Our world is filled with the biodiversity of a vast array of living things working together in a complex web of life critical for all living things on our planet. Unfortunately, as human beings have increased in number and increasingly developed our settlements around the world, we have not always lived in harmony with the natural world around us. This has resulted in the global loss of many biological treasures forever, and have robbed nature and future generations of the richness that these species offered to the planet. While this trend of extinction need not continue if humanity awakens to the importance of preserving the biodiversity that remains on Earth and what we stand to lose if we don’t, let us now reflect upon a few of the animal species that we have lost.
Passenger Pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius)
The Passenger Pigeon was once so numerous in the North American skies east of the Rocky Mountains that their flocks would cover the sky for a mile wide and 300 miles long. During the early 19th Century, these birds had an estimated population of 5 billion birds at one point, and they likely made up 40% of the total population of birds in North America.
Due to their large flocks, there was a deception of an almost infinite number of these birds, and they were hunted in the 10,000s on a daily basis during the 1800s and were shipped to markets in the Eastern U.S.. Vast swaths of their forest habitat was cleared for agriculture, contributing to their demise as well. By the 1850s, the population of the Passenger Pigeon was in steep decline.
The last wild birds were hunted and killed in Babcock Wisconsin in 1899 and in Pike County Ohio on March 24, 1900. The last captive Passenger Pigeon, a female, died at the Cincinnati Zoo on September 1, 1914[sc:1].
Caribbean Monk Seal (Neomonachus tropicalis)
Christopher Columbus first discovered this member of the “true seal” family in 1494, calling them “sea wolves.”
They lived in the subtropical waters of the Caribbean Sea, the Gulf of Mexico, and in the West Atlantic Ocean. They likely preferred to haul out on beaches situated above high tides on islands and secluded atolls, and probably hunted for food in reefs and shallow lagoons.
Caribbean Monk Seals were hunted by early Spanish explorers beginning around 1492, as well as by fishermen, sailors and whalers. They were especially favored for their fur hides, meat, and oil, and were captured for zoos and killed for displays in museums. Because Monk Seals were fairly tame and non-aggressive, they were easy to approach to kill or capture them.
Human development along coastlines, fishing, and other activities likely forced them away from their critical habitat and sources of prey.
The Caribbean Monk Seal was last seen in the wild in 1952 and is now considered to be extinct[sc:2].
Bali Tiger (Panthera tigris balica)
One of the eight original subspecies of tigers (five subspecies remain today), the Bali Tiger was a smaller tiger subspecies that was found only on the small island of Bali located near Malaysia and the Philippines.
As humans came to settle on Bali, the island was gradually deforested and the Bali Tiger was hunted to extinction. The last individual was shot and killed in 1937[sc:3].
Tasmanian Wolf (Thylacinus cynocephalus)
The Tasmanian Wolf was a carnivorous marsupial that once lived in Australia and Tasmania. They had heads, teeth, and a body shape resembling that of a large dog, but they had a pouch for their young. Through genetic research, they have been found not to be closely related to true wolves.
Their decline likely began when humans from Asia brought Dingoes with them when they began to settle in Australia approximately 3,500 years ago. The native Tasmanian Wolf could not effectively compete with another top predator on the island, and the Wolves were found to be living only on the island of Tasmania when European settlers came to Australia two centuries ago.
Although captive breeding efforts were made in the early 1900s, they proved to be unsuccessful. The last known individual Tasmanian Wolf died in 1936 in a Tasmanian zoo[sc:4].
Steller’s Sea Cow (Hydrodamalis gigas)
Discovered in 1741 by Naturalist and Physician George Steller, the Steller’s Sea Cow lived in the waters surrounding the Commander Islands, as well as possibly around the Western Aleutian Islands until the 1700s.
Once discovered, they were over-hunted as a source of meat by Russian hunters, and were driven to extinction by 1768[sc:5].
Domed Rodrigues Giant Tortoise (Cylindraspis peltastes)
The Rodrigues Giant Tortoise was one of the smallest of the giant tortoise species that lived in the Indian Ocean region of the world. It had an estimated length of 40cm and an estimated weight of around 12kg. It grazed on the grasses of Rodrigues Island.
When humans first began to settle on Rodrigues Island in the Indian Ocean, there were thousands of these tortoises living there. However, due to overharvesting of the tortoises for food and through the introduction of invasive species, the Domed Rodrigues Giant Tortoise was largely driven to extinction. The remaining surviving individuals were likely killed by fires that were set to clear the land for agricultural use, somewhere around the year 1802[sc:6].
Sardinian Pika (Prolagus sardus)
The Sardinian Pika was a pika that once lived on the islands of Sardinia and Corsica, and has been estimated to have become extinct around 1774.
This animal was described by early Sardinian authors to have the appearance of a large rabbit, but without a tail.
Evidence suggests that the Sardinian Pika was probably over-hunted as a source of food for humans, leading to its extinction[sc:7].
Saudi Gazelle (Gazella saudiya)
The Saudi Gazelle has been presumed to be extinct in the wild in its native region of Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen since 1996. It lived on gravel and sandy plans within open Acacia habitat. It occurred both alone and in groups of up to 20 individuals[sc:8].
This species is thought to have gone extinct in the wild due to over hunting[sc:9].
We have opportunities to help save species today!
As sad as it is to reflect upon the species that we have lost, we have many opportunities to save species that are in danger of becoming extinct in today’s world.
In many cases, species are losing their critical habitats to development, agricultural land conversion, or are themselves being over-hunted for food and are sold as products like ivory on the black market. Global climate change is going to present challenging conditions for all life on this planet, and added to the previously mentioned challenges, species are going to need our help if they are to survive, and fast!
The bottom line is that humanity is currently at a critical point in our history, and we have a very big decision to make. Are we going to continue to live as if the world has no natural resource limits and drive more species to extinction, or are we going to start living more sustainably and live within the planet’s natural resource limitations? The choices that we make today are going to make impacts for generations to come.
So, what are we to do in the face of such challenges?
It can be very tempting to feel helpless and hopeless when we hear such bad news about the Earth that we call Home, but the truth is that we do have a lot of power, each and every one of us.
Much of the environmental destruction that is going on today is ultimately a collective result of our lifestyle choices and our consumption patterns as consumers. What we choose to buy or not to buy, and the actions that we choose to take or not to take affect natural resources. What impacts natural resources impacts ecosystems, and also impacts the species that are dependent upon those ecosystems.
- While very few of us would today go out and hunt the very last members of a species to extinction, if we aren’t conscious of the lifecycle of the products that we buy, the companies that make them may be causing environmental destruction without our knowledge.The products that we choose to buy can instead be those that are produced by companies that make all of their products sustainably, are conscientious of each step in their supply chain, and there is a legitimate third party certification process (such as Forest Stewardship Council Certified Forest Products) to ensure that their products are as sustainable as claimed.
If enough people are intentional with the source of the products and services that they buy, we can collectively make some real positive impacts on the market. Then, it not only becomes profitable for companies to do the right thing because so many people are demanding sustainable products, but the right thing to do becomes the standard of business practice throughout a particular industry.
- We can simplify our lifestyles to reduce our overall consumption, reduce our use of resources, like water, and energy.
- We can responsibly dispose of and recycle our waste, and we can choose to purchase things that come with less packaging and waste in the first place.
- We can support those organizations, such as the World Wildlife Fund, that are working to save species and their habitats, and we can also volunteer for them if we are able to.
- We can support organizations that are working to eliminate problems of global poverty so that communities can fully support their families in ways that preserve natural resources and species.
- We can also support political candidates that are working for public policies and laws that preserve natural resources and species for future generations of life on Earth.
By taking these and many other positive actions, we can all be a part of the solution to help save species from extinction today.