PETER FROST sounds a warning about some iconic species struggling to survive humanity’s follies.
THE Tasmanian tiger or Tasmanian wolf (Thylacine cynocephalus) is perhaps the best known and most spectacular of relatively recently extinct animals.
Eighty years ago this curiously striped wolf-shaped marsupial which carried its young in a pouch like a kangaroo, lived in Tasmania off the coast of Australia.
It was recognised as being in danger of extinction in 1936 but in September of the same year the last known Thylacine died in captivity and none has been seen since.
Another large carnivore that has gone extinct more recently is the Javan tiger. These became extinct in the 1980s due to habitat loss caused by changes in agriculture on the Indonesian island of Java.
The Caribbean monk seal is now extinct due to habitat loss, as well as human hunting — it was the only seal native to the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico until the species was declared extinct in 2008.
The Baiji river dolphin population declined drastically in recent decades as China industrialised and made heavy use of the Yangtze river for fishing, transport and hydroelectricity. Only a few hundred were left by 1970, 400 by the 1980s and then to just 13 in 1997 when a full-fledged search was conducted. It was declared extinct after an expedition late in 2006 failed to record a single individual.
The golden toad was only discovered in 1966 in the tropical cloud forests of Costa Rica. It last bred in normal numbers in 1987 but the same year, due to erratic weather, 30,000 toads perished, leaving only 29.
By 1988, only eight males and two females could be located and a year later only a single male was found — this was the last record of the species.
The Pyrenean ibex was the first species to ever be brought back into existence via cloning but the cloned baby lasted just seven minutes after being born due to lung failure. The last naturally born Pyrenean ibex, named Celia, died in January 2000.
Thousands more species are threatened with extinction. Here are some of the most iconic. Only urgent and strong worldwide action can save them.
Pangolins (above) are not well-known but are one of the most threatened of animals — they are the only mammals with scales rather than fur. Four species live in Asia, four in Africa.
A number of their species have already become extinct. They are hunted for food, for medicines and folk remedies and to satisfy a huge illegal international trade in their scales, skins and meat.
Here is a coat made of pangolin skin.
Public campaigning has at last persuaded world leaders to vote for the highest level of protections for all eight remaining species.
Sharks: a quarter of the world’s population is threatened with extinction due to overfishing. Every year, over a 100 million sharks are slaughtered — their fins sliced off while alive to make exotic soup while the still living sharks are thrown back into the water where, unable to swim they die a slow and painful death.
Rays: over the last decade the growing demand for the gills of rays has led to a massive decline in stocks of these fascinating fish. Populations have dropped by more than half in some areas and the slaughter is continuing unabated, with ray gills fetching over £400 per kg in certain Asian markets.
African Lion: the population of these big cats has halved in 30 years. Many populations have been wiped out across much of Africa.
Poaching by traffickers seeking alternatives to endangered tiger products, coupled with massive loss of habitat and prey base due to human settlement mean that unless we act now African lions could be extinct in the wild by 2050.
Narwhals: these members of the beluga whale family are the unicorns of the oceans best known for their single long tusk protruding from their nose.
Populations have been hovering around 75,000 which means they are considered near threatened and without appropriate protection could disappear, threatened by climate change and industrial activity. Yet even today narwhals are actively hunted in Canada and Greenland.
Rhinoceros: they historically roamed in large numbers across much of Asia and Africa — today only a fraction remain on the planet. Three African rhinos are killed every day because of demand for their horns as a status symbol, aphrodisiac and a cure for cancer in Chinese medicine. Coupled with a dramatic loss of habitat, all five species of rhinos are now threatened and three of the five are critically endangered.
Tigers: just 3,200 of these majestic creatures remain in the wild. No less than 97 per cent of the wild tiger population has disappeared in the last century. Originally there were nine subspecies of tigers, but over the last 80 years three have become extinct. All tiger species are now considered critically endangered, due in large part to the market for their pelts, meat and body parts.
Cheetahs: conservation experts warn that cheetah populations continue to collapse in the wild, in large part due to poaching. Since 1980, their population in the wild has fallen by about 90 per cent in Africa. In Asia, only about 200 cheetahs remain in the wild, limited to small regions in Iran.
Marine turtles: all seven of their species are endangered, three critically so: leatherbacks, hawksbill and Kemp’s Ridley turtles. Slaughtered for their eggs, meat, skin and shells, tens of thousands of these creatures are lost each year to feed the demand from illegal markets. More than 80,000 are estimated to be killed each year.
Elephants: once common with many million strong populations throughout Asia and Africa, elephants have taken a devastating hit over the last century. Poachers slaughter one elephant about every 15 minutes to fuel a massive and lucrative illegal ivory trade.
Latest news is that more than 25,000 of Gabon’s savannah or bush elephant, some 80 per cent, were killed between 2004 and 2014.
Many countries all over the world have at last agreed to a ban on domestic ivory markets but illegal ivory trafficking is still a multi-million pound business.
Goodbye old chap.
This article was first published in the Morning Star 3 March 2017.