Written by Jyotsna Iyer, a second-year undergraduate student.
The extinction of species is a natural process that has been an integral part of global history. More than 99% of the species to have ever existed are now extinct.
However, the natural extinction of a species occurs gradually over thousands of years. But, that’s, unfortunately, not been the case in the past few centuries, when humans have driven the unnaturally rapid extinction of many species.
Rapid extinction caused by human activity
According to the United Nations, 150 species go extinct every day currently.
Since 1500, the earth has seen a considerable increase in the rate of extinction, and nearly 711 species of vertebrates and 600 species of invertebrates have gone extinct within just a few centuries. This spike in rates has been driven by the growing human population, erratic use of natural resources, destruction of wildlife habitats, pollution, and climate change. The current extinction rate is more than 100 times the rates in pre-human eras, clearly indicating the impact of the human race on biodiversity.
The story of the dodo bird
One of the earliest species whose extinction was driven by humans was the dodo bird.
Dodos went extinct in 1681, with the death of the last dodo bird in Mauritius. This species is said to have been driven to extinction in less than 100 years by humans who arrived on the island of Mauritius only around 1598.
The dodos have been painted as a dumb species that drove themselves to extinction. However, the fact is that this species is a testament to the destruction caused by humans. Hunting by humans was just one of the human-induced reasons for this extinction.
Here’s what is said to have happened
The arrival of the Dutch on the island brought along invasive species such as rodent black rats. These species overpopulated the island, fiercely competing for natural resources, and thrived on eating dodo eggs. This led to a dwindling and rapidly falling dodo population. In addition to this, Dutch traders carried out rapid deforestation in order to procure ebony wood for sale and to convert the forests into agricultural land. This led to the destruction of the dodos’ natural habitat, exposing this flightless species to circumstances and predators it wasn’t adapted to survive against. All these factors together led to the extinction of this species.
We haven’t learned our lesson
In the present date, all the factors that wiped off the dodos are continuing to pose a threat to wildlife. Pollution endangers hundreds of marine species, and around 15 species have already gone extinct.
Animals such as the Rhinoceros that have been declared endangered due to a decrease in population owing to hunting, continue to be illegally poached.
Erratic industrialization and deforestation have led to the loss of natural habitat and global warming. The International Union for Conservation of Nature maintains a Red List, which consists of species that face a threat. These threats are classified into different levels. Currently, there are 138,300 species on the Red List, of which 38, 500 species are threatened with extinction. It is time that humans understand the consequences of their actions and indulge in sustainable development practices.
Headline image source: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/50/
Image by: BazzaDaRambler, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons