Did you know that in just over 100 years, the number of animals on Earth has been cut in half? This can be explained by a study published last year in the scientific journal Pnas, which even speaks of a dramatic “sixth global extinction”. Indeed, more and more endangered animal species are in danger of disappearing from our planet because of poaching or the disappearance of their natural habitat. In most cases, the responsibility for this lies with humans, who not only pay little attention to the needs of animals, but often actively contribute to their extinction.
You may not be aware that some of the animals most at risk are well-known animals, which none of us could imagine being extinct. Let’s find out together.
The polar bear
Because of global warming, the Arctic Pole is gradually melting and the polar bear may no longer have a place to live. The ice is very important for his survival, especially in summer when he must feed to face the winter. Although they are excellent swimmers, polar bears need to resurface cyclically and rest. Just in summer, however, temperatures at the North Pole reach peaks of more than 20 degrees, causing the ice to melt. It is estimated that only 22,000 polar bears remain alive today.
Over the past 100 years, live tiger bears have been decimated by illegal trade and poaching. After capture, hunters use different parts of the tiger’s body, which are considered valuable in traditional Chinese medicine. In addition, human civilization has taken up living space for this animal, which has therefore been forced to move closer and closer to the villages. As the tiger is at the top of the food chain, its extinction would pose a problem for the entire ecosystem, as it would lead to a disproportionate increase in other species underlying the chain, such as deer and antelopes. It is estimated that there are just under 4,000 tiger specimens today.
The jaguar is one of the animals threatened with extinction due to the gradual disappearance of its natural habitat, which has even halved over the years. Moving in search of food, it often comes dangerously close to centres inhabited by man, eventually falling victim to poachers interested in its hide and to shepherds who want to defend their livestock against this predator. Today, the jaguar has almost completely disappeared from Central and South America, surviving mainly in the Amazon basin.
It is one of the most fascinating animals in the marine world and is in serious danger of extinction due to cementing and pollution of the seas. Humans are also responsible for tourism on the spawning grounds of this species and for accidental fishing, which unfortunately involves around 150,000 turtles every year. The protection of sea turtles on beaches is very simple, since reproduction is concentrated in well-known areas. Incidental fishing, on the other hand, is a deadly problem for about 40 000 people every year, who die from their injuries and become entangled in fishing gear.
Originally there were 30 species of rhinoceros, today there are only 5 species left, all seriously threatened with extinction. The main cause of this spectacular decline is the activity linked to its horn, used as an alternative medicine in Eastern countries and considered as an aphrodisiac substance. Over the years, poachers have hunted using increasingly sophisticated techniques such as helicopters and automatic weapons. A horn can be paid up to $100,000 per kilogram, but this does not take into account the fact that the extinction of this animal would cause enormous damage to the ecosystem in which it lives.
The two existing gorilla species (East and West) are threatened with extinction due to poaching. Hunters are particularly interested in the meat of these animals, which is considered rare and very sophisticated. Mountain gorillas, a subspecies of the eastern gorillas, are the most endangered: there are currently only 800 specimens.
This is one of the cases where humans are the main cause of the danger of extinction of an entire animal species. Let’s talk about the elephant: its tusks are considered a very precious and rare asset. It is precisely because of the search for ivory that about 20,000 elephants are killed each year in Africa. The second threat of extinction is deforestation, which annually reduces the habitat available for these animals, exposing them to increasing risks and a real struggle for survival.
The feeling we often get when thinking about endangered species is that we can do nothing concrete to counter the extinction of these animals and their natural habitats. But this is not the case. There are many associations that promote initiatives to protect the most endangered species: a small donation from each of us would be enough to contribute actively. Stop for a moment and think: giving up one coffee a day could actually save a tiger or a sea turtle.