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December 4, 2022

Rare animals teetering on brink of extinction

By CINDY JIANG | October 5, 2017

B7_Antelope

PUBLIC DOMAIN Five species of antelopes are declining in numbers and at risk for extinction.

In this time of rapid and drastic climate and environmental change, many species are finding themselves on the endangered species list. Although the media has brought a part of the problem to light, it has primarily focused on well-known animals whose physical appearances are capable of invoking some sort of sympathy in the viewer.

By now most people are aware that the giant panda, polar bear and rhino are on the brink of extinction. However the limited amount of coverage on the topic obscures the fact that the endangered species list is much more extensive than just these three animals.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species contains 87,967 species of living organisms, 25,062 of which are facing the possibility of extinction. Craig Hilton-Taylor, the head of the Red List Unit at IUCN, explained how they evaluated  the species.

“We have a set of quantitative criteria that we try to rank species under, and if a species moves into one of the threatened categories — vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered — then we know that a species either has a high, very high or an extremely high risk of going extinct in the wild,” Hilton-Taylor said, according to a press release.

For example, a recent update to the list revealed that the Christmas Island pipistrelle bat is now extinct.

According to Inger Andersen, who is the IUCN’s director general, human activities are pushing species to extinction more quickly than conversationalists can assess the declines.

“Even those species that we thought were abundant and safe — such as antelopes in Africa or ash trees in the U.S. — now face an imminent threat of extinction,” Anderson said, according to ScienceDaily. “And while conservation action does work, conserving the forests, savannas and other biomes that we depend on for our survival and development is simply not a high-enough funding priority.”

The IUCN Red List encompasses more than just animals. In fact, of six widespread ash tree species in North America, five are classified as critically endangered, primarily because of the emerald ash borer beetle (Agrilus planipennis), whose movement has been facilitated by global warming.

Ash trees play a vital role in forests, serving as habitat and food for a number of animals including birds, squirrels, insects, butterflies and moths. The white ash (Fraxinus americana) in particular, is extremely important in manufacturing wooden sports equipment.

Murphy Westwood, director of the Global Tree Conservation Program at The Morton Arboretum, explained that ash trees are essential to plant communities in the U.S. and that they have been a popular horticultural species.

“Their decline, which is likely to affect over 80 percent of the trees, will dramatically change the composition of both wild and urban forests,” said Westwood, according to ScienceDaily.

He went on to describe the effects of losing ash trees.

“Due to the great ecological and economic value of ash trees, and because removing dead ash trees is extremely costly, much research is currently underway across sectors to halt their devastating decline,” Westwood said in a press release. “This brings hope for the survival of the species.”

Five species of African antelopes also face population decline because of poaching, habitat degradation and competition with domestic livestock. The decline of this species is a prime example of what happens when nature is forced to race against humans for resources.

David Mallon, co-chair of the Species Survival Commission’s Antelope Specialist Group, claims that antelopes are declining because of human population growth. As people clear land for agriculture and expand their settlements, less land remains habitable for antelopes.

“To reverse this dangerous trend, conserving biodiversity must be given much higher priority as part of efforts to achieve sustainable national economic development. Existing laws protecting wildlife must also be much more effectively enforced,” Mallon said, according to ScienceDaily.

Even though the current outlook is bleak, there is still hope for endangered species. The Rodrigues flying fox (Pteropus rodricensis) species has seen an increase in its numbers since the increase habitat protection and reforestation programs. Additionally, there was greater general awareness and legal protections for this species.

As a result of all these efforts, the species has moved from the critically endangered to the endangered category. Although endangered species have the ability to bounce back from the edge of extinction, it will take a combined global effort to do so.

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