By Dr. Becker
In 2014, Stanford researchers suggested that we’re in the early stages of the Earth’s 6th mass extinction event. Since the year 1500, 322 species have become extinct, while remaining populations of vertebrates have declined by 25 percent.1
Habitat loss and overexploitation are among the major threats to vertebrates. Sadly, for instance, the western black rhinoceros was recently declared extinct, and the West African lion may be close behind (with fewer than 250 adult lions still in existence).
Also unsettling, no one really knows just how quickly the majority of animals and invertebrates (such as beetles, butterflies, spiders, and worms) are declining.
The Stanford study included data on more than 450 invertebrate species, which sounds impressive until you realize there are 1.4 million that have been described in the literature so far (and an unknown number yet to be discovered). Ben Collen with University College London, who co-authored the study, said:2
“While we don't fully understand what the long-term impact of these declining numbers will be, currently we are in the potentially dangerous position of losing integral parts of ecosystems without knowing what roles they play within it."
Mother Nature Network further reported:3
“It's too early to know if we're seeing a full-blown mass extinction — Earth has had five such events before, but this would be the first in human history and the first with our help.
Studies suggest the current pace of extinctions is thousands of times above the historical ‘background’ rate, and if that keeps up, more than half of all known species could vanish over the next few centuries.”
It’s not all bad news, however. Conservation efforts and awareness are making a difference and bringing some species back from the verge of extinction.
3 Wildlife Species That Are Making a Comeback
The tiger population in India grew 30 percent in one four-year period. While in 2010 a census found just over 1,700 tigers, that number increased to 2,226 in 2014.4
The increase is being credited to improved management at the 40+ tiger reserves in the country, along with the government’s efforts to reduce encounters between tigers and local farmers. The animals are known to leave the reserves to search for food and water, which leads them to farmland that is rapidly encroaching on natural tiger habitats.
A similar victory was seen with Siberian tigers in China in 2013. Tigers in the wild were estimated at 18 to 22 in China over the last decade, but newer estimates show the number has doubled, thanks to efforts to restore their natural habitat and enforce bans against hunting and trapping.
In the video above, you can see footage of a mother Siberian tiger and two cubs, which was filmed just 30 kilometers from the Russian border. John Barker, Asian programs leader at WWF, which recorded the video using a camera trap, told The Guardian:5
“It’s confirmation they’re re-establishing, they’re not just animals coming in and out [from Russia] …We shouldn’t get hysterical over one video.
There’s a long, long road ahead. But the opportunity is there. If the government, civil society, and communities can work together, there’s no reason there shouldn’t be a sustainable population of tigers again in China…
The critical habitat is there. Very often with tigers [globally] the thing you are fighting is just loss of tiger habitat.”
Unfortunately, tiger populations are still endangered across the globe. Wild populations have plummeted from an estimated 100,000 in the early 1900s to around just 3,000 today.
2. Bald Eagles
In 1782, when the US adopted the bald eagle as its national symbol, there were an estimated 100,000 nesting birds. The pesticide DDT, lead poisoning, and a decline in their natural prey lead numbers to drop dramatically after World War II. In the early 1960s, there were under 500 nesting pairs remaining, and the species was listed as endangered in the late ‘60s.
After DDT was banned in the early 1970s, however, bald eagle populations began to slowly recuperate, and in the 1990s, they were dropped from the endangered species list. There are now 69,000 bald eagles in the US.6
3. Amur Leopards
In 2007, there were just 30 Amur leopards left in Russia. At last count in 2015, their numbers had increased to 57, located in Russia’s Land of the Leopard National Park. Amur leopards are one of the rarest leopards in the world. Their populations dwindled due to poaching, forest fires, loss of habitat, and inbreeding.
An international effort to save the species, which included the creation of the Land of the Leopard National Park in 2012, which encompasses their known breeding grounds, has paid off. Plans are also underway to reintroduce Amur leopards to a nature reserve in Russia’s Far East, where the animals once lived three decades ago.7
Do You Want to Help Endangered Species?
You might feel powerless to help endangered species, but there’s quite a bit you can do to help. I had the honor of working with endangered black rhinos early in my career, so they hold a special place in my heart. If you'd like to learn more about rhinoceros conservations efforts and what you can do to help, visit the Save the Rhino Get Involved page.
The Endangered Species Coalition also recommends the following steps to protect endangered species in your area:8
Learn about endangered species. The first step to protecting them is to learn about them and why they’re so important. Visit or volunteer at a national wildlife refuge or park. By supporting these areas, you help protect the habitat endangered species need to survive. Make your home wildlife friendly. You can put decals on your windows to decrease bird collisions, reduce your use of water so nearby animals have more to live off of, disinfect birdbaths to prevent disease transmission, and eliminate your use of toxic herbicides and pesticides. Slow down when driving. Roads present a constant hazard to wildlife attempting to cross. Slow down and keep a lookout for wildlife when you’re on the road. Recycle and buy sustainable products. Avoid wood from rainforests, minimize your use of palm oil (many forests are being cleared to plant palm plantations), and choose sustainable bamboo or wood from the Forest Stewardship Council, which protects forest species. Boycott products from threatened or endangered species. Tortoise-shell, ivory, and coral are just a few examples of products made from species nearing extinction. Also avoid fur from endangered species, medicinal products from rhinos, tigers and black bears, crocodile skin, and live wildlife trade (including parrots, macaws, cockatoos, and finches, certain snakes, turtles, and lizards and monkeys or apes). Leave wildlife alone. Shooting, trapping, or forcing an endangered animal into captivity is illegal. Don’t participate in these activities and report any such sightings to state or federal wildlife officials.