An endangered species refers to a plant or animal that exists in very small numbers and is on the verge of becoming wiped out from existence. Across the world, there are many animals like the mammals, birds, reptiles among other species that are currently facing extinction. Virtually every country is raising alarm about certain endangered animal species and is putting some measures in to place to protect them. According to the World Conservation Union, (ICUN), there are well over 5000 officially listed endangered species and in which protection measures have been undertaken.
So far, countries have unilaterally legislated laws that guard the dying out animal species and their habitats by criminalizing hunting, poaching, controlling land development and creating conserves. At the global level, the World Conservation Union which brings together states, academicians, scientists and conservation groups has devised mechanisms for designing species as endangered by conducting animal count and obtaining legal protection for them. In USA, at the federal level there is the Endangered Species Act which protects the threatened plant and animal species and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act meant to look after birds. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) found within the Interior and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Department (NOAA) under the ministry of commerce. NOAA’s mandate is to shield marine species while FWS protects the fresh water fish, all plants and all animals as well.
The key cause of endangered species is the destruction of their habitats. To address this issue, under the ESA has authorized various federal agencies to make sure that the areas known as critical habitats are preserved and to control developments in such zones which are indispensable to the survival of such animals. The National Environmental Policy Act also proffers some level of protection to the animals and plants through the prerequisite of conduct of environmental impact assessment before the installation of any projects that may have ecological effects.
For an animal species to be categorized as critically endangered it has to fit the following criteria made by ICUN:
- If in the past ten years its population had been decimated by 90 percent
- If the cause of the 80 per cent population reduction in the past ten years has not been halted or not been discovered
- If the population size of the species is expected to be around 250 mature species or less
- If in the maximum of the next 100 years the population is expected to be below 20 per cent
The World Conservation Union, also states that for a species to be regarded as endangered the following criteria should be met:
- The population of the species in the last ten years been trimmed down by 70 per cent
- If the species is present in only five or less geographic areas
- If the population has been destroyed by over 50 percent in the past ten years and the cause of this population slashing is yet to be controlled or established
- If the population is thought to be reduced by 50 percent in the subsequent ten years, 3 generations or even a maximum of coming 100 years.
According to the ICUN, there are several animals that are on the risk of perishing and are listed as: the ICUN red list of threatened species. Under this category, there are extinct animals, those animals that have completed vanished from the surface of the earth which include the: Javan tiger, Japanese sea lion, elephant bird, Bali tiger, Atlas bear, and Saber-toothed cat among others. Then there are those animals that are extinct in the wild that they only exist in captivity and not freely roaming as animals should. Examples are Wyoming toad, Barbary lion and Catarina fish among others.
There is also the critically threatened group, those that are facing a looming extinct in the near future which include: African wild dog, Asian elephant, blue whale, common chimpanzee, pygmy hippopotamus, Rothschild’s giraffe, wild water buffalo et cetera. The other group is the vulnerable lot, which faces extinction in the shortest term like the Indian rhinoceros, hippopotamus and clouded leopard among others. The near threatened are those which may be regarded extinct in the near future like the solitary eagle, white rhinoceros, striped hyena, tiger shark, white eared pheasant et cetera. The final category is the least concern which are facing no threat, for example, the giraffe and the baboon.
There are very many causes of animal extinction; the main cause is human activity. Human actions such as over hunting, overfishing, deforestation to create land for farming, systematic extermination, pollution of these animals’ native habitat, deliberate introduction of parasites or pathogens that outcompete the indigenous species for environmental resources end up driving the animals from their habitats and destroying the ecosystem that contains their food.
Hunting and fishing were once the main economic activities of the Stone Age humans, but with the introduction of tools and technology, both have ceased to be the main source of livelihoods. Today, dozens of animals have been lost and several others face an imminent extinction from the face of the earth due to overhunting: unsustainable hunting, where humans hunt more than can be replaced through procreation. In the USA, for instance, animals such as American Bison, bighorn sheep, Gulf of Mexico sea turtles, bald eagle and timber wolf which are regarded as national symbols have been endangered by hunting. The Eskimo curlew, a bird type that was profuse in the coasts of USA and Canada in the 19th century is rarely sighted today courtesy of relentless hunting by the market gunners in the course of their migration.
Many mammals are increasingly being traded for food worldwide and are facing jeopardy of complete disappearance. Lately, the number of threatened bats on the World Conservation Union (ICUN) has significantly swollen as they are being poached for food and some killed by hooligans who execute them for hypothetical threats to human health. In Africa, the African elephant has been lowered to endangered status on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) listing due to widespread poaching caused by the increased demand for their tusks, ivory and meat in the Asian continent. The various species of rhino have not been spared either, the three native to Asia and two from Africa are gravely threatened by the heavy hunting for their horns which are utilized in the production of traditional medicine and as daggers in the Middle East.
Some animals have also been decimated by the introduction of new species by humans which end up interfering with their ecosystems and altering their feeding habitats. Domestic animals like the sheep, cattle, pigs, dogs and wild cats have displaced an overwhelming number of native species which depended on the naturally available food. In the east African, Lake Victoria, the introduction of the water hyacinth has been blamed as the reason behind the reduction in Tilapia fish while the stocking of the lake with the Nile Perch in 1954 by the fisheries managers led to reduction in numbers of more than 400 species of native fish like the cichlids.
Many animals living in islands face a higher risk of being introduced to predators. In the pacific island of Guam for example, introduction of a rapacious brown tree snake in the 1940s consumed dozens of native birds which previously added up to more than 11 species. In the Polynesian Islands, the honey creepers, a bird type has been threatened by the introduction of avian malaria by the Europeans during colonization and to which they have no immunity against.
Animal extinction is also caused by the destruction of the animal habitats as humans take away their dwellings and convert it into farming spots. The heavy deforestation in the 1900s in the USA led to the extinction of the ivory-billed woodpecker that used to reside in the woodlands and cypress swamps. In the North America, a small predator: the black-footed furrow was face out when much of the grassland environment was renovated for agricultural use. In the old conifer forests of the Pacific Northwest in North America, the northern spotted owls have gradually vanished due to the extensive logging for commercial purposes. In fact, the Environmental Species Act stipulates that all large area of timber land should be protected so as to shield the northern spotted owls. But despite this law, the loggers did not hesitate to bring down the trees and render the little owl homeless and open to predators roaming around.
The pollution of the ecosystem or the marine environment can also lead to extinction of some animal species. A good example is the Nashville crayfish which is currently threatened by the harmful substances that have been disposed at the creek where it lives. The use of chemical substances in farming and spraying animals eventually drains to the rivers where dozens of marine lives are compromised. For instance, the DDT pesticide that was widely used by farmers was washed into the stream by the rains where it harmed many marine lives. The eagles: bald eagle in particular, fed on the toxic fish which led to then in taking chemicals that caused them to lay eggs with very thin shells that easily crushed before being hatched. When farmers stopped using the DDT chemicals, the status of the bald eagle has now risen from endangered species to a threatened status.
Apart from these factors changes in climate which is manifested by high incidence of occurrence of floods, hurricanes, melting of ice in the mountains, earthquakes, severe droughts and wild fires among others have immensely contribute to the extinction of some animal species. The Arctic and the Antarctic regions of the earth that are hugely affected by climate changes as shown by the reduction in ice levels in the oceans have had direct impact on the existence of certain animal species dependent on ice for their survival. Such animals include the polar bears which find it tricky to hunt for seals inside the ice when its levels are remarkably low. The walruses on the other hand, do bring up their young ones on ice and slide on ice so as to reach out to new foraging grounds. In the USA, there have been efforts already to try and help all kinds of animal species that are tormented due to the changes in climatic conditions.
Given this shocking situation where many animals are facing extinct, there is need to conserve these animals not only for posterity but because of multiplicity of positive gains that they have in the human lives. First and foremost, animals are a source of tourism attraction, their mere existence attracts tourists from abroad to come and look at them. Secondly, animals are a source of meat which is food to humanity. Most animals’ meat is edible and their other parts such as skin and hides are used to make Jewelry, clothing, medicine amongst other useful things. In a nutshell, animals are very important to the survival of humanity and thus must be conserved.
Despite these shocking revelations of animals on the verge of disappearance and imagining a situation in life where there are fewer or no animals, several measures have been established to tackle the seemingly insyrmountable problem of endangered species. These efforts are known as conservation measures and include: captive breeding and private farming
Captive breeding is a process of breeding endangered species in controlled environments like the zoos and wildlife preserves. The primary aim of captive breeding is to save those species that are on the brink of extinction by inducing procreation and reproduction thus stabilizing their populations. This method has been extensively used since olden day when the Pere David’s deer was mate by the European and Asian rulers. It is much successful in the less mobile kind of animals that are less migratory and not recommendable for the birds and the fishes. This method mainly utilizes fewer species depending on the size of the preserve or zoo, but since space is always an issue, most breeding results to inbreeding creating immunity problem and poor gene pool.
Conservation of the endangered species could also be done through a process called farming. Farming basically means the domestication of a wild animal by uprooting it from its ecological and evolutionary context. While both farming and poaching reduces the numbers of the animals, the latter completely faces the animals either partially or wholly from the earth while the former removes the animal from the wild environment only.
This method has been used in conservation of the black rhinoceros and the white rhinoceros and the results have been spectacular so far since it incorporates many members of the community. Elsewhere in China turtle farming is famous for the conservation of the wild turtles found in China and South eastern Asia which are facing risk of extinction Once the farming has been done and the animals bred once old enough they are released slowly into the free environment and watched over till they adapt to the harsh field environments. In 2009, the idea of farming animals was applied in Australia in the breeding of Southern blue fin tuna by using the tanks as breeding area thus saving the fishes in the oceans from over fishing.
Many animals are on the risk of total disappearance today than ever in history. Many animals such as mammals, reptiles, amphibians and birds are facing critical jeopardy due to the changes in human activities which is as a result of increased knowledge, technological advancements and augmented population levels. Every continent and every continent is struggling to protect its endangered species and through legislation of laws with corresponding severe punishment in case of disobedience, some countries have managed vices such as poaching and over fishing. Other non-legislative measures have also been instituted to safeguard these fading animals and globally, there are established regimes such as the one on whaling among others which bring together several states with a common interest of preserving the threatened species.