In this age of technology and globalization, it is easy to think about the progress and advancement of one particular species: humans. In our modern society, what can sometimes be forgotten is that the human race is part of an even bigger global community than our world’s 196 nations. Humans are just one of the millions of living species on Earth. Each has its unique purpose and behavior that helps maintain the equilibrium of our planet’s multitude of ecosystems.
It is important to acknowledge the interconnectedness of other species as the extinction of organisms have implications for those that remain. Perhaps one of the well-known examples of this is the consequences of the fast-declining population of the honeybee population. The presence of harmful chemicals in the environment, destruction of habitat, and parasitic invasion are some of the main causes cited for this alarming phenomena. Even though we may see bees as pests at times, there are devastating consequences for humans if the honeybee population continues to plummet.
It is the honeybee that is responsible for the pollination of many of the world’s fruits and vegetables. Their important role in our agriculture makes their survival a concern for humans, for if honeybees were to go extinct human survival will more than likely also hang in the balance. This connection between our species is what prompted the United States Department of Agriculture and the Farm Service Agency to develop the Conservation Reserve Program to put honeybee habitat conservation and honey bee health at the forefront of beekeepers and crop growers minds.
What Does Extinction Look Like?
It is clear that species are interdependent when it comes to survival. We are responsible for protecting species that are in danger of becoming extinct in the same way that it is important for us to use and conserve the natural resources of this planet in an appropriate manner.
So what causes species to go extinct? In general, an organism’s inability to adapt to changing conditions will limit its ability to reproduce. As a consequence, each generation will be smaller and smaller and eventually lead to extinction. A simple enough answer. However, climate change, changing sea levels, asteroids, acid rain, disease, invasive species, human overpopulation, habitat fragmentation, pollution, global warming, and hunting and poaching lead to the same result.
While there are a handful of natural causes for species extinction, it is important to note how human behavior can exacerbate the process, whether we are hunting for sport or emitting excessive greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. People expansion has contributed significantly to the increasing rates of species extinction. A report shows that current extinction rates are close to 100 times more rapid than they were in the distant past, and predicts that at this rate, in the future, extinction rates will be ten times greater than they are right now.
Here is a list of ten species that have a “vulnerable” conservation status, meaning they are considered to be at high risk for taking on an “endangered” status in the wild shortly.
- Southern rockhopper penguin
The southern rockhopper penguin resides in the subantarctic waters of the Indian and Pacific Oceans and the coasts of the South America. It is also the most well-recognized crested penguins. However, climate change has taken its toll on the southern rockhopper penguin’s foraging behavior. Rising water temperature levels replace the food availability and the foraging strategies, this being a high-risk issue for the species.
- Marine iguana
The marine iguana is the only oceangoing lizard in the world and may only be found on the Galápagos Islands. The protection of the area has been expanded in the past few years, as many species like cats and dogs that were introduced to the Galápagos prey on them. Additionally, the changing climate has detrimentally affected their already limited population and impaired their breeding and species proliferation.
The manatee’s freshwater cousin, the dugong, can be found in the shallow waters of the Indian and Pacific Oceans. The quality of shallow water habitats that dugongs make their home are threatened by pollution and habitat degradation due to industrialization. These factors affect the growth of the vegetation that these populations use for food.
- Bigeye tuna
Bigeye tuna can be found in the subtropical and tropical waters of the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific Oceans. This species is both an important commercial fish and a vital part of the aquatic ecosystems. As mentioned before, there is a large market for bigeye tuna. They are regularly hunted and killed for profit, this being a significant threat to their proliferation and growth.
- Greater one-horned rhino
In the northern portion of India and parts of Nepal, the conservation of the greater one-horned rhino has been an ongoing struggle. Recent preservation efforts have increased the population of this species, but poaching and habitat loss still put these animals at risk. Greater one-horned rhinos are known as keystone species, as their presence has a strong influence on their ecosystem, and their disappearance would put other species at risk
- Giant tortoise
The giant tortoise is a well-known species that can only be found on the Galápagos Islands. Similar to the marine iguana, species that were introduced to the Galápagos both prey on giant tortoises and compete with them for grazing space and vegetation. Their species is at high risk due to improper conditions for breeding and diet restrictions.
- Great white shark
The largest known predatory fish, the great white shark, lives in most coastal and offshore waters with the highest concentrations from the Northeast and California coasts of the United States, South Africa, Japan, Oceania, Chile, and the Mediterranean. Great white sharks are often hunted for their teeth and fins, and this fishing has significantly affected their numbers.
- Red panda
The Eastern Himalayas are home to many red pandas. They are a unique species, so preservation of their habitat is of great importance since they have specific diet requests. This directly links the conservation of red pandas to the more significant environmental issue of conserving the forests in the Himalayas. They are often hunted for their fur and deforestation threatens their nesting areas.
- Polar bear
Polar bears reside on the sea ice in the Arctic and primarily hunted by seals. Global warming is a significant threat to their cold habitat without which the polar bears will go extinct. Illegal hunting also threatens the waning polar bear population, and human development threatens their natural habitat substantially.
- African elephant
The largest land mammal, the African elephant, lives in the forests and grasslands of the Congo Basin and Coastal East Africa. Another keystone species, African elephants are crucial to the continuation of a variety of tree species and shape the environment for other species living in the area. The African elephant population is currently threatened by habitat fragmentation due to human expansion as well as poaching.
What Can We Do to Help?
These are just ten of the species that are at risk of becoming endangered. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has assessed the conservation status of species worldwide. This is known as the IUCN Red List.
As seen with these present case, one animal may be necessary for the survival of some other animals and impacts the surrounding environment. When one or the other is eliminated, it causes problems at other levels of the food chain and subsequently disrupts the ecosystem.
While the extinction of one species may have consequences for the survival of others, it is also important to consider how species diversity and natural environments enrich our lives and understanding of the world. Preserving habitats and protecting species is not necessary simply for our survival, but is valuable in and of itself.
Humans have made their impact on the world in both positive and negative ways. In regards to this issue, human activity has caused the destruction of habitat and the overuse of resources, but humans also have the power to do right for our global community. Political activism, official legislation, and the work of countless organizations have brought about positive change in regards to conservation.
This cannot be done without the aid of people. People push these movements and initiatives forward. You can get involved by supporting the IUNC Red List so that they can continue to assess and reassess species around the world.
It is in our best interest, both in regards to our well-being and for the sake of preserving the world we inhabit, to be mindful of our impact on the planet and other species. It is in our best interest to protect the integrity of our global community.