Take a deep breath. Hold it for three seconds. Now breathe out. In…
Goodbyes are tough. Forever goodbyes are worse.
In the past ten years, the rate at which species go extinct has risen to a value approximately 1,000 to 10,000 times the pre-human extinction rate. Our planet has faced permanent goodbyes with countless species—and vice versa.
Unless we intercede, here are some of the species which might have to say goodbye to forever:
Misty forests skirt the slopes of dormant volcanos in Central Africa and Uganda. Hunkered down in these forests are the last members of the mountain gorilla species. The mountain gorilla is listed as a critically endangered species, with less than 900 animals estimated to be alive.
Mountain gorillas are gentle giants. They live in tight-knit social groups, spending the majority of their time travelling, feeding, and napping together. Mother gorillas spend years caring for their frolicsome children, who enjoy learning and playing together, when not being groomed by mother. These gorillas are noted for their shy behavior. They are easily startled by chameleons and rain.
Mountain gorillas are threatened by poaching for bushmeat, habit destruction, and infection. Few groups have not suffered trauma from the loss of a loved member due to poaching with snares and rifles. Meanwhile, the commercial logging industry and the growth of agriculture has seriously reduced their already small habitat range. The recent Ebola outbreak also affected the mountain gorilla population, and due to their close genetic relationship to humans, they are susceptible to many more human diseases.
Although known to roam alpine and subalpine mountain ranges of Central and South Asia, snow leopards are rarely spotted in the wild, which should not come as a surprise given that the cats are listed as endangered. Only 4,000-6,000 individuals live in the wild.
Snow leopards are renowned for the beauty of their coats, but the real beauty of those coats is often overlooked. A snow leopard’s coat is optimally adapted to its habitat. The thick fur traps heat close to the body in frigid temperatures. The white and grey pattern camouflages them with their surroundings.
Snow leopards are threatened by poaching and habitat loss. The leopards are hunted for their fur. The spread of grazing livestock has reduced the leopard’s habitat, as the livestock eliminate natural prey like wild sheep. If a leopard is drive to attack livestock, he or she will usually be killed in retribution.
A small species of parrot, known as Fischer’s lovebird, brightens the trees of Africa’s savanna. Global affection for these birds as pets would seem to make them an unlikely candidate for the endangered species list. However, population decline has pushed these birds onto the threatened list.
Lovebirds have not come by their name for no reason. Not only do they form monogamous relationships with mating partners, the partners usually become inseparable. They enjoy nipping and pecking at each other and live in nests together in hollow trees or thick grasses.
Lovebirds are threatened by trapping for the pet industry and by persecution as agricultural pests. These little guys are granivorous, meaning that they prefer to dine on seeds and grains. A large flock can do damage to a farmer’s crop, so the birds may be hunted or poisoned.
Africa’s jungles and savanna are home to two distinct species of giants: the African Forest Elephant and the African Bush Elephant. Sadly, both are listed as endangered. Together, 450,000 – 700,000 forest and bush elephants are estimated to live in the wild.
Although their lumbering gait and large ears can give elephants a comical appearance, these creatures have big, active brains. In captivity, elephants have learned to interact with toys and trainers. Some elephants have even learned to hold paintbrushes in their trunks and create art! In the wild, elephants use those big brains to find and access resources and to manage deep, interpersonal relationships.
Habitat destruction and poaching for ivory threaten elephants. Forest elephants, which are slightly smaller than their bush cousins, are poached more heavily. In the last year, 60% of their population was decimated by poaching. Bush elephants also lost 8% of their population to poaching. Heartbreakingly, elephants are often observed mourning at the carcasses of their loved ones, who have been killed merely for their tusks.
In the soft green light of bamboo forests, giant pandas sit and munch on their favorite food. Historically, pandas ranged from southern China and throughout the neighboring countries of Myanmar and Vietnam. Today, pandas can be found in just 20 isolated patches of bamboo forest. Less than 1,600 pandas are estimated to live in the wild.
Pandas are picky eaters. Although they will occasionally dine on tubers or even meat from birds, their diet is over 99% bamboo. A healthy panda will consume 20-30 pounds of bamboo per day.
Given their dependence on bamboo, habitat destruction is primarily responsible for the decline in panda’s population.
The animals featured in this article have “wow factor,” but the truth is that there are hundreds of lesser known species who are also under critical threat. The elimination of a single species can disrupt an entire ecosystem, regardless of whether that species is a beloved star or one of our planet’s many unsung agents of diversity.