Human induced habitat loss has caused the extinction of thousands of species in recent times, and threatens thousands more. Some of the worst examples date to the time before conservation became widespread, and can be excused as the by-product of an uneducated and unknowing society. However, just as many cases can be linked to actions in the past few years, and are inexcusable. It is inconceivable that human society continues to allow the destruction of sensitive ecosystems for their own economic gain, threatening the entire existence of endangered species at the same time. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), habitat loss is the main threat to 85% of species listed as either ‘threatened’ or ‘endangered’ .
Rainforest clearing in Southeast Asia
One of the worst modern day examples of habitat destruction is the deforestation of the Indonesian and Malaysian rainforests. Humans are slowly but surely clearing the rainforests to make way for palm oil plantations and to harvest their valuable wood resources. Across the world, rainforests are disappearing at an incredible rate. Every minute, an area the size of 20 football fields is felled . Rainforest destruction threatens iconic animals like the orangutan, the tiger, and the Asian elephant.
Although the destruction of Europe’s wetlands is an old problem, dating back hundreds, or even thousands of years, it unfortunately continues in the modern age. Over 60% of European wetlands were destroyed before 1990, but still the destruction goes on. Since most of the threatened animals living in wetlands are reptiles or amphibians which don’t stand out as super ‘cuddly’ or ‘cute’, people tend to be less inclined to fight to protect them. This means that a large percentage of Europe’s wetlands have been allowed to be converted through land reclamation, drainage for farming, and other processes, leading to one of the worst, and yet most unpublicized environmental catastrophes of all time .
A success story – The Giant Panda
Historically, Giant Pandas have been threatened by habitat loss to the point of extinction. They have become one of the biggest symbols of environmental conservation throughout the world, and have recently had their threat level downgraded from endangered to vulnerable as their population numbers slowly improve . This is a huge win for conservationists, as it shows that it is possible to recover lost habitats and help species come back from the brink of extinction .
A future concern – The Arctic ice cap
Humans are the primary cause of climate change, and climate change is causing the polar ice caps in both the Arctic and the Antarctic to shrink rapidly. In the Arctic this is causing huge problems for polar bears who are finding themselves with reduced access to food and less habitat to live in. The future of the Arctic ice cap is going to be interesting. It represents one of the first large scale, human induced habitat destruction which wasn’t intentional . If we are to stop it and save polar bears – among other species – then we need to do whatever we can to reduce the effects of global warming and climate change.