns, which are considered medicinal in Asia. Trade of Black Rhinos has been banned for more than twenty years, but poachers still seek out and take the horn, often abandoning the rest of the rhino to rot. Although many countries have banned trading in the species, there still continues to be a great demand for Rhino parts, particularly the horn.
In the context here, the next candidate has to be the cheetah. The cheetah is regarded by many to be the fastest land mammal on the planet, capable of a sustained chase of sixty miles an hour. Few animals are that fast and this is the primary way cheetahs catch and fall their prey for meals. They live in the open grasslands where such chases are possible and spectacular. The cheetah can reach such high speed by whipping its spine back and forth rapidly in synch with the front and rear striding legs. Even before the encroachment of man, the cheetah population has always been on the edge. Cheetahs due to their limited numbers have reduced genetic diversity and suffer somewhat from inbreeding. The population has always been small, due partly to the fact that cheetah populations directly compete with lion prides for territory and similar prey. It is a fact that lions will hunt out cheetah breeding areas in order to capture and destroy the young. Thus the cheetah faces a dual threat; from lions and from man. As Africa human agriculture and industry expands into the habitats for lions and cheetahs, these hunters are forced to go after cattle and horses. They seldom ever go after people, being shy of them due to past encounters. A meeting with humans by lions and cheetahs is usually fatal for the lion and cheetah. Cheetah parts are not sought after except to have the entire skin or animal as a trophy. Africa is prized for the abundance of rare metals and resources and this often crosses the habitats of threatened species. Even human tribes are impacted by this.
In all cases, the threat to these species and literally hundreds of thousands of others is human encroachment into their habitats and the desire to harvest these animals for their resources that can fetch a high profit. Thousands of species have already been driven to extinction and cannot be replaced. Will the animals in the top five described here soon join them? An unfortunate aspect of a shrinking population is to drive up prices for their parts. This makes them more attractive to poachers seeking a quick and massive profit. Though it is harder to find sharks, tigers, pandas and rhinos, when one is poached, the poacher can get instantly rich. Thus, the poaching of a single animal will allow a poacher to live in comfort for months. Here the law of supply and demand presents a great pressure on these dwindling populations that now are in imminent danger of extinction. The extinction of these animals will present an untold threat on the rest of the biosphere that is all interdependent in the web of life. The loss of one will domino effect across the width and breadth of the species to create catastrophes elsewhere that will impact humanity.