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Lost forever

July 14, 2018

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While a lot of progress has been made by mankind in the last 100 years, the animal kingdom has silently faced several setbacks, including loss of habitat, declining population and extinction.

A great number of animal species have disappeared without a whimper and many of them lost forever in the last 50 years! When no more living members of a species remain, it is considered extinct and there are many factors responsible for this, primarily climate change, loss of habitat and relentless hunting by humans.

Here’s a look at some of the species that were declared extinct in the last 100 years.

Passenger pigeon
Passenger pigeon

Passenger pigeon

Date of extinction: 1914

One of the first animals that became extinct during the 20th century was the passenger pigeon. Its extinction is all the more significant because there were probably three to five billion of these birds in North America when Europeans first arrived there and by the early 1900s, no wild passenger pigeons could be found.

The last authenticated capture of a wild bird was at Sargents, Pike County, Ohio, on 24 March 1900. A few birds did remain in captivity, but eventually perished too.

According to a research published by the Smithsonian Institution, this native North American bird was hunted for its meat by the indigenous people and soon the European settlers also started enjoying it as an affordable meat alternative. As the birds congregated in huge numbers, it needed large forests for its existence. When forests were cleared for farmland, the birds were forced to shift their nesting and roosting sites and as their forest food supply decreased, the birds began utilising the grain fields of the farmers. The large flocks would cause considerable damage to the crops, and the farmers retaliated by shooting the birds and using them as a source of meat.

When man turns into a predator, nothing is safe, not even the wildest of beasts ...

In 1897, a bill was introduced for a ten-year closed season on passenger pigeons, but the birds surviving, as lone individuals, were too few to re-establish the species. While the passenger pigeon couldn’t be saved, its extinction aroused public interest in the need for strong conservation laws that later helped to save many other species of migratory birds and wildlife.

Barbary lion
Barbary lion

Barbary lion

Date if extinction: 1922

The largest lion subspecies, the Barbary lion — also known as the Atlas lion or the Nubian lion — once roamed throughout the deserts and mountains of northern Africa, ranging from Morocco to Egypt.

Barbary lions were admired for their size and dark manes, and they famously battled gladiators in the Roman Coliseum. Thousands of the Barbary lions were thus killed for sport since historic times. The last of this species is believed to have been killed in the wild in the Moroccan Atlas Mountains in 1922, though there have been claims of some later sightings. Deforestation and encroachment are the main factors that led to its disappearance from the wild.

The Barbary lion resembled the Asian lion more than the African, and though its body was shorter than both the other lions, it could grow up to 11 feet in length and weighed anywhere from 600 to 660 pounds. This was 50 percent more than what the African lion weighs.

Its main distinguishing feature was its thick mane which extended over the shoulders and to the stomach. This made it popular as both a hotel and circus attraction.

Mexican grizzly bear
Mexican grizzly bear

Mexican grizzly bear

Date of extinction: 1966

The Mexican grizzly bear once roamed the northern territories of Mexico, and northwards into New Mexico and Arizona in the USA. It was one of the largest mammals of Mexico, though slightly smaller than the brown bears of the northern USA and Canada.

It was hunted down, trapped, poisoned and shot so relentlessly by cattle farmers in the early 20th century that it became extinct by the 1960s. The farmers wrongly blamed them for slaughtering cattle while these bears mainly eat plants and insects, and rarely went after small mammals.

It grew to an average height of six feet and weighed up to 315kgs, with the females being smaller. It had slightly silver fur, hence the bear’s Mexican name of ‘el oso plateado’ (the silver bear).

Golden toad
Golden toad

Golden toad

Date of extinction:1989

The golden toad, also referred to as the Monteverde toad or the orange toad, lived only in the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve in Costa Rica.

When first discovered in 1964, its estimated population was around 1,500, so its extinction would have most probably begun. And by 1989, this species became extinct for several reasons, such as climate change, restricted range, air pollution and a fungal disease.

Researchers noted that amphibian populations all over the region had declined, and the golden toad’s limited habitat and small population made it extra vulnerable. Its extinction turned the focus on the effects of climate change on wildlife, and promotion of biodiversity and wildlife conservation.

The golden toad male was of a yellowish-orange colour, thus its name, but females were found in several colours, including red, green and black.

Levuana moth
Levuana moth

Levuana moth

Date of extinction: 1984

The first and best documented extinction of a species due to biological control is that of the coconut moth, or the Levuana moth, native to Fiji. The moth caused massive destruction to coconut crops, on which the Fijian indigenous peoples relied on for food, medicine, fuel and a lot of other things.

An intensive pest control programme was employed in the 1920s and, by 1930 this pest had been reduced to almost undetectable levels. The Levuana moth has been considered extinct since 1994.

The coconut moth was a greyish-blue colour, with a golden-yellow abdomen. It had a wingspan of just over half an inch.

Tasmanian tiger
Tasmanian tiger

Tasmanian tiger

This one was not a tiger, but a marsupial (animals that carry their young in a pouch) called thylacine, and more commonly known as the Tasmanian tiger or Tasmanian wolf. It was found only on the island of Tasmania.

The size of a medium-to-large-size dog, it had dark transverse stripes on the top of its back, similar to those of a tiger, thus its name. It was a considered a nuisance as it preyed on farm animals that the government even put out a bounty for every thylacine killed! No wonder that by the 1930s, the thylacine was considered extinct in the wild and the few surviving ones in zoos were not enough to save this species from extinction.

Caribbean monk seal
Caribbean monk seal

Caribbean monk seal

Date of extinction: 1952

Native to the Caribbean Islands, this large seal was last spotted in 1952. Hunting by both humans and other large marine creatures such as sharks wiped it out completely from the sea.

Heath hen
Heath hen

Heath hen

Date of extinction: 1932

This bird was plentiful throughout North America for centuries. As its meat was tasty and the bird was plentiful, the early settlers enjoyed eating it. Since the hen was so common, no one could think that it would one day be eaten away in to extinction. But it was, by 1932.


The tigers that are no more

Originally, there were eight subspecies of tigers, all very common till the 19th century. Only five of these subspecies remain today — the Siberian (Amur) tiger, Indochinese tiger, Bengal tiger, South China tiger and Sumatran tiger. The Java tiger, the Bali tiger and Caspian tiger became extinct in the last 50 years, with loss of habitat due to an expanding human population and hunting being the main causes.

Bali tiger

Date of extinction: 1937

Physically the smallest among tigers, it was only found on the small island of Bali in the Indian Ocean. Understandably, as population grew, deforestation occurred and humans hunted it down till the last known tiger was shot in 1937.

Javan tiger

Date of extinction: 1970s

As the name suggests, it was native to the island of Java in Indonesia, and common during the 19th century, but by the 1970s, it was almost extinct. Last minute efforts to save it could not stop its extinction. By being natives of islands, both the Javan and Bali tigers faced the same predicament and could not win the fight for survival against men.

The Caspian tiger

Date of extinction: 2003

The Caspian tiger roamed in a wider range, in countries on the western and eastern edges of the Caspian Sea, such as Turkey, northern Iran, parts of Afghanistan and central Asia.

Destruction of their natural habitat and hunting of these tigers and their prey steadily decreased their numbers, despite the Russian government outlawing hunting of the Caspian tiger and the Amur tiger in 1947. — K.A.Q.

Published in Dawn, Young World, July 14th, 2018