Earth is home to countless species of flora and fauna but due to climate change, poaching and other factors, a lot of them are getting extinct. We are now losing 30,000 species per year, or three species per hour, which is faster than new species can evolve. The depleting numbers due to growing desertification and the crisis of habitat loss with land degradation and deforestation are alarming.
“Every time we lose a species we break a life chain which has evolved over 3.5 billion years.” Jeffrey McNeely
“Only when the last of the animal’s horns, tusks, skin and bones have been sold, will mankind realize that money can never buy back our wildlife.” Paul Oxton
The 2014 Living Planet Report states that 52 percent of all animals have been wiped out in 40 years.
The 2012 update of the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species shows that of the 63,837 species examined worldwide, 19,817 are threatened with extinction, nearly a third of the total, including 41 percent of amphibian species, 33 percent of reef building corals, 30 percent of conifers, 25 percent of mammals, 13 percent of birds and one in five plant species.
According to an ANI report, at least three to four wildlife species have gone extinct due to desertification in India in 2019. Many other wildlife species in India also fell into the “critically endangered category” due to climate change. According to the IPCC, direct climate change impacts will commit some 20-50 percent of species globally to extinction, possibly by 2100.
According to a report by the Dorset-based charity Butterfly Conservation, 72 percent of butterfly and moth species have declined in the last ten years.
Perhaps one of the most striking elements of the present extinction crisis is the fact that the majority of our closest relatives, the primates, are severely endangered. About 90 percent of primates (group that contains Monkeys, Lemurs, Lorids, Galagos, tarsiers, and apes as well as humans) live in tropical forests, which are fast disappearing. The IUCN estimates that almost 50 percent of the world’s primate species are at risk of extinction. Overall, the IUCN estimates that half the globe's 5,491 known mammals are declining in population and a fifth are clearly at risk of disappearing forever with no less than 1,131 mammals across the globe classified as endangered, threatened, or vulnerable. In addition to primates, marine mammals, including several species of Whales, Dolphins, and Porpoises, are among those mammals slipping most quickly toward extinction.
Increasing demand for water, the damming of rivers throughout the world, the dumping and accumulation of various pollutants, and invasive species make aquatic ecosystems some of the most threatened on the planet. Thus, it is not surprising that there are many fish species that are endangered in both freshwater and marine habitats.
Globally, around 21 percent of the total evaluated reptiles in the world are deemed endangered or vulnerable to extinction. The main threats to reptiles are habitat destruction and the invasion of non-native species, which prey on reptiles and compete with them for habitat and food.
Invertebrates, from butterflies to mollusks to earthworms to corals, are vastly diverse. Though no one knows just how many invertebrate species exist, they are estimated to account for about 97 percent of the total species of animals on Earth. Of the 1.3 million known invertebrate species, the IUCN has evaluated about 9,526 species, with about 30 percent of the species evaluated at risk of extinction. Freshwater invertebrates are severely threatened by water pollution, groundwater withdrawal, and water projects. A large number of invertebrates of notable scientific significance have become either endangered or extinct due to deforestation, especially because of the rapid destruction of tropical rain forests. In the ocean, reef-building corals are declining at an alarming rate. According to a global assessment of these animals, one-third of reef-building corals are threatened.1)
According to the IUCN, the red panda is listed as endangered as its population has plausibly declined by 50 percent over the last three generations and this decline is projected to continue, and probably intensify, in the next three generations. In India, this small mammal found on high trees, is found in Sikkim, Western Arunachal Pradesh, Darjeeling in West Bengal and parts of Meghalaya. The loss of nesting trees and bamboo is causing a decline in red panda populations across much of their range because their forest home is being cleared.
There are around 2,226 tigers in India today, with smaller populations found in Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, China and Myanmar. While tiger numbers have increased in the last few years, they are still considered endangered. The growing demand for poaching to meet a market from Asia in recent years has kept the Bengal tiger at risk. The mangroves of the Sundarbans, shared between Bangladesh and India, are the only mangrove forests where tigers are found. However, the Sundarbans are increasingly threatened by sea level rise as a result of climate change, thus threatening the tiger.
Elephants are not only a cultural icon in India and throughout Asia, they also help to maintain the integrity of their forest and grassland habitats. In India, the Asian elephant was once widely distributed throughout the country, including in States like Punjab and Gujarat. Currently, their populations are fragmented. They are considered endangered because of excessive habitat loss and negative human wildlife interaction and poaching for their tusks.
The Ganges River Dolphin lives in one of the world’s most densely populated areas. They are threatened by removal of river water and siltation arising from deforestation, pollution and entanglement in fisheries nets. In addition, alterations to the river due to barrages are also separating populations.
The Ganges River Dolphin inhabits the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna and Karnaphuli-Sangu river systems of Nepal, India, and Bangladesh. This vast area has been altered by the construction of more than 50 dams and other irrigation-related projects, with dire consequences for the river dolphins. A recent survey conducted by WWF-India and its partners in the entire distribution range in the Ganga and Brahamaputra river system, around 6,000 km, identified fewer than 2,000 individuals in India.
The greater one-horned Rhino is the largest of the Rhino species. Once widespread across the entire northern part of the Indian sub-continent, Rhino populations plummeted as they have been hunted for sport or killed as agricultural pests. This pushed the species very close to extinction. And by the end of the 20th century, fewer than 200 animals remained.
The recovery of the greater one-horned Rhino is among the greatest conservation success stories in Asia. Thanks to strict protection and management from Indian and Nepalese wildlife authorities, the greater one-horned Rhino was brought back from the brink. Today populations have increased to around 3,500 Rhinos in North-Eastern India and the terai grasslands of Nepal. Once considered ‘endangered’, these have now moved to the ‘vulnerable species’ list.
There are as few as 500 snow Leopards left in India today. For millennia, this magnificent cat was the king of the mountains. The mountains too, were rich with their prey such as Blue Sheep, Argali wild Sheep, Ibex, Marmots, Pikas and Hares. Snow Leopards are found in 12 countries including China, Bhutan, Nepal, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Russia, and Mongolia. However, the population of this vulnerable species is dropping. In the Himalayas, the gradual deterioration of their habitat takes them to human habitation in search of food and other necessities, causing many cases of negative human wildlife interactions. They are also poached for their pelts, bones and other body parts.2)
This beautiful Indian Bustard, found in grassy plains, is facing extinction due to indiscriminate hunting and loss of habitat with agriculture and mining; despite being a protected species. While efforts are in progress to build a ‘captive population’ through breeding, the IUCN estimates that there are only about 250 Bustards left in the country.
If present trends continue, scientists warn that within a few decades, at least half of all plant and animal species on earth will be extinct, because of climate change, habitat loss, pollution, acidifying oceans, invasive species, and over-exploitation of natural resources, overfishing, poaching and human overpopulation. Scientists believe that we must act now to address the biodiversity crisis. The majority of scientists believe the crisis could be averted by a stronger stance by policymakers and governments and by individuals making changes in their daily lives.
Adv. Sunil Sharma is a writer for about 25 years and has authored more than 40 books on Law.