Where We Are
The major question plaguing humanity today, should we really care if some species go extinct? What did the Yangtze (Baiji) River Dolphin ever do for us? All this news about the lonely male Northern White Rhinoceros, named Sudan, it doesn’t affect me, does it? It is sad, but we can’t stop human progress, right? Why should we, homo sapiens, spend enormous sums of money on saving creatures that don’t benefit us? Who cares?
Sudan, the last male northern white rhino, at Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya on June 25, 2015. Credit: Georgina Goodwin/Barcroft Media via Getty Images
These are just some of the many arguments being made today across the world. Still, as hundreds, thousands, countless animal species struggle to survive in the modern world, humanity as a whole rarely takes notice. Social media and many news organizations are more focused on the latest political scandal or who’s sports team won a big game, rather than focus on the environmental crisis we now find ourselves in.
Just this week in the Gulf of California another Vaquita Porpoise has died, leaving only a total of 29 animals left in the entire world and this only deserves a minor mention on some news sites. In the last 100 years, conservative estimates have over 500 different species of reptiles, amphibians, fish, birds going extinct, to include 69 mammals. Scientists predict less than 9 species should normally go extinct per century. Yet, the current background rate of extinction far exceeds that, and has many scientists calling our current era the ‘Earth’s Sixth Mass Extinction’.
Vaquita Porpoise. Credit: https://wildfor.life/mexico-in-last-ditch-effort-to-save-the-vaquita-porpoise
The last great mass extinction, defined as when 75% of all species die off, happened over 65 million years ago. It is thought this was caused by a large asteroid slamming into the Yucatan Peninsula in modern-day Mexico. Many species died out to include large dinosaurs such as the Tyrannosaurus Rex, all happening over thousands of years. The other mass extinctions were similar in that more than 75% of all species on Earth died out over thousands, or millions of years.
By comparison, today we are losing species faster than the previous Big Five Extinctions. The pace at which we are losing species, some estimates 12 species a day, is only picking up steam. In the next 40 years some estimates have up to 50% of all current species becoming extinct. In 100 years, we could be near the 75% threshold.
Why You Should Care
Still, again, who cares? Humans need the land to grow crops, raise livestock, to settle and raise our families. Why should we suffer inconvenience, change our lifestyles, so some strange-named amphibian can continue to live in the muck down the street? We need the land more than they do, we are the dominant species. Survival of the fittest right? And some would argue we are part of nature, and our dominance of the planet is just, well, natural!
Well think about this. The massive tree of life is nurtured by each species, large and small, all playing their part. The African Elephant eats an acacia seed, walks 60 km (40 miles) and deposits it in a new location its manure. Eventually a new acacia tree sprouts, providing a much-needed habitat for other animals, and more importantly prevents degradation of the savannah. When you remove the elephant, you remove its important ecological niche, and in some instances the landscape quickly becomes desert (see the story of Allan Savory and culling elephants in Zimbabwe). You can look at each and every species on the tree of life, and they all play their part.
We have trimmed the tree, so to speak. For each leaf we drop, the tree receives less life-giving nutrients it needs to survive and thrive. Many smaller branches have already been cut, and the larger branches are beginning to shrivel and die. How many more branches do we have to cut before our own section of the tree begins to take notice?
What Can You Do
If we as a species do not use our incredible ability to critically think and overcome these obstacles placed before us, future generations will look back at this time and ask why? Why did my ancestors let so many beautiful creatures die off when they had the power to change, the power to rise up and say enough is enough? Why did they not have the foresight to see humanity marching to its own destruction?
The time to act is now. Not tomorrow, not next year, not next decade, now! We must come together as a species and begin to rehabilitate our planet. It is not too late, but the challenge becomes that much greater each day every one of us does nothing. Ask yourself, how can I change, how can I make a difference? Once each and every person does that, we have taken the first step.
Share this message. Knowledge is power and we need to wield it more than the mightiest weapon. You, yes you, can make a difference. The question is, are you willing?
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About the Authors
The All Creatures Podcast is a new show sharing the knowledge of many species in crisis. Each week hosts Chris and Angie will be discussing a new species of animal. Both have earned their PhDs in Animal Physiology and want to share their passion about this planet and its wildlife with you. They can be followed on social media (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube) or on their website.