Extinction is, sadly, something that many of us have grown accustomed to. Largely thanks to the destruction of habitats and natural areas where animals thrive, we have lost several wonderful species over the years, never to return. Extinction is the process through which a species dies – with no animals or plants left to carry on the line. Work is continuing to help protect some of the most threatened species on the planet.
Extinction is not something anyone should take lightly – and as such, we’ve lined up some interesting facts about extinction for you below to keep you up to speed on what’s going on in the world at large.
The official dictionary definition of ‘extinction’ is a state or the process of being ‘extinct’ or becoming ‘extinct’. This, of course, refers to species dying out without any hope of revival.
Currently, a group called ’Extinction Rebellion’ is drawing attention to degenerating species and resources affecting communities across the planet. They mainly focus on climate change, ecological change, and social changes.
Through scientific processes, for example carbon dating, humans have been able to establish when certain species of animals and plants became extinct during the history of our planet.
Lists exist to record extinctions and juxtaposed with other historical facts; we can work out which events were likely to have contributed to many extinctions.
Today, deforestation is a major driver of extinction. Environments providing conditions for animals and plants to thrive and reproduce are being felled and destroyed around the clock. Once these environments are destroyed, species that live there are likely to go extinct.
Animals and plants succumbing to extinction due to deforestation include the Hawaiian Crow. This bird’s survival was imperative for spreading seeds of native plants. However, as these plants disappeared, so did the birds.
Deforestation in the 1950s is known to have brought about the demise of the Saint Helena Redwood tree. This tree was named after the island on which it was discovered – the island of St. Helena, located in the south Atlantic Ocean.
When species become extinct on islands distant from mainland, the likelihood of other species being introduced without human intervention is remote.
For example, birds may carry seeds, but distance can limit how much they are able to carry. Birds are only ever able to pollinate so much – and unfortunately, this can mean that many plants go extinct.
Right half of the Oxford Dodo specimen’s head
When trees and animals become extinct, their void may be filled by other species – but the landscape can change significantly. Some species are hosts for others, providing food and shelter. It is amazing how life adapts!
In 1558, the infamous dodo birds, were first recorded as being sighted by Dutch sailors.
The last sightings, however, were recorded in 1662. The dodo became one of the earliest species to draw attention to the causes and effect of humanity’s destruction of animal habitats and over-hunting.
However, many forerunners of humans have become extinct, too. Science suggests that, at one time, nine species of human inhabited the Earth.
Over a period of 44,000 years, mammoths roamed the Earth, eventually becoming extent. Their journeys across the world have been regarded as some as of similar importance to the human diaspora!
The way that we research and learn about extinct species is always evolving. For example, we still examine skeletons, eggs, and seeds, but the equipment we use is always upgrading. We’re even able to find out much of what we need to know through a simple x-ray or two!
In 2007, scientists found the most intact skeleton of a dodo to date. Still containing the DNA template of the extinct bird, this particular skeleton can be seen at the Mauritius Institute.
It’s not unheard of for dodo skeletons to sell for high prices. In 2019, one such dodo was sold in London for $622,000.
A science and natural history auction in London also saw the auction price of an elephant bird egg listed at between £30,000 and £50,000. The egg had been preserved intact from the 1600s!
The extinct elephant bird, from Madagascar, was flightless and weighed up to 730 kilograms ( 1,600 pounds).
On February 5th, 2010, it was reported that the last surviving member of an ancient tribe – the Bo – had died. This meant the tribe became extinct. Boa Sr, a descendant of the 65,000 year old ancient tribe, died aged 85.
Before she died, Boa had no one else to converse with in her native language. Sadly, this is because her language, too, is now extinct.
Boa was noted for being a survivor of a tsunami that hit the Indian Ocean. She wrote about her experience in her native language, and this was actually translated!
This event has led us to understand how we can continue to examine extinct languages in an attempt to better appreciate our lengthy past.
Other tribes continue to live on the Andaman Islands. Stephen Corry, who was a ‘survival director’ at the time of Boa’s death, said that the survival of five other tribes living on the islands is at critical risk.
There are multiple lists of endangered animals, or those at risk of disappearing forever. Animals likely to appear on these lists include the cheetah, the tiger, the red tuna, Java’s rhinoceros, the Asian elephant, the mountain gorilla, the vaquita porpoise, the Irrawaddy River Dolphin, the Orangutan, and the Amar Leopard.
It is feared that more than half of Europe’s endemic trees are at risk of extinction. For example, The Dutch Elm tree faced extinction in the 1970s. However, a cure was sought.
A national campaign in the UK, ’National Tree Week’ celebrates the trees, woodlands, and forests we’re famous for!
Prof. David Bellamy
Many famous names and figures, such as the late Professor David Bellamy, have helped to raise interest and awareness in the plight of trees and woodland. In particular, he helped to campaign on behalf of rare elms.
Conservation campaigns are crucial in helping to bring animals and plant life back from the brink. There have even been some animals who have survived the threat of extinction! These include the Californian condor and the Arabian oryx.
Do you have any interesting or fun facts about extinction that we’ve missed? Share them here in the comments section below!