By: Dalila Hashish, News Editor, The Pawprint
Humans have undoubtedly had a massive impact on wildlife on Earth, with a possible sixth mass extinction fast approaching. Scientists say that species are disappearing 100 times faster than ever before, with at least 515 species on the brink of extinction. These species include Golden Lion Tamarin, the Ethiopian Wolf, the Javan Rhinoceros, the Spanish Imperial Eagle, the Yellow-eared Parrot, the Gharial and the Green Poison Frog, with all of them having 1,000 or less individuals. Paul Elrich, professor of Population Studies at Stanford, says that about half of known life forms have disappeared, and the number will only grow if nothing is done to stop it.
University of Tasmania professor Chris Johnson says that the current rate of extinction is higher than it has been since the dinosaurs were killed by the space-rock collision 66 million years ago.
The rapid decline in species numbers has been chalked up to five causes, according to CNN. Climate change, which is caused by the excessive release of fossil fuels and cutting down rainforests is a key player in species going extinct. Polar bear numbers have been dropping steadily due to the fast speed at which the Arctic ice is melting. Currently, there are around 26,000 polar bears left, but that number is expected to drop by one third by 2050, scientists say.
The second cause stated by CNN is agriculture. According to the World Bank, over 37% of the world’s surface has been converted to farmland. As the number of humans increases, more food has to be produced. This is pushing people to cut down countless acres of rainforests to make space for palm oil plantations. This directly affects Orangutans, whose numbers are also rapidly declining. Currently, there are only about 50,000-65,000 Orangutans left in the wild, and an estimated 2,000-3,000 killed each year.
The third point made by CNN is probably the biggest. Wildlife crime is one of the richest black markets in existence, valued at around $91 billion up to $258 billion per year. Rhinos and Elephants are two of the most hunted animals, with Rhinos being hunted for their horns, which are falsely believed to be aphrodisiacs, and elephants hunted for their ivory tusks. Mike Chase has been using a helicopter to survey the elephants from the skies. In his research, he found that between 2007 and 2014, 144,000 (30% of total population) elephants disappeared. If nothing changes, researchers say that elephants will be fully extinct in 20 years.
The fourth reason CNN has brought forward is another big one, pollution. According to CNN, almost 9 million tons of plastic end up in the ocean each year. When seabirds are dissected, almost all of them have plastic in their system. Seabird populations have declined by 70% from 1950-2010.
The last cause stated by CNN is disease, particularly in amphibians. 40% of amphibians are at risk of extinction due to Chytrid Fungus, which is believed to have been carried over when humans move frogs around continents. This fungus has a 100% mortality rate, as is responsible for the devastation of over 500 amphibian species.
Although it may seem hopeless, there are still ways that the world can be helped. Solar panels, vegetarianism and rejecting wildlife products are all ways that humans can help restore nature.