I’m a little bit of a wildlife fanatic and one of my goals while travelling the world next year is to see as many animals in their natural environment as possible. Tigers in India, condors in South America, whales in New Zealand… the list goes on.
However, when I started researching exactly which species I might get a chance to see I realized many of them were endangered or on the brink of extinction. Of course, extinction happens. It is in many ways a natural process – every species on Earth today will die out in the future. Yes, even the human race. This is largely due to climate change or turbulent periods where mass extinction occurs (like the disappearance of dinosaurs) due to catastrophes such as asteroid impacts or volcanic eruptions.
Yet it is clear that over the last century we have not been in a turbulent period and although some natural extinctions have occurred, there is one common factor we must take into account: the impact of man. We all know the story of the Dodo, but how many of us are aware that human activity is still pushing thousands of other species to the brink of extinction? Through purposeful hunting and killing, habitat destruction or the introduction of foreign species humans have caused massive depletions in worldwide animal numbers. You’d think we would have learnt the consequences of our actions by now, but ignorance and greed still drive us to harm those creatures which have no defences against us.
You may be thinking ‘so what?’ Why are these species so important to us? Surely I’m just some tree-hugging animal lover and the destruction of the Earth’s wildlife doesn’t matter to anyone but those like me? The loss of so many species across the world in fact has a domino effect on every other species and the scale of the damage is global. Biodiversity is so important; every species on Earth relies on other species to survive. Take hundreds of species out of the equation, hundreds more will fail to adapt and will become extinct, then hundreds more that relied on those will die out… and so on. We are part of this web, we are animals too, and destroying the world around us will eventually threaten our own existence as a species. This is already occurring in many communities across the world.
So what can we do to help? Is anyone doing anything about it? The Zoological Society of London has devised a programme to protect those species on the brink of extinction. The EDGE of Existence initiative aims to raise global awareness, educate in-country scientists, and implement research and conservation to protect endangered species across the world. ‘EDGE’ stands for Environmentally Distinct and Globally Endangered. It focuses on the most vulnerable species – those who live in one particular habitat or global location, or are evolutionarily unique. The EDGE programme gives each endangered species a score which reflects how close they are thought to be to total extinction. Currently near the top of the list and probably already extinct is the Yangtze river dolphin or baiji.
For more information on the EDGE of Existence programme and if you would like to help support endangered species go to www.edgeofexistence.org