Animals at risk of Extinctionanimals at risk of extinction

There’s no sugarcoating it: Animal and plant life is declining worldwide at rates never seen before in human history. And alongside that decline, rates of extinction are accelerating — about one million plant and animal species are at risk of being lost forever, according to a landmark UN report in 2019

Moreover, humans may be uniquely responsible for fueling these losses. Activities such as agriculture and aquaculture are changing animal habitats at “unprecedented rates”, according to the report, turning once-thriving ecosystems into centers of human development. Direct exploitation of organisms – such as logging, hunting and fishing – are also to blame, along with climate change, pollution and the spread of invasive organisms.

And while global extinction rates can vary dramatically, many scientists think we’re in the middle sixth, human-caused extinction — comparable to the event that wiped out the dinosaurs about 65 million years ago.

How many animals go extinct every day?

The UN report assesses this dozens species disappear every day. Moreover, the report notes as much 30 to 50 percent of all species facing extinction by 2050

Long before our current biodiversity crisis, five mass extinctions swept our planet. A mass extinction event at the end of the Cretaceous 65.5 million years ago wiped out almost all dinosaurs, including the iconic T. rex and Triceratops. (Credit: Ton Bangkeaw/Shutterstock)

Other estimates are of the same mind-boggling range. Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson says this 30,000 species per year have been driven to extinction. That’s a rate of 82 species per day. (Or, if you want to get even more specific, four species every hour.) In comparison, according to one estimate, the “normal” (or background) rate of extinction on Earth before human activity was about one species in a million species per year. This means that flora and fauna could disappear up to 1000 times more than in all of history.

Such numbers can sound startlingly accurate. But determining the exact rate of extinction is probably impossible: scientists have cataloged only a fraction of Earth’s flora and fauna. In 2022 over 2.161 million species have been identified and included in the IUCN Red List, which tracks and updates the number of described species based on reports from taxonomists. Scientists estimate that there are more than 8 million species alive today, a number that is also extremely remote.

“If some alien version of the Starship Enterprise visited Earth, what might the visitors’ first question be?” asks environmentalist Robert May paper in Science. “I think it will be, ‘How many different forms of life—species—does your planet have?'” Disturbingly, our best answer would be in the range of 5 to 10 million eukaryotes (never mind viruses and bacteria), but we can protect numbers in excess of 100 million or as little as 3 million.

What animals are extinct?

Moreover, it is not an easy task for researchers to show that a species is gone forever. The process is expensive, time-consuming and labor-intensive, requiring extensive research efforts and often fruitless searching. Because of this, scientists are cautious about prematurely relegating species to the “extinct” category.

Read more: Scientists can bring back these extinct animals

You can see this for yourself when you search the IUCN Red List, which lists almost 4,000 animal species are critically endangered, meaning they face a high risk of extinction in the wild. Many of these lists mark the last time an animal or plant was seen by scientists—a date that was often years or even decades ago.

Take, for example, Itatiaia highland frog (Holaden bradei), located only in the mountains of southeastern Brazil, which is listed as critically endangered (and possibly extinct). But even though it hasn’t been seen in the wild since 2004, it still hasn’t earned the “extinct” designation. In other words, we have probably lost many species in recent decades that are still waiting to be categorized.

Photo of an ivory-billed woodpecker taken in 1935 (Credit: Arthur A. Allen/Jerry A. Payne/Wikimedia Commons)

Yet, while it is relatively rare for scientists and wildlife officials to officially give up hope on a plant or animal, there are many species that they have has been declared missing in recent years. In 2021, the US Fish and Wildlife Service announced plans to announce extinction of 23 species of wild animals.

Read more: The 5 mass extinctions that have swept our planet

Animals close to extinction

Here are some of the birds, fish and other species expected to be removed from the Endangered Species Act:

  • Ivory-billed Woodpecker, once the largest species of woodpecker in North America. Although researchers and poultry farmers claim that they have noticed it in recent yearsits last widely accepted sighting was in Louisiana in 1944.
  • Scioto madtom, a night catfish, once found in the Big Darby Creek in Ohio. Known for hiding under rocks or in vegetation during the day, it has been (officially) unseen by human eyes since 1957.
  • Eight species of freshwater mussels, including the one from Mississippi flat pig and on yellow pearl shell, previously found in Tennessee and Alabama. Freshwater mussels, which rely on clean, healthy streams and rivers, are among the most endangered species in the U.S.

What animals will become extinct?

Given the large scale of today’s biodiversity loss, determining which animals are i’m going disappeared is a difficult task. More than 500,000 land animals, according to the UN report, do not have sufficient natural habitats to support their long-term survival. Above 40 percent of amphibian species are also threatened with extinction.

(Credit: Nimit Virdi/Shutterstock)

Still, the report offers glimmers of hope. In rare cases, governments have acted to protect certain endangered species, such as the Seychelles magpie or the Arabian oryx, even bringing them back from the brink of extinction.

The Arabian oryx—a visually striking antelope with prominent ring-shaped horns and the national animal of Qatar—was hunted almost to extinction in the 1970s. But luckily a historic preservation efforts restored the animal’s population in its desert homeland.

Read more: Scientists are trying to save these animals from extinction

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