Extinct and Endangered Animals
The extinction of species has always been a natural part of evolution. The fossil record shows that since life originated about four billion years ago the vast majority of species that have existed are now extinct. Extinct species outnumber living ones by a factor of perhaps a thousand to one.
Scientists have identified five extinction events in Earth’s history, with some so severe that more than 90 percent of all life forms were killed off. The last and most famous extinction was the Cretaceous-Tertiary event some 63 million years ago that killed off the dinosaurs and allowed the rise of mammals. It is thought to have been caused by an asteroid hitting Earth.
Today we are in the middle of a sixth extinction event that began about 50,000 years ago but is now accelerating in an alarming speed! This extinction event is not a natural event, but is caused directly or indirectly by humans.
Most recent extinctions have been associated with European expansion in the 15th and 16th century. However, in some parts of the world some species are known to have become extinct before the arrival of the Europeans. For example, the Polynesians who colonised the Hawaiian Island in the 4th, 5th, and 6th centuries may have been responsible for the loss of around 50 of the 100 or so species of endemic land birds in the period between their arrival and that of the Europeans.
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The African elephant is the largest living land animal and weighs up to 5,400 kg. It inhabits the Savannah, brush, forest, river valleys, and semi-desert regions of Africa south of the Sahara Desert. Besides its greater size, it differs from the Asian elephant in having larger ears and tusks, a sloping forehead, and two “fingers” at the tip of its trunk, compared to only one in the Asian species.
As vegetarians, elephants require much food, sometimes consuming more than 225 kg of plant matter a day. Their trunk is employed to pull branches off trees, uproot grass, pluck fruit, and to place food in their mouths. The trunk is also used for smell, touch and in drinking, greeting or throwing dust for dust baths. In both sexes, the two incisor teeth of the upper jaw grow to form tusks, and it is for this ivory, used at one time in the manufacture of piano keys, billiard balls, and other objects, that hunters have slaughtered thousands of these magnificent animals.
The biblical unicorn may have been a wild ox, but the great Indian rhinoceros is similar to a unicorn: it has a single horn, usually about 53 cm long, and it is very hard to find, being among the rarest mammals in the world today.
The Rhino’s horn is not a true horn, but consists of compressed hair, and the animal prefers to defend itself with its canine teeth with which it can make horrible gashes. Rhinos became extinct in America long ago, and are becoming much scarcer in other parts of the world, but there are still five species remaining: two in Africa and three in Asia. They are the largest land mammals after the elephant and weigh from 1,800 to 3,600 kg.
The Indian rhino has well-developed incisor teeth and two long canine teeth in its lower jaw. It is studded with knob-like tubercles and is unique in having huge folds of skin at its joints and great rolls at the neck. Together with the large, horny plates covering its body, the beast appears to be armour plated. Threatened by continued loss of habitat and poaching, conservation efforts are essential to ensure this creatures survival. Conservation objectives include: the maintenance of a wild population of at least 2,000 rhinos in at least six major sanctuaries in the current range of the species; translocation of animals to create new sanctuaries and populations; continued anti-poaching efforts; maintenance of a captive population capable of long-term viability to guard against any unforeseen extinction of the wild population; and reduction in the demand for rhino products.
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This majestic bird is found across all of southern Canada, but is commonest on the Pacific coast. The bald eagle also ranges in Alaska and the rest of the United States. The adult can be distinguished by its white head and neck which it takes about four years to attain. Adult males have a body length of 75 to 85 cm and a wingspan of 180 to 213 cm. Females are slightly larger.
The bald eagle is primarily a scavenger rather than a predator, and subsists mainly on fish. It is most commonly found along coasts where cast-ups provide most of its food. It occasionally makes its own kills, and, when fish are not available, it may take a few birds. Bald eagle populations have declined alarmingly.
Formerly abundant in several Asian countries, tigers are now severely threatened. The Bengal tiger population of India has fallen to an estimated 40,000, and it is listed as an endangered species. The destruction of the tiger’s forest habitat, trophy hunting, commercial hunting, and killing in order to protect domestic livestock have all been contributing factors in the decline of these magnificent animals.
Fifty-eight nations, including Canada, have approved a protective measure for all cats, which includes controlling the import, export, and use of such skins. Also, public opinion and the development of synthetic fur has slightly diminished the market for tiger skins.
The white, or more properly, square-lipped rhinoceros, once occurred extensively in suitable grasslands south of the Sahara. The name was derived from the Afrikaans “wyt,” describing the wide, square muzzle, suited to grazing on grass.
The “black” rhinoceros has a narrow muzzle, with grasping lips, suited to browsing on leafy foliage. Both animals are, however, greyish in colour. Of the two races of square-lipped rhinoceros, only about 33 of the northern form survive in national parks. In southern Africa the animal came close to extinction in the late 1800s but responded to conservation measures and increased greatly. Although legally protected, the animals are threatened by loss of habitat due to the expansion of settlement, and by poaching for rhino horn, which is prized in some Asian countries for its supposed value as an aphrodisiac. The black rhinoceros, although more abundant and more widely distributed, is subject to the same pressures and is declining steadily.
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Extinct Animals : Snow Leopard
Found above the tree line and near permanent snow in central Asia’s dry mountainous country, the snow leopard has been prized as a hunter’s trophy, destroyed as a predator of domestic flocks, and sought as a source of valuable fur. Complete information as to its numbers is not available, but almost everywhere it is considered to be rare or in decline. Currently, the most serious threat to its survival is loss of habitat due to human expansion.
More than 150 snow leopards live in zoos where they have been bred successfully. The snow leopard is now listed as an endangered species and is legally protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. In some places, however, enforcement of regulations is difficult. Reserves have been set aside for both the cat and its prey species.
Endangered Animals in Asia
According to an estimate, over 15,000 animal species are endangered worldwide. Rapid population growth and human expansion have caused a habitat loss to many endangered animals. Added to it are other human destructive activities such as pollution caused due to smoke and wastes from factories, overexploitation and poaching of endangered animals, and the global climatic changes, which have made animals endangered.
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Asia is a favorable breeding ground and home to millions of species of animals. The endangered animals in Asia are also threatened for their survival due to the destruction of their natural habitats. Rapid advancements and human expansions have taken away much of the forest land, and have endangered animals. Here, we discuss about some endangered animals in Asia:
Asian Elephant: Commonly known as the Indian Elephant, they are found in the regions of South Central and Southeast Asia. Roaming about in the jungles of Bangladesh Bhutan, China, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Kampuchea, only 35,000 of this endangered animal is left in the wild. They are widely poached for their ivory tusks, which have a premium price in the international market.
Agile Gibbon: They are found in Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia. They live in family groups, spending much of their time high in the canopy of tropical forests. Deforestation and logging have contributed in their rapidly declining numbers.
Asian Tiger: There are nine sub-species of Asian tigers. Some of them are Bengal tigers, the Indochinese tigers, Malayan tigers, Sumatran tigers, Corbett’s tigers, Manchurian or Siberian tigers, and the South China tigers. It is estimated that only 40,000 of endangered Asian tigers are alive.
Poaching of tigers for their body parts is the major cause for their declining numbers. The bones of tigers are believed to possess healing properties, and are widely used in making Chinese traditional medicines. They are also poached for their hides, which fetches the premium price in the black market.
Bornean Orangutan: They are found only in the rainforests of Borneo. They spend much of their time in trees. The main reasons for the declining numbers of this endangered animal is poaching, and cutting down of forests for logging and mining.
The Chinese Alligator: This endangered animal is found in the areas around the lower Yangtze River basin in China. They prefer to live in slow-moving fresh-water rivers, ponds, and swamps.
Dugong: They generally live in shallow waters. They are large, gray, streamlined animals with concave tails, and nostrils at the top of their heads.
Great Indian One-horned Rhinoceros: This endangered animal is widely hunted for its horn, which is believed to possess aphrodisiac properties. It is estimated that only 1,500 of them are alive. They are mainly found in captivity in Kaziranga and Orange national parks.
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Snow Leopard: They are mainly found in the upper regions of Himalayas and the mountains of Central Asia. They can scale altitudes of 1,800 meters in winter to 5,500 meters in summer. Poaching and scarcity of prey have led this endangered animal to near extinction.
Reasons for Animal Extinction
Animals form an integral part of the nature’s ecosystem. Nature has blessed all to thrive and prosper. But, man being the intelligent of them all took undue advantage to race ahead, and thrust his supremacy over others. Rapid expansion of human population combined with the need for growth has created a situation even beyond the control of human beings.
Deforestation and encroachment of lands have led to habitat loss for many animals. It is the most important reason for animal extinction. Tropical Rainforests are inhabited by a large number of animals. Huge demand for forest resources has led to the establishment a large-scale lumbering industry. Clearing of tropical forests for timber resources, for extraction of petroleum and mineral resources, for cash-crop plantations, and subsistence farming has destroyed the natural habitats of native animals.
Habitat loss reduces the health of the ecosystem, and causes a decline in the numbers of the native species. It is believed that elimination of 90 percent of habitats will lead to the reduction in the number of species by 50 percent.
Moreover, adaptability in new environment is difficult for the relocated species. They become susceptible to demographic problems and environmental changes. Some catastrophic events and genetic disorders add to their problems.
Poaching and wildlife trade in animals and their body-parts have become a reason for extinction of many animals. Tiger bones and horns of rhinoceros are believed to possess healing properties, which are widely used in making traditional medicines in China. Elephants across the world are hunted for their ivory-tusks, which are in great demand in the international market. Animals in Africa are killed for bush meat (consumption of meat of wild animals) trade whereas several animals are captured to be kept as pet.
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Furthermore, fur trade was very popular in Europe and the United States in the 1950s and 1960s. Heavy demand in fur-products led to the killing of animals on a large-scale for their pelts. It is estimated that, in late 1960s, pelts of more than 10,000 Leopards, 3,000 Cheetahs, 15,000 Jaguars, and 200,000 Ocelots were being imported legally in the United States and Europe every year.
Biomedical research has also promoted trade in animals. Animal testing has created a demand for them, which are brought by the biomedical research companies for executing their further research on drugs.
Climatic changes have immensely affected the living beings. Global warming caused due emission of greenhouse gases and depletion of ozone layer has threatened the existence of one and all. Frogs are considered to be a vulnerable species due to global warming. The disappearance of Golden toad in Costa Rica is a classic example of animals threatened with climatic changes.
In addition to the factors mentioned above, introduction of non-native species into the new habitats have threatened the existence of native species. The introduction of goats and other non-native animals in the Galapagos Islands endangered the Galapagos tortoise. The goats fed upon the tortoises’ food supply, and the tortoise eggs were eaten by the newly introduced pigs, dogs, and rats.
Therefore, the endemic species of animals have become vulnerable to habitat loss caused by human factors.
Extinct Animal : American Alligator
This reptile of the coastal marshes and inland waters of the southeastern United States is considered an endangered species. Relentless hunting for hides reduced the numbers drastically in the 1960s until state and federal laws provided for complete legal protection. In addition, there are now import and export restrictions controlling trade in alligators and their skins.
Although poaching and illegal trade are always a threat, the American alligator is recovering in the wild. There are also thousands of them in zoos where they breed successfully.
Cool Extinct Animals
The animals, which once inhabited Earth in abundance, are no more alive. They have suffered at the expense of man. The desire for supremacy on earth by the human beings resulted in complete wipe-off of some species of animals. Here, we discuss about some cool extinct animals:
Haast’s Eagle: This species of bird was found in New Zealand, which is considered to be the land of birds. It is believed to be the largest species of eagle to ever exist on earth. It weighed about 30 pounds. It probably fed on human beings, although its primary prey was a flightless bird, moa.
It was believed to be the greatest predator on the island, other than the human beings. It was completely wiped-off from the island in about 1400 CE. Habitat loss due to clearing of dense forests for cultivation, and extinction of its primary food source, moa, by human beings caused this species of animal to become extinct.
Megalodon: It was one of the largest and the most powerful predatory fish on earth. It had sharp tooth, and was the largest shark ever. Its name means “big tooth” in Greek. The largest species of this predatory fish roughly measured 67 feet.
Arthropleura: It was a giant bug. It belonged to the species of millipedes and centipedes, and was found in Scotland and the parts of northeastern North America. It is the largest known land invertebrate, which measured 8 to 8.5 feet.
Smaller arthropleuras were herbivores, while the larger species of them were omnivores that ate small animals. It was a fast-moving creature having 30 pairs of legs.
Smilodon: It is also known as Saber-tooth tiger, although it was not a tiger. It was one of the largest known felines that ever lived on earth. It weighed between 120 and 1,100 pounds. It was found throughout North and South America. Lack of food sources and encroachment of its territory by human beings caused the extinction of this animal about 10,000 years ago.
Quagga: It was a subspecies of Zebra found in the plains of South Africa. Hunting of this animal for hides, and as a source of food for human beings led to its extinction in 1870s.
The Thylacine: It is also known as the marsupial tiger or the marsupial wolf. Popularly it is called Tasmanian tiger. It had a close similarity to wolves and dogs, which is an example of convergent evolution. It was mainly found in Tasmania, Australia.
The Great Auk: It was a flightless bird native to North America. It is also known as Garefowl. It had physical features similar to Penguins, and was the only flightless bird in the northern hemisphere.
Dodo: Extinction of Dodo is a classic example of animal suffering. This friendly creature lacked fear of human beings, which resulted in their easy-killings. It was a flightless bird found on the islands of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean. It was first discovered in 1508 when the Portuguese navigators landed on this island nation.
Therefore, human exploitation of animals has resulted in the sufferings of these creatures to the extent of becoming extinct animals.
Extinct Animals : Whooping Crane
Never very abundant, the whooping crane suffered in the late 1800s from indiscriminate shooting, habitat disturbance, and the draining of the large, isolated marshes that it frequented. In 1941 there were only 21 wild birds and two captives remaining. Today there are 300 whooping cranes in the world. The species is still on the endangered list and is carefully monitored.
Total legal protection, public interest, protected breeding grounds in Canada and wintering grounds in the United States, along with artificial incubation, foster parenting by sandhill cranes and the establishment of an additional breeding flock in Idaho, have all helped in rescuing the whooping crane from extinction.