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One in Four mammals is at risk of total extinction

Western lowland gorillaLast week a summit in Spain along with a new study has shown that within the next average human lifetime one out of every four mammals may be extinct if the current trends in ecological and environmental destruction are not curbed. As of today there are 5,487 species of mammal alive and known (this is not counting the numerous endangered subspecies – which could alter the results to an even greater extinction rate). This is an astounding 1,141 species and subspecies of animals – considering most species have more than one subspecies altogether.

Unfortunately – and most alarmingly, marine based mammals may be at an even greater risk of extinction – 33%. That is one in three. Overall we are looking at an ecological and environmental crisis not seen since some of the great die-offs. The difference between those normal occurrences and this one is that we, human beings, are listed as the number one cause. This study was undertaken by the IUCN, in which more than 1,700 scientists, experts, and analysts took part, over the course of five years.

The animals most at risk for the long term are large cats, whales, and primates. The most threatened area of world on land is found in Asia, where the main human causes of environmental havoc are being experienced. Pollution, deforestation, and mass habitat loss to satiate the growing human populations through new housing and farming developments – not to mention poaching and the meat trade. Over 79% of Asia's primate population is staring down the barrel of the extinction gun through these direct human causes.

The largest contributor to the endangerment of species worldwide is the loss of habitat – in fact more than 40% of all the endangered species are at risk due to this cause alone. Most of the marine mammal deaths are preventable, however due to fast fishing methods on an industrial scale, there are all sorts of mammals being caught and killed without any benefit to man. They are usually discarded as it is most of the time illegal to catch an endangered species.

Currently laws and regulations in place to protect certain species, combined with conservation efforts, have been able to bring back populations from the brink of extinction. However, as our numbers continue to grow, passing seven billion soon enough, and possibly eight billion, our expansion will only continue to destroy and damage wildlife, threatening more and more species with their demise.

As this study outlines the impact that our species is having globally, it also shows that our current efforts have worked for some species. Unfortunately unless we review and look at our habits and ways of life, it may not be enough to start a cascade of ecological collapse, as many species are dependent on another – as one link in a massive food web is broken, others weaken or break off altogether. With the extinction of over 1,000 species in what could be just one human lifetime – it may threaten our very ways of life on this planet.

Picture of the western lowland gorilla by Kabir Bakie at the Cincinnati Zoo July, 2005. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.5

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