12th May 2013
Two large animal species declared extinct
In the last few weeks, two large animals have been officially declared extinct – the Formosan clouded leopard and the rhinoceros in Mozambique.
The Formosan clouded leopard was the second largest carnivore in Taiwan, after the Formosan black bear. A team of local and US zoologists had been trying for 13 years to find the species, using thousands of infrared cameras and scent traps. The last known evidence of these animals came in the 1990s, in the form of pugmarks located near Yushan National Park. Despite an extensive search, none have been found since then. As with many extinctions, the likely cause of their demise is poaching and destruction of natural habitat due to development projects. The only Formosan clouded leopard remaining in Taiwan is now a stuffed specimen at the National Taiwan Museum.
Another large animal – the rhinoceros – has disappeared from Mozambique, according to both a leading rhino expert and the warden in charge of Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park. Wiped out more than a century ago by hunters, they were reintroduced several years ago, but have again been driven to extinction by poachers seeking their horns for sale in Asia. Somewhat ironically, the picture above depicts a rhino on Mozambique's national currency.
Other notable extinctions in recent years include the following:
In a world increasingly dominated by human industrial activity, many more species of both animal and plant life will go extinct in the coming decades. If present trends continue, it is estimated that rhinos could disappear completely by 2025 – not just in Mozambique, but worldwide. Elephants are under severe threat, too, with industrial-scale poaching reducing their numbers by 40,000 each year. If nothing is done, the world's biggest land animal could vanish from the wild by 2024, a prospect that seems almost unthinkable, yet is fast becoming a reality. Prices for ivory and rhino horn have soared in recent years, a situation made worse by corruption of wildlife rangers offered money from criminal poacher syndicates.
Hunting and poaching activities pale into insignificance when compared to a far greater problem, however: climate change. Some scientists estimate that up to half of presently existing species may become extinct by 2100. Already, the rate of species extinctions is between 100 and 1,000 times the normal "background" rate seen in the fossil record. This could increase tenfold by the mid-21st century. We face the prospect of a genuine mass extinction, something which has only happened on five previous occasions in the whole of Earth's 3.5 billion year evolutionary history.