In order to save our planet, we must first save the animals. We explore what extinction means, the causes of extinction and ways you can prevent extinction.
Sustainability and the preservation of our planet is a hot topic at the minute, with more and more people adopting eco-friendly habits. Naturally, we all want to have a positive impact on Earth and ensure that the world is kept safe for our future generations. But what can we do to save our planet?
Animals have a direct impact on our environment, and the loss of entire species could result in damaged ecosystems. Since each creature plays an important role in biodiversity, it only makes sense that we do everything in our power to prevent extinction. In this article, you will learn some of the ways that you can help make the difference between an animal being extinct or alive.
Table of Contents
What is extinction?
Let’s start with an extinction definition. Extinction is the term used to describe the termination of a species or organism. To put it simply, an animal is extinct once the last of its kind dies. If an animal is extinct, we are unable to reintroduce that species since there are none left anywhere in the world.
In the past, our planet has experienced five mass extinctions. Although these are rare events, it’s not impossible to think it could happen again. Without proper conservation and care of our planet, we will be facing a potential sixth extinction.
The genetic heritage of an extinct species is gone for good; in a world where each creature is of great importance, we need to avoid extinction at all costs. So, how does a species become extinct?
What is local extinction?
Local extinction has a similar meaning to extinction; it’s when a species in one localised area has been wiped out. Essentially, being locally extinct means that although the species have died in one area, they still exist elsewhere in the world.
What does endangered mean?
Before an animal reaches extinction, it may be considered endangered. Being endangered means to be likely to become extinct in the near future. Sadly, there are over 37,400 species of animals today which run the risk of extinction. Endangered birds alone make up 14% of this expansive list.
There are three different stages of an animal being endangered: vulnerable, endangered, and critically endangered. Those who are vulnerable face a high risk of becoming extinct, and endangered species face a very high risk of becoming extinct. The beautiful polar bear is just one of many creatures on the vulnerable list.
Unfortunately, critically endangered creatures are facing an extremely high risk of extinction. These species are in the unfortunate position of only having a handful of surviving members in the wild. The gorgeous Amur leopard is the perfect example of a critically endangered species, as there are only 70 left in the entire world today.
Animals that are going extinct
Sadly, the Amur leopard is not the only creature that we are at risk of losing. Amongst the 37400 species at risk, here are some of the most endangered species:
- Cross river gorilla (300 left in the wild)
- Sundra tiger (less than 400 left in the wild)
- Vaquita (less than 10 left in the wild)
- Javan rhino (67 left in the wild)
Charities and animal advocates are constantly working to save endangered animals and bring their low population numbers up. This work is crucial and has a massive impact. There are many conservation success stories that showcase the importance of their work.
One of the most recognisable success stories is that of the humpback whale. The humpback whale was on the brink of extinction back in 1966 due to commercial whaling, with their population at a mere 1200.
Thanks to the efforts of the Endangered Species Act, the International Whaling Commission and the Marine Mammal Protection Act, there are now over 21,000 in the wild today. Their conservation status is now of least concern, so the species is thriving.
Surprisingly, animals aren’t the only ones being threatened. In fact, 40% of all plants on Earth are currently endangered or critically endangered.
One of the rarest plants is the dendroseris neriifolia. There are only two specimens of this large tree known to exist in the wild, and they are only found on Robinson Crusoe Island.
Although animals may be the first image we jump to when we hear the word extinct, the endangered plants must be considered too. They are equally as crucial to our biodiversity, and therefore a key component needed to save our planet.
To learn more about plant life cycles and growth, check out our fantastic course on how to grow plants.
What are the causes of extinction?
Unfortunately, there are multiple ongoing issues that threaten the livelihood of these animals and plants. But what are they? We’re going to take a look at why endangerment threatens our planet:
This is potentially the most commonly known cause of endangered animals. A major part of climate change is global warming, which is the temperature of the planet rising consistently due to human activities.
As we discussed in our greenhouse gases article, greenhouse gases are massive contributors to global warming. They are produced by the burning of fossil fuels in power plants, factories and cars. Greenhouse gases in the atmosphere absorb solar radiation in the form of heat, resulting in a rise in the Earth’s temperature
Some examples of greenhouse gases are carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. Carbon dioxide is the primary greenhouse gas that is a result of human activities. If you’re interested in learning more, you can check out this in-depth short course about the tipping points of climate change.
With climate change comes an increased risk of wildfires, receding glaciers, ocean acidification, and flooding. Climate change is already impacting wildlife numbers, with penguin numbers declining as temperatures rise in Antarctica. The planet has never been as warm as it is today.
Tying into the climate change section, farming has a huge impact on global warming. However, there are ways to farm without being so destructive. Have a look at our short course about sustainable food production if you’re interested in the topic.
The reason that agriculture has such a negative impact on our planet is due to cows producing methane. Methane is the second most prominent greenhouse gas after carbon dioxide, and cows produce it via their waste and through digestion.
A study in 2019 showed that the amount of methane produced by cows is greatly influenced by their genetic makeup. With this information, farmers can now breed cows that are less likely to produce large amounts of methane and reduce their carbon footprint.
Farmers can also reduce their carbon footprint by providing fibre-dense food that livestock can digest more efficiently. There are ongoing studies to figure out how to reduce the methane production from cows via their diet.
Habitat loss is the current leading reason for biodiversity loss. This is the process of an animal’s natural habitat no longer having the ability to house and support the species, and a great portion of it is due to human activities.
An example of this is deforestation, which is the removal of forests and trees in favour of non-forest land such as farms or mines. Trees and forests are not only food sources for these animals but also shelter. Naturally, the loss of habitat results in a decrease in population, which can ultimately lead to extinction.
Regrettably, human intervention seems to be the driving cause for most of these issues. One of the most pressing deforestation concerns is the continued use of palm oil. This vegetable oil is in many different commercial foods, but forests are being repeatedly destroyed in order to produce more.
The forests that are being destroyed in the name of palm oil are home to many already endangered species such as the orangutan, Sumatran rhino and the pygmy elephant. Revoking their habitats will only lead to an even greater loss in population.
Overfishing and hunting
As we explored in our ocean sustainability article, overfishing has a huge impact on the livelihood of many marine species.
Overfishing is the act of catching too many fish in a short period of time. When too many fish are taken out of the ocean, it creates an imbalance where the population numbers become too low for the species to survive.
If you’d like to learn more about fisheries in relation to ocean sustainability, check out our useful short course about marine ecosystems and food security.
Similarly, the hunting of mammals is causing the same issue on land. Although some hunters will claim that hunting is “balancing the ecosystem”, hunting is, in fact, draining the animals needed to balance our ecosystem. Hunters are often choosing large predators as their most sought after prey, and these are some of the most important to our survival.
This is the process of damaging the world’s air, water and land to the point where it is no longer safe to use. Pollution comes in many forms, but one of the most harmful environmental issues is plastic pollution.
Quite a common visual in relation to plastic pollution is a turtle trapped in beer yokes. But without the knowledge, it can be difficult to visualise the full impact of plastic plaguing our oceans.
Each year, 8 million tonnes of plastic makes its way into the ocean, where it traps and tangles sealife as well as getting ingested by crucial marine animals. Plastic decomposes at an extremely low rate, meaning that all of this plastic sticks around and continues to threaten the wildlife.
Even seabirds are suffering from these harmful plastics, with endangered birds consuming any plastic waste.
6 ways you can prevent animal extinction
So, we know that in order to save the planet and keep our biodiversity intact, we have to work towards a sustainable future. Let’s explore some sustainable habits and ways you can prevent animal extinction.
Personal vehicles are a major contributor to global warming, but there are many more sustainable alternatives. Skip driving to work and walk or cycle if you can, as this is the most sustainable way to get around.
You may have heard about the influx of electric cars in recent years, but they’re more than just cool and innovative. When you cannot walk, cycle, or take public transportation, you should opt for a more sustainable car in the form of electric or hybrid as they are more environmentally friendly and produce less greenhouse gas emissions.
If you cannot take public transport, why not try car sharing with friends and family? If you’re interested in learning more about sustainable transport, check out our incredible short course on green travel.
Use less plastic
This topic is quite popular right now, with the replacement of plastic straws with paper straws being introduced in many areas. Swapping straws is a great starting point, but there are endless amounts of plastic packaging that is also very harmful to wildlife.
By making a conscious effort to use less plastic in your everyday life, and purposely seeking out groceries and other products with less packing, you’ll be preventing additional plastic from making its way to the oceans.
You may be using more plastic than you think, with items such as chewing gum and glitter being some of the biggest offenders!
This may seem like an obvious solution, but recycling goes a long way. Make sure that you’re utilising your recycling bin and disposing of any plastic correctly. By recycling, you are reducing the amount of plastic being thrown away and making use of the resources that have already been collected.
Make sustainable fashion choices
A lot of clothes are made with non-sustainable materials, so it’s a good idea to reduce your carbon footprint by buying sustainably sourced clothing.
An excellent way to do this is by thrift shopping. Not only are you able to grab some fashionable clothes at a great price, but you’re giving these clothes a second home and recycling them as opposed to supporting a company with potentially unethical practices. Similarly, rather than throwing away unwanted clothes, you could give them to charity or friends.
Another sustainable option is to avoid purchasing clothes made of animal products. Fur farming has been banned in England and Wales since 2000, but there is currently a call for evidence in relation to the fur trade in order to find out if any further action can be taken to reduce fur trade activities.
If you are eager to learn more about sustainable fashion, check out this short course about the impact of fashion on biodiversity.
Making green food choices is becoming increasingly popular, with food options for vegan and vegetarian diets found in most places. As we mentioned earlier, the agricultural sector is a major contributor to global warming. Thankfully, usually healthy eating methods are both beneficial for the planet and your own personal health.
Reducing or eliminating meat consumption is a common option for those who want to save the planet, and there are also more sustainable agricultural methods for those that do want to continue eating meat. Environmentally conscious consumers can seek out organic and free range food rather than supporting the mass production of animal products.
If taking the plunge and adopting a vegan lifestyle is too much for you, you can still help by reducing your meat intake. Why not try a vegan night each week? Dairy products are also producing the same methane-related issues as the meat industry, so reducing dairy intake would be a great start.
Likewise, fish should also be sourced from places and companies that do not condone overfishing, and instead fish responsibly. Pescetarianism is a great alternative to vegetarianism, where you cut meat from your diet but continue to eat fish.
You should also avoid food that has palm oil in the ingredients if possible, although this may be tricky, seeing as it’s in a lot of food. Going the extra mile and being conscious of your eating habits can help prevent endangered species from becoming extinct animals.
Whilst we’re on the topic of food choices, we should note that another great way to reduce your carbon footprint is to only buy as much food as you need. Food wastage is a huge environmental issue, with between 33-50% of all food globally being wasted and not getting eaten.
The food being wasted must be produced, transported, stored and thrown away which all contributes to the harmful greenhouse gases we produce. For some tips, check out this article about ways you can reduce your food waste.
Save the bees!
Central to the planet’s ecosystem is the keystone species (we’ll talk more about that later) bees. Bees play an important role in our ecosystem by pollinating plants and crops for us. They travel from flower to flower to spread pollen, and they can even share pollen back at their hives.
Billions of bees are dying each year due to many different reasons, but the biggest issue that plagues the bee species is pesticides.
Although the intention of pesticides is to kill unwanted pests, they are killing large numbers of honey bees that are crucial to the crops they are trying to pollinate. Be sure to never use pesticides for your gardening habits, since you could unintentionally be harming the bees.
Make a bee hotel
You can help decrease the decline in bee populations by making a bee hotel. One of the reasons that bee populations are declining is because of habitat loss, so providing a home in your own garden could save some bees and boost their numbers.
Another great way to help save the bees is to spread awareness and tell your friends about the importance of this species. Many people have the misconception that bees are useless and harmful, and they do not hesitate to squash the poor creatures. Make the difference and spread the word.
Environmental impacts of extinction
Remember that we said every living being is important for biodiversity? We’re going to explore that topic a little more in depth, and explain why we need to keep these creatures alive.
Biodiversity can be broken down into three sections: ecosystem, species and genetic diversity.
- Ecosystem- this is the entire community of organisms that interact with each other and their surroundings.
- Species diversity- this is the number of species found within an ecosystem or specific habitat.
- Genetic diversity- this is the range of genetic traits within the genetic makeup of a species. The total number of traits it has will affect its ability to adapt to environmental changes.
Each organism in an ecosystem is important. Plants and trees provide fruits and leaves to herbivores who can dispose of these seeds and plant the trees throughout the environment. The insects can consume any leftover food, and the predators consume the herbivores and prevent overpopulation.
In most cases, the extinction of one species alone will not crash the biodiversity as the environments can adapt to slight change. But, this is not always the case. Some organisms are considered ‘keystone species’, which means that they have a disproportionately large impact on the ecosystem.
They play such an important part in the ecosystem that the loss of these species could have fatal ramifications. An example of a keystone species is the beaver. Beavers create dams which provide still water to a range of other species that depend on it.
Keystone species tend to be predators, as they are able to keep the numbers of other species from becoming too high. Some other examples of keystone species are:
- African elephant
- Prairie dog
- Snowshoe hare
The loss of a keystone species often leads to a trophic cascade.
What is a trophic cascade?
A trophic cascade is a powerful ecological process whereby the addition or loss of a top predator species massively impacts the ecosystem.
An incredible example of this is the relationship between grey wolves and white-tailed deer of Yellowstone National Park in the United States. The wolf species had been absent for 70 years, and without the presence of wolves the deer population had become too large.
The deer had eaten so much of the vegetation that there was almost nothing left. Once the gray wolves were reintroduced back to the park, they began to prey on the deer and started to reduce the population numbers.
However, this wasn’t the biggest influence the wolves had. The deer now had a predator to fear, and so they started sticking to smaller areas of the park and avoiding parts of the park where they knew the wolves could find them. Thanks to the deer avoiding certain areas, the plant life started to return.
Along with the plants came an increase in birds, beavers, bears and many other animals. They even had an impact on the behaviour of rivers since the forest growth stabilised the river banks.
Whether it’s making a conscious decision to eat less meat, building a bee home or any other suggestions we’ve made, we hope that this article has equipped you with some fresh ideas to help prevent animal extinction. We can certainly say that without the efforts of environmentally conscious individuals, as well as policy change by governments worldwide, we may lose even more beautiful creatures and ultimately risk the planet’s livelihood.
If you’re keen to dive in a little deeper in your search to save the planet, be sure to check out our free courses about sustainability in fashion, ecology and wildlife conservation, red list of ecosystems and solutions to climate change.