The disturbing phenomenon

July 10, 2018 12:00 am | Updated 03:32 am IST

Why are animals and birds becoming extinct?Geeta Padmanabhanturns the spotlight on the biodiversity loss the planet is facing

File photo of Sudan, the world's last male northern white rhino, photographed at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Laikipia county in Kenya.PHOTO: AP

File photo of Sudan, the world's last male northern white rhino, photographed at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Laikipia county in Kenya.PHOTO: AP

Sudan, the last remaining male white rhino died on 20 March, 2018. National Geographic photographer Ami Vitale wrote in an Instagram post, sharing the news of Sudan’s death: “Today, we are witnessing the extinction of a species that had survived for millions of years but could not survive mankind.”

Sudan’s death is another example of how we manage to wipe out specimens of our beautiful natural wealth. Read this news item that appeared in the Huffington Post .

“The International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List paints a grim picture of the biodiversity loss we are facing as a planet. In 2016, tens of thousands of mammals, birds, insects, plants and other organisms were found to be under threat from extinction, according to the list. Of that number, more than 5,000 were considered critically endangered, including iconic species like the leatherback turtle, the Antarctic blue whale, and both subspecies of orangutan — all creatures right at the precipice of vanishing forever.”

This is alarming. But a recent study out of Columbia University says the methods of the IUCN are not accurate. The researchers have concluded that the IUCN has been “systematically overestimating” the size of the habitat in which the species can thrive. This leads to an underestimation of the number of organisms under threat of extinction worldwide. Those already listed as threatened by the IUCN may also be closer to extinction than we realise.

The research team, led by Don Melnick, a professor of conservation biology, came to these conclusions after assessing the IUCN Red List conservation status of 18 bird species found in the Western Ghats in India. The scientists said the IUCN had “vastly” overestimated the geographic range sizes for 17 of the 18 birds. These have shrunk considerably. Geographic range is one of the most basic criteria used by the IUCN to determine the level of threat facing a species.

The study proposed that at least 10 of the 18 birds should have their IUCN threat levels elevated. The grassland-dwelling Nilgiri pipit, for example, which is currently listed as “vulnerable” by the IUCN should be considered “endangered.” The status of the large-beaked Malabar grey hornbill, now listed as a species of “least concern,” should be elevated to “near-threatened.”

“The drastic reduction in range size and the increased habitat fragmentation that our study indicates leads us to infer that there is a much greater threat to these endemic birds than was ever imagined.”

While this debate is going on, let us take a look at what we have already lost. Here is the list of animal species that have vanished in the last few decades. This is deeply disturbing because these creatures became extinct when the world knew about the need to protect them. We are more civilised, more knowledgeable than our forefathers were a 100 years ago, right?

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