5,500 animals a day, 228 an hour, 4 every minute - red-tailed hawks, Arctic foxes and river otters, some of America's most magnificent wildlife....By the time you finish reading this, 8 more of these wild animals will have been gunned down, crushed in traps, or poisoned by an exploding cyanide landmine laid down by the USDA's rogue animal-killing program, Wildlife Services.
This little-known agency, a unit of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is secretive for a reason: Its actions are incredibly, unacceptably and illegally brutal and inhumane to animals, from familiar wildlife to endangered species - and even people’s companion animals.
This agency has been killing as many as 3 million native animals every year - including coyotes, bears, beavers, wolves, otters, foxes, prairie dogs, mountain lions, birds and other animals - without any oversight, accountability or requirement to disclose its activities to the public. The agency contributed to the decline of gray wolves, Mexican wolves, black-footed ferrets, black-tailed prairie dogs, and other imperiled species during the first half of the 1900s, and continues to impede their recovery today.
No other government program does more every day to annihilate America’s wildlife than Wildlife Services. This rogue program does much of its dirty work far from the public’s view, so millions of animals disappear from our landscapes every year with little accountability.
Most of Wildlife Services’ killing is done on behalf of the livestock and agriculture industries, along with other powerful interests. The methods are gruesome, including aerial gunning, traps and exploding cyanide caps. Companion animals have also been inadvertently harmed.
Many of these animals are carnivores at the top of the food chain and have a tremendous benefit to overall ecosystem health. They include endangered species and, largely, animals that agribusiness interests consider undesirable - as well as many animals that aren’t intended targets of the agency.
The century-old Wildlife Services - which has reportedly killed 32 million native animals since 1996 - destroys these creatures on behalf of such interests without explaining to the public what it’s doing or where, the methods it’s using, on whose behalf it’s acting, or why. It frequently doesn’t even attempt to use nonlethal methods before shooting coyotes and wolves from airplanes, or laying out traps and exploding poison caps indiscriminately - including in public areas - without any rules.
Stories about Wildlife Services consistently emerge describing an agency that routinely commits extreme cruelty against animals, leaving them to die in traps from exposure or starvation, attacking trapped coyotes, and brutalizing domestic dogs. Many people who know about the agency have criticized this dark, secretive entity as a subsidy for livestock interests.
As the actions of Wildlife Services continue to be exposed, organizations and individuals across the country continue to join together in an effort to end the inhumane slaughter of millions of animals each year by the federal government with taxpayers' money.
While it's quite common to keep parrots and toucans as “pets” for human entertainment, they are creatures of the wild and not meant to be caged. Thousands of these birds are still taken away from their families and flocks every year, packed up as if they were toys and sold at bird shows, through pet shops, or peddled on the internet. Many don't survive the journey, and those who do are likely to be destined for a life of misery. As a result of the demand, populations in the wild have suffered immensely, compounded by deforestation, animal agriculture, hunting and logging. Some species have been completely wiped out from parts of their range.
These birds are often stolen from the wild illegally and falsely declared as captive bred. They are then laundered into the global wildlife trade, often “legalized" along the way. The illicit pet trade industry is believed to have contributed to the threatened status of 66 parrot species and the extinction of the Spix’s Macaw. Nearly 27 percent of worldwide parrot species are now at risk.
Whether wild caught or captive bred, a birds' instinctive yearning to fly is thwarted when they are confined to a cage. Exotic birds are not "domesticated" even when they are bred in captivity; they retain their wild needs and instincts. Even in a large aviary, it is virtually impossible to provide birds in captivity with a natural existence, since naturally changing temperatures, food, vegetation, and landscape cannot be recreated indoors, nor, of course, can the birds fly freely.
There are nearly 390 species of parrots with habitats spanning from the Tropic of Cancer downwards to virtually all the countries in the Southern hemisphere. Though the primarily color of the parrot is green, there are multi-colored species – especially found in the deep jungles of Papua New Guinea.
Toucans are distinguishable from the parrot by their large and colorful bills. Their geographical spread of habitat is much narrower than the parrot, being restricted to the Amazon region of Brazil and North-eastern parts of the South American continent and the jungles of the Caribbean.
Illegal trafficking in parrots is quite common in India, despite the activity being banned by the authorities since 1991. Smuggling three to four week old chicks is rampant, threatening what is left of the 12 species of the bird left in the wilds of the country. Many of the birds die en-route to their chosen destinations. The plum-headed, red-breasted, malabar, Himalayan and Finsch’s parakeets are some of the threatened Indian parrot species.
Most vulnerable are island parrots. Rapidly growing human habitations and limited land space are squeezing out forest areas, and consequently the parrots. There are just 800 St. Vincent parrots left on the Caribbean island of St. Vincent. The Society islands of the Pacific are home to a dwindling population of a parrot species known as blue lorikeets, of which just 2,000 are left.
In the Amazon, common threats afflicts all wildlife - deforestation, growing farmlands and rampant logging. Diminishing food sources, and a lucrative illicit trade, have reduced one of the largest and most colorful species of parrot to near extinction. The Lear’s macaw was one of the most commonly found birds in the Amazon forests, but now is ensconced in a small patch of forest in the North-eastern Brazilian state of Bahia. There are only 960 of these birds that have been declared critically endangered. Parrot protection groups have gone to the extent of purchasing 4,000 acres of forest in the region to be under protection as suitable habitat to these rare birds.
Even worse is the fate of the blue-throated macaw of Bolivia, a victim of extensive mining activity, forest farming and illegal trade. Their absolute paltry numbers, just around 87, have prompted a captive breeding program desperately attempting to save these rare Bolivian birds.
Species like the thick-billed parrots were hunted to the point of extinction in Arizona. They are found across the border in Mexico where they presently face the twin threats of logging and illegal pet trade. Thick-billed parrots depend on their natural habitats of mature pine forests for their food source. Since such forests are vanishing fast, the birds are being driven out to drier desert regions where they simply cannot last long.
Among the most fascinating and loved of feathered animals in the world are the parakeets, or lorikeets. Wild parakeets inhabit the thick mountainous jungles of Papua New Guinea, the forest regions of Northern Australia, and the Polynesian islands in the Pacific. A combination of dazzlingly different colors and vocal variations make them the most sought after creatures by zoos of the world, and as pets doomed to life in captivity. Despite being protected in the still vast virgin tropical forest tracts of the Australasia region, their remarkable traits and appearance still make them targets of illegal trade. The budgerigar is one such species of lorikeet which has been in great demand as “pets” for decades.
The Australasia species also face a threat in the form of Proventricular Dilatation Disease (PDD). PDD causes regurgitation, a state in which food remains undigested in the digestive tract or blood. PDD is known to be caused by a virus called Bornavirus that results in weight-loss, feather-plucking, toe-tapping, and other issues.
The threat to toucans is not dissimilar to that of parrots. In fact, their much limited habitat and small number of species, just five, make their survival a much bigger threat. Loss of habitat due to deforestation, and wanton creation of farmlands especially in the Amazon, are common threats. The toucan is hunted for the rich fabric of its feathers that has great commercial value. The toucans fare even worse as pets than the parrots and can die from sheer desolation. Being deep forest birds, they are susceptible to diseases arising out of sudden human presence in their vicinity.
Parrots are more threatened than other bird groups. Loss and degradation of habitat, animal agriculture, hunting and the wildlife trade are all threatening the future of parrots and toucans. An alarming 56 percent decline of all parrot species is currently taking place. Action must be taken now to save these birds from being lost forever.
Hunting is a major threat to wildlife, particularly in tropical regions. An international team of ecologists and environmental scientists have found that bird and mammal populations are reduced within 7 and 40 km of hunters' access points, such as roads and settlements.
Within these impact zones, mammal populations decline on average by 83%, and bird populations by 58%. Additionally, commercial hunting has a higher impact than hunting for family food, and hunting pressure is higher in areas with better accessibility to major towns where wild meat can be traded.
Only 17 percent of the original mammal abundance and 42 percent of the birds remain in hunted areas.
There are several drivers of animal decline in tropical landscapes: habitat destruction, overhunting, fragmentation, etc.
Higher hunting pressure occurs around villages and roads. Scientists have discovered that humans gather resources in a circle around their village and in the proximity of roads. As such, hunting pressure is higher in the proximity of villages and other access points. From there the densities of species increase up to a distance where no effect of hunting is observed.
Mammals are more sought after because they are bigger and provide more food. They are worth a longer trip. The bigger the mammal, the further a hunter would walk to catch it.
With increasing wild meat demand for rural and urban supply, hunters have harvested the larger species almost to extinction in the proximity of the villages and they must travel further distances to hunt. For commercially interesting species such as elephants and gorillas, hunting distances are even larger because the returns are higher.
Protected areas are no safe haven. Mammal populations have been reduced by hunting even within protected areas.
Strategies to reduce hunting in both protected and unprotected ecosystems are urgently needed to avoid further defaunation, including monitoring hunting activities by increasing anti-poaching patrols and controlling overexploitation via law enforcement.
Habitat destruction is the process in which natural habitat is rendered unable to support the species present. In this process, the plants and animals which previously used the site are displaced or destroyed, reducing biodiversity.
Habitat destruction by human activity is mainly for the purpose of harvesting natural resources for industry production and urbanization.
Clearing habitats for agriculture is the principal cause of habitat destruction. Other important causes of habitat destruction include mining, logging, trawling and urban sprawl.
PRIMARY CAUSE OF EXTINCTION
Habitat destruction is currently ranked as the primary cause of species extinction worldwide. It is a process of natural environmental change that may be caused by habitat fragmentation, geological processes or by human activities such as the introduction of invasive species, ecosystem nutrient depletion and other human activities.
In the simplest terms, when a habitat is destroyed, the plants, animals, and other organisms that occupied the habitat have a reduced carrying capacity so that populations decline and extinction becomes more likely. Perhaps the greatest threat to organisms and biodiversity is the process of habitat loss. Organisms with limited ranges are most affected by habitat destruction, mainly because these organisms are not found anywhere else within the world and thus, have less chance of recovering. Many have very specific requirements for their survival that can only be found within a certain ecosystem, resulting in their extinction. Habitat destruction can also decrease the range of certain organism populations. This can result in the reduction of genetic diversity and perhaps the production of infertile youths, as these organisms would have a higher possibility of mating with related organisms within their population, or different species.
Biodiversity hotspots are chiefly tropical regions that feature high concentrations of endemic species and, when all hotspots are combined, may contain over half of the world’s terrestrial species. These hotspots are suffering from habitat loss and destruction. Most of the natural habitat on islands and in areas of high human population density has already been destroyed. Islands suffering extreme habitat destruction include New Zealand, Madagascar, the Philippines, and Japan. South and east Asia—especially China, India, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Japan—and many areas in West Africa have extremely dense human populations that allow little room for natural habitat. Marine areas close to highly populated coastal cities also face degradation of their coral reefs or other marine habitat. These areas include the eastern coasts of Asia and Africa, northern coasts of South America, and the Caribbean Sea and its associated islands.
Regions of unsustainable agriculture or unstable governments, which may go hand-in-hand, typically experience high rates of habitat destruction. Central America, Sub-Saharan Africa, and the Amazonian tropical rainforest areas of South America are the main regions with unsustainable agricultural practices or government mismanagement.
Areas of high agricultural output tend to have the highest extent of habitat destruction. In the U.S., less than 25% of native vegetation remains in many parts of the East and Midwest. Only 15% of land area remains unmodified by human activities in all of Europe.
Tropical rainforests have received most of the attention concerning the destruction of habitat. From the approximately 16 million square kilometers of tropical rainforest habitat that originally existed worldwide, less than 9 million square kilometers remain today. The current rate of deforestation is 160,000 square kilometers per year, which equates to a loss of approximately 1% of original forest habitat each year. Other forest ecosystems have suffered as much or more destruction as tropical rainforests. Farming and logging have severely disturbed at least 94% of temperate broadleaf forests; many old growth forest stands have lost more than 98% of their previous area because of human activities. Tropical deciduous dry forests are easier to clear and burn and are more suitable for agriculture and cattle ranching than tropical rainforests; consequently, less than 0.1% of dry forests in Central America's Pacific Coast and less than 8% in Madagascar remain from their original extents.
PLAINS & DESERTS
Plains and desert areas have been degraded to a lesser extent. Only 10-20% of the world's drylands, which include temperate grasslands, savannas, and shrublands, scrub and deciduous forests, have been somewhat degraded. But included in that 10-20% of land is the approximately 9 million square kilometers of seasonally dry-lands that humans have converted to deserts through the process of desertification. The tallgrass prairies of North America, on the other hand, have less than 3% of natural habitat remaining that has not been converted to farmland.
Wetlands and marine areas have endured high levels of habitat destruction. More than 50% of wetlands in the U.S. have been destroyed in just the last 200 years. Between 60% and 70% of European wetlands have been completely destroyed. About one-fifth (20%) of marine coastal areas have been highly modified by humans. One-fifth of coral reefs have also been destroyed, and another fifth has been severely degraded by overfishing, pollution, and invasive species; 90% of the Philippines’ coral reefs alone have been destroyed. Finally, over 35% mangrove ecosystems worldwide have been destroyed.
Habitat destruction caused by humans includes conversion of land to agriculture, urban sprawl, infrastructure development, and other anthropogenic changes to the characteristics of land. Habitat degradation, fragmentation, and pollution are aspects of habitat destruction caused by humans that do not necessarily involve overt destruction of habitat, yet result in habitat collapse. Desertification, deforestation, and coral reef degradation are specific types of habitat destruction for those areas (deserts, forests, coral reefs).
The forces that cause humans to destroy habitat are known as drivers of habitat destruction. Demographic, economic, sociopolitical, scientific and technological, and cultural drivers all contribute to habitat destruction.
Demographic drivers include the expanding human population; rate of population increase over time; spatial distribution of people in a given area (urban versus rural), ecosystem type, and country; and the combined effects of poverty, age, gender, and education status of people in certain areas.
Most of the exponential human population growth worldwide is occurring in or close to biodiversity hotspots. This may explain why human population density accounts for 87.9% of the variation in numbers of threatened species across 114 countries, providing evidence that people play the largest role in decreasing biodiversity. The boom in human population and migration of people into such species-rich regions are making conservation efforts not only more urgent but also more likely to conflict with local human interests. The high local population density in such areas is directly correlated to the poverty status of the local people.
FEEDBACK & INTERACTIONS
There are also feedbacks and interactions among the proximate and underlying causes of deforestation that can amplify the process. Road construction has the largest feedback effect, because it interacts with—and leads to—the establishment of new settlements and more people, which causes a growth in wood (logging) and food markets. Growth in these markets, in turn, progresses the commercialization of agriculture and logging industries. When these industries become commercialized, they must become more efficient by utilizing larger or more modern machinery that often are worse on the habitat than traditional farming and logging methods. Either way, more land is cleared more rapidly for commercial markets. This common feedback example manifests just how closely related the proximate and underlying causes are to each other.
Life on Earth over the millennia has been defined by the evolution, survival and demise of multitudes of species. The churning of species is part of the life process and extinction is one inevitable component. But humans are now playing a large part in the extinction of many species.
Human activities are responsible for the significant changes in the world's environment. Human activities cause climate changes from industrial emissions and animal argiculture, destruction of wildlife habitat, reduced wildlife populations through hunting and poaching, and ecosystem disruption through pollution and litter. All these activities are major contributors to a serious decline in wildlife numbers.
Endangered Species Versus Threatened Species
Species of animals facing a high probability of becoming extinct in the future are categorized by conservationists and scientists as threatened. This kind of species is one whose existence in its natural habitat is at risk. The threat to its habitat could arise out of reasons like human developmental activities, climate change and introduction of foreign species.
Endangered species are those that are so extremely rare, and their population so low, that they are dangerously prone to extinction in the near future. The dangers they face are very similar to those faced by threatened species, the only difference being that the degree of threat is even higher given their low numbers and uniqueness of habitat. The risks of extinction here are much more.
The terms endangered and threatened species are often used interchangabley. When described in a general context, an endangered species is one that is faced with the threat of extinction but not necessarily protected by law. In a regulatory context, endangered species could come under a protective ambit when listed by bodies like US Endangered Species List and International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The IUCN has a detailed and complete list of endangered species that it calls the Red List. The Red list has been graded into categories based on the degrees of risk to their survival ranging from safe to complete extinction.
Least Threatened: Species that face no immediate threat of extinction.
Near-threatened: Species in this category could possibly face threats in the foreseeable future.
Vulnerable: Species in this category could come under threat of extinction in the medium term.
Endangered: Species of animals facing a high probability of becoming extinct in the immediate future.
Critically Endangered: Species that are extremely rare and whose population are very few and on the decline and could become extinct anytime soon.
Extinct In The Wild: No populations of such species exist in the wild and they survive and thrive only in captivity.
Extinct: These species are no longer found anywhere on earth, either in the wild or in captivity.
The usage of different terms used by the IUCN is to highlight the level of risk faced by a particular species at a given point of time, which is, presently. Such grades enable conservationists and scientists to study the degree of threat a particular species may be under and direct their conservation efforts accordingly. One of the main objectives of the IUCN's list is to emphasize the plight of the critically endangered species and create the groundwork for saving such species from the threat of complete extinction. Simply put, the list's trend leading from Least Threatened to Extinction is an enabler for conservationists to prioritize their efforts accordingly.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the US Endangered Species Act (ESA)?
Enacted into a law in 1973 during President Richard Nixon's tenure, the ESA is administered by the US Fish & Wildlife Service and NOAA Fisheries. Its objective is to protect endangered plant, animal and aquatic species through conservation of the habitats such species survive on.
How can I get a copy of the US Endangered Species Act?
A PDF version of the US Endangered Species Act can be obtained from the US Fish & Wildlife Service website.
How do rare animals make it to the Endangered Species List?
The authorities concerned adopt certain formal steps while ascertaining levels of threats to a certain species before declaring it to be endangered.
How do you find out which animals are on the Endangered Species List?
The Threatened and Endangered Species System (TESS) website maintains an up-to-date list and information of endangered wildlife species. This site is maintained by the US Fish & Wildlife Service and NOAA.
What endangered animals are in my state?
In addition to the Federal list, most states have their own lists of endangered species of animals. A knowledge of such species close to your home will help you make important lifestyle choices in their protection and conservation. A web search of your state's endangered species legislation can be helpful.
How can I contribute to conservation efforts of endangered species?
Rapidly reducing habitats pose a serious threat to the survival of the world's wildlife. Agencies and organizations may have chapters close to your home. Simple lifestyle changes such as reduced consumption, recycling, refraining from littering and polluting, and adopting a vegan diet go a long way in helping endangered wildlife.
Both the Arctic (North Pole) and the Antarctic (South Pole) are cold because they don’t get any direct sunlight. The sun is always low on the horizon, even in the middle of summer. In winter, the sun is so far below the horizon that it doesn’t come up at all for months at a time. So the days are just like the nights—cold and dark.
Even though the North Pole and South Pole are “polar opposites,” they both get the same amount of sunlight. But the South Pole is a lot colder than the North Pole. Why? Well, the Poles are polar opposites in other ways too.
The Arctic is ocean surrounded by land. The Antarctic is land surrounded by ocean. The ocean under the Arctic ice is cold, but still warmer than the ice. So the ocean warms the air a bit.
Antarctica is dry—and high. Under the ice and snow is land, not ocean. And it’s got mountains. The average elevation of Antarctica is about 7,500 feet (2.3 km). And the higher you go, the colder it gets.
Average (mean) temperature North Pole Summer: 32° F (0° C)
Average (mean) temperature South Pole Summer: −18° F (−28.2° C)
Average (mean) temperature North Pole Winter: −40° F (−40° C)
Average (mean) temperature South Pole Winter: −76° F (−60° C)
The Arctic ice is shrinking. If the ice were on a diet, we would say that it was very successful. But, just as with people on diets, shrinking too much is not healthy. The Arctic ice is shrinking because the ocean under the ice is warming. The warming ocean means Earth’s climate is getting warmer.
The Antarctic’s climate is also warming, but not as fast, because it is less affected by the warming ocean.
Sand covers only about 20 percent of the Earth's deserts. Most of the sand is in sand sheets and sand seas vast regions of undulating dunes resembling ocean waves "frozen" in an instant of time. Nearly 50 percent of desert surfaces are plains where eolian deflation removal of fine-grained material by the wind has exposed loose gravels consisting predominantly of pebbles but with occasional cobbles. The remaining surfaces of arid lands are composed of exposed bedrock outcrops, desert soils, and fluvial deposits including alluvial fans, playas, desert lakes, and oases. Bedrock outcrops commonly occur as small mountains surrounded by extensive erosional plains.
Oases are vegetated areas moistened by springs, wells, or by irrigation. Many are artificial. Oases are often the only places in deserts that support crops and permanent habitation.
Soils that form in arid climates are predominantly mineral soils with low organic content. The repeated accumulation of water in some soils causes distinct salt layers to form. Calcium carbonate precipitated from solution may cement sand and gravel into hard layers called "calcrete" that form layers up to 50 meters thick.
Caliche is a reddish-brown to white layer found in many desert soils. Caliche commonly occurs as nodules or as coatings on mineral grains formed by the complicated interaction between water and carbon dioxide released by plant roots or by decaying organic material.
Most desert plants are drought-or salt-tolerant. Some store water in their leaves, roots, and stems. Other desert plants have long tap roots that penetrate the water table, anchor the soil, and control erosion. The stems and leaves of some plants lower the surface velocity of sand carrying winds and protect the ground from erosion.
Deserts typically have a plant cover that is sparse but enormously diverse. The Sonoran Desert of the American Southwest has the most complex desert vegetation on Earth. The giant saguaro cacti provide nests for desert birds and serve as "trees" of the desert. Saguaro grow slowly but may live 200 years. When 9 years old, they are about 15 centimeters high. After about 75 years, the cacti are tall and develop their first branches. When fully grown, saguaro are 15 meters tall and weigh as much as 10 tons. They dot the Sonoran and reinforce the general impression of deserts as cacti-rich land.
Although cacti are often thought of as characteristic desert plants, other types of plants have adapted well to the arid environment. They include the pea family and sunflower family. Cold deserts have grasses and shrubs as dominant vegetation.
Rain does fall occasionally in deserts, and desert storms are often violent. A record 44 millimeters of rain once fell within 3 hours in the Sahara. Large Saharan storms may deliver up to 1 millimeter per minute. Normally dry stream channels, called arroyos or wadis, can quickly fill after heavy rains, and flash floods make these channels dangerous. More people drown in deserts than die of thirst.
Though little rain falls in deserts, deserts receive runoff from ephemeral, or short-lived, streams fed by rain and snow from adjacent highlands. These streams fill the channel with a slurry of mud and commonly transport considerable quantities of sediment for a day or two.
Although most deserts are in basins with closed, or interior drainage, a few deserts are crossed by 'exotic' rivers that derive their water from outside the desert. Such rivers infiltrate soils and evaporate large amounts of water on their journeys through the deserts, but their volumes are such that they maintain their continuity. The Nile, the Colorado, and the Yellow are exotic rivers that flow through deserts to deliver their sediments to the sea.
Lakes form where rainfall or meltwater in interior drainage basins is sufficient. Desert lakes are generally shallow, temporary, and salty. Because these lakes are shallow and have a low bottom gradient, wind stress may cause the lake waters to move over many square kilometers. When small lakes dry up, they leave a salt crust or hardpan. The flat area of clay, silt, or sand encrusted with salt that forms is known as a playa. There are more than a hundred playas in North American deserts. Most are relics of large lakes that existed during the last Ice Age about 12,000 years ago. Lake Bonneville was a 52,000-square-kilometer lake almost 300 meters deep in Utah, Nevada, and Idaho during the Ice Age. Today the remnants of Lake Bonneville include Utah's Great Salt Lake, Utah Lake, and Sevier Lake. Because playas are arid land forms from a wetter past, they contain useful clues to climatic change.
Eolian processes pertain to the activity of the winds. Winds may erode, transport, and deposit materials, and are effective agents in regions with sparse vegetation and a large supply of unconsolidated sediments. Although water is much more powerful than wind, eolian processes are important in arid environments.
Wind erodes the Earth's surface by deflation, the removal of loose, fine-grained particles by the turbulent eddy action of the wind, and by abrasion, the wearing down of surfaces by the grinding action and sand blasting of windborne particles.
Most eolian deflation zones are composed of desert pavement, a sheetlike surface of rock fragments that remains after wind and water have removed the fine particles. Almost half of the Earth's desert surfaces are stony deflation zones. The rock mantle in desert pavements protects the underlying material from deflation.
Particles are transported by winds through suspension, saltation, and creep. Small particles may be held in the atmosphere in suspension. Upward currents of air support the weight of suspended particles and hold them indefinitely in the surrounding air. Typical winds near the Earth's surface suspend particles less than 0.2 millimeters in diameter and scatter them aloft as dust or haze.
Saltation is downwind movement of particles in a series of jumps or skips. Saltation normally lifts sand-size particles no more than one centimeter above the ground, and proceeds at one-half to one-third the speed of the wind. A saltating grain may hit other grains that jump up to continue the saltation. It may also hit larger grains that are too heavy to hop, but that slowly creep forward as they are pushed by saltating grains. Surface creep accounts for as much as 25 percent of grain movement in a desert.
Eolian turbidity currents are better known as dust storms. Air over deserts is cooled significantly when rain passes through it. This cooler and denser air sinks toward the desert surface. When it reaches the ground, the air is deflected forward and sweeps up surface debris in its turbulence as a dust storm. Crops, people, villages, and possibly even climates are affected by dust storms.
Most of the dust carried by dust storms is in the form of silt-size particles. Deposits of this windblown silt are known as loess. The thickest known deposit of loess, 335 meters, is on the Loess Plateau in China. In Europe and in the Americas, accumulations of loess are generally from 20 to 30 meters thick.
Small whirlwinds, called dust devils, are common in arid lands and are thought to be related to very intense local heating of the air that results in instabilities of the air mass. Dust devils may be as much as one kilometer high.
Wind-deposited materials hold clues to past as well as to present wind directions and intensities. These features help us understand the present climate and the forces that molded it. Wind deposited sand bodies occur as sand sheets, ripples, and dunes.
Sand sheets are flat, gently undulating sandy plots of sand surfaced by grains that may be too large for saltation. They form approximately 40 percent of eolian depositional surfaces. The Selima Sand Sheet, which occupies 60,000 square kilometers in southern Egypt and northern Sudan, is one of the Earth's largest sand sheets.
The Selima is absolutely flat in some places; in others, active dunes move over its surface. Wind blowing on a sand surface ripples the surface into crests and troughs whose long axes are perpendicular to the wind direction. The average length of jumps during saltation corresponds to the wavelength, or distance between adjacent crests, of the ripples. In ripples, the coarsest materials collect at the crests. This distinguishes small ripples from dunes, where the coarsest materials are generally in the troughs.
Accumulations of sediment blown by the wind into a mound or ridge, dunes have gentle upwind slopes on the wind-facing side. The downwind portion of the dune, the lee slope, is commonly a steep avalanche slope referred to as a slipface. Dunes may have more than one slipface. The minimum height of a slipface is about 30 centimeters.
Sand grains move up the dune's gentle upwind slope by saltation and creep. When particles at the brink of the dune exceed the angle of repose, they spill over in a tiny landslide or avalanche that reforms the slipface. As the avalanching continues, the dune moves in the direction of the wind.
A worldwide inventory of deserts has been developed using images from satellites and from space and aerial photography. It defines five basic types of dunes: crescentic, linear, star, dome, and parabolic.
The most common dune form on Earth and on Mars is the crescentic. Crescent-shaped mounds generally are wider than long. The slipface is on the dune's concave side. These dunes form under winds that blow from one direction, and they also are known as barchans, or transverse dunes.
Some types of crescentic dunes move faster over desert surfaces than any other type of dune. A group of dunes moved more than 100 meters per year between 1954 and 1959 in China's Ningxia Province; similar rates have been recorded in the Western Desert of Egypt. The largest crescentic dunes on Earth, with mean crest-to-crest widths of more than 3 kilometers, are in China's Taklimakan Desert.
Straight or slightly sinuous sand ridges typically much longer than they are wide are known as linear dunes. They may be more than 160 kilometers long. Linear dunes may occur as isolated ridges, but they generally form sets of parallel ridges separated by miles of sand, gravel, or rocky interdune corridors. Some linear dunes merge to form Y-shaped compound dunes. Many form in bidirectional wind regimes. The long axes of these dunes extend in the resultant direction of sand movement.
Radially symmetrical, star dunes are pyramidal sand mounds with slipfaces on three or more arms that radiate from the high center of the mound. They tend to accumulate in areas with multi-directional wind regimes. Star dunes grow upward rather than laterally. They dominate the Grand Erg Oriental of the Sahara. In other deserts, they occur around the margins of the sand seas, particularly near topographic barriers. In the southeast Badain Jaran Desert of China, the star dunes are up to 500 meters tall and may be the tallest dunes on Earth.
Oval or circular mounds that generally lack a slipface, dome dunes are rare and occur at the far upwind margins of sand seas. U-shaped mounds of sand with convex noses trailed by elongated arms are parabolic dunes. Sometimes these dunes are called U-shaped, blowout, or hairpin dunes, and they are well known in coastal deserts. Unlike crescentic dunes, their crests point upwind.
The elongated arms of parabolic dunes follow rather than lead because they have been fixed by vegetation, while the bulk of the sand in the dune migrates forward. The longest known parabolic dune has a trailing arm 12 kilometers long.
Occurring wherever winds periodically reverse direction, reversing dunes are varieties of any of the above types. These dunes typically have major and minor slipfaces oriented in opposite directions.
All these dune types may occur in three forms: simple, compound, and complex. Simple dunes are basic forms with a minimum number of slipfaces that define the geometric type. Compound dunes are large dunes on which smaller dunes of similar type and slipface orientation are superimposed, and complex dunes are combinations of two or more dune types. A crescentic dune with a star dune superimposed on its crest is the most common complex dune.
Simple dunes represent a wind regime that has not changed in intensity or direction since the formation of the dune, while compound and complex dunes suggest that the intensity and direction of the wind has changed.
In just the past 40 years, nearly 52 percent of the planet’s wildlife species have been eliminated. The leading cause of these shocking declines is irresponsible and unethical human activities. In addition to the devastating consequences of deforestation, animal agriculture, development, and environmental pollution, the wildlife trade is playing a major role in species extinction.
Poaching, which involves the illegal killing, hunting and capturing of wild animals for sale, is the biggest threat to wildlife after habitat destruction. Poaching is hunting without legal permission. The difference between poaching and hunting is the law.
Legal hunters also kill tens of millions of animals per year. For each of those animals, another animal is illegally killed. Whether done legally or illegally, all types of hunting have led to extinction of species. If not controlled, many more animals will be doomed to extinction.
In addition to their body parts, the animals themselves are in demand as exotic “pets”. There are around 5,000 tigers being kept as pets in the U.S., while only around 3,000 remain in the wild. Australia’s palm cockatoos, stolen from the wild, sell for tens of thousands of dollars on the black market.
Illegal wildlife trade generates up to 20 billion dollars each year, making it the fourth most lucrative illegal trade operation on the planet – just after drugs, human trafficking and the arms trade. The animals who fall victim to this trade are quickly becoming threatened and endangered. As their numbers drop, their value on the black market increases.
The rise in human population has been accompanied by rapid economic growth in some parts of the world. This growth has led to affluence and a huge and growing demand for animal by-products. China is now the largest importer of illegal wildlife. But poaching knows no boundaries. The United States is the second largest importer of illegal wildlife.
The exponential rise in illegal wildlife trade threatens to undo the decades of hard work by conservationists. Wildlife trade is now run by large international criminal syndicates with deep pockets and tentacles reaching into corrupt governments secretly abetting their activities. There are no available exact figures as to the size of this trade, but there are estimates that it could be as vast as $150 billion annually.
Iconic Species Being Hunted To Extinction
Some of the most common forms of poaching are the hunting and killing of elephants for their ivory, tigers for their skin and bones, and rhinoceros for the alleged medicinal value of their horns.
A huge surge in black market prices of ivory in China has led to heightened activity in elephant poaching in Africa. Over 30,000 elephants were killed in one year alone. The ban on ivory trade by virtually all African governments has done little to deter the poachers. In Tanzania, frenzied poaching has reduced the number of elephants from 100,000 in 2010 to just 44,000 presently. Poaching eliminated 48% of the elephant population in Mozambique during the last 5 to 6 years. Many of the local populace kill the animals for cash. Even militia groups are involved in the poaching of elephants.
The sub-Saharan black rhinoceros is now almost extinct by extensive poaching. There are only 4,000 of these animals left now, compared to the 100,000 that roamed the wilds not even half a century ago. An almost 7,700% rise in poaching of white and black rhinos has occurred in 9 years in South Africa. Rising affluence in Vietnam in the last decade has spiked the demand for rhino horns. Rhino horns are crushed into powdered form for its bogus medicinal value.
This is just one chapter of the sordid story. Millions of of animals, birds, plants and marine life are killed every year. Wildlife trade accounts for the killing or capture of 100 million tons of fish, 1.5 million living birds, and almost 450,000 tons of plants annually. The combined population of all species of wildlife on Earth has fallen by as much as 40% since the 1970's.
One rhino is poached every 8 hours. Rhino horns are more valuable than gold. They can sell for as much as $30,000 a pound. Gold is worth about $22,000 a pound. Rhino horns are believed to cure impotence, fever, hangovers, and even cancer, but they actually have no medicinal properties. Rhino horns are not true horns. They are an outgrowth of the skin, like human hair or fingernails. They have no more medicinal effect than chewing on your fingernails.
Around 100 African elephants are killed every day by poachers – one elephant every 15 minutes. Ivory is carved into jewelry, trinkets, utensils, and figurines. Heavily armed militias and crime networks use ivory profits for terrorism and war funding.
Asian elephants are also at risk. Only around 32,000 Asian elephants remain in the wild. Around 30 percent of the remaining population are inhumanely held prisoners in zoos, circuses, and roadside attractions for human entertainment and profit.
Lemurs are among the most endangered mammals on Earth. 90% of all lemur species are considered vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered. Hunting lemurs for meat is diminishing their populations, already decimated by deforestation and climate changes.
Logging, roads and migrations caused by wars have brought people within the habitats of gorillas. Subsistence hunting has quickly grown into an illicit commercial business of gorilla meat, served up as “bushmeat” to wealthy clientele. Gorillas are also killed for their body parts for folk remedies, and as “trophies”. Baby gorillas are poached and sold for up to $40,000 each. Less than 900 mountain gorillas survive in Africa due to poaching.
Musk deer populations in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bhutan, India, Nepal and Myanmar have been nearly wiped out for their sacs that contain ingredients used in perfumes – despite a ban on musk from international trade.
Tigers are poached for their teeth, claws, and whiskers, believed to provide good luck and protective powers. Skins and bones are considered status symbols. One tiger can bring as much as $50,000 on the black market.
Up to half of Africa’s lions have been illegally killed in just 20 years. Only about 32,000 remain in the wild.
The sun bear as a species has been rendered almost extinct in its habitat in South-east Asia, Myanmar, Bangladesh and North-Eastern India. The gall bladders of these animals find use in medicines among the Chinese. A bear’s gallbladder can fetch more than $3,000 in Asia.
Poached sharks, manta rays, and sea cucumbers are used by Asian consumers to make shark fin soup. Over 11,000 sharks are killed every hour, every day.
The American black bear is one of the top 10 most endangered bears on the planet. While 34 states have banned the trade of black bear bile and gallbladders, poaching and legal hunting is killing almost 50,000 bears every year. Their gallbladders and bile are sold to treat diseases of the heart, liver, and even diabetes.
Over 28,000 freshwater turtles are poached daily – used for medicine, food and kept as pets. About 80 percent of Asia’s freshwater turtle species are now in danger of extinction.
The Sunda pangolin's population in its habitat in the jungles of Malaysia and Java, Indonesia has halved in the last fifteen years. Their meat fetches considerable demand as a luxury food among affluent Chinese, and their scales are sought for their medicinal properties.
Millions of Tokay geckos are poached every year from South-east Asia, the Philippines and Pacific islands for use in traditional medicine.
Despite being on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Endangered List since 1998, bighorn sheep populations continue to dwindle. Their antlers sell for over $20,000 on the black market.
Poaching isn't limited to exotic and threatened species. Deer and other wildlife species are often hunted “out of season”. Millions of animals are killed every year.
These are a few of many cases which have come to light, while many cases of over-exploitation of species have gone unnoticed. Conservation efforts, and various laws banning the illegal trade in wildlife resources, have had little effect in deterring those involved in wildlife trade. Educating humans on the urgent need to conserve our wildlife resources also seems to be falling on deaf ears. Until consumers stop purchasing wild animal products, and governments make the issue more of a priority, the wildlife trade will continue to flourish.
Fifteen animal species are at the greatest risk of becoming extinct very soon. Expertise and money is needed to save them and other highly threatened species.
According to a recent study of highly threatened species, 841 endangered animal species can be saved, but only if conservation efforts are implemented immediately and with an investment of an estimated US $1.3 billion annually to ensure the species' habitat protection and management. For 15 species, the chances of conservation success are really low.
The 15 species with the lowest chances for survival in the wild and in captivity are:
Mount Lefo brush-furred mouse, Lophuromys eisentrauti, Cameroon
Chiapan climbing rat, Tylomys bullaris, Mexico
Tropical pocket gopher, Geomys tropicalis
Bay Lycian salamander, Lyciasalamandra billae, Turkey
Perereca Bokermannohyla izecksohni, Brazil
Campo Grande tree frog, Hypsiboas dulcimer, Brazil
Santa Cruz dwarf frog, Physalaemus soaresi, Brazil
Zorro bubble-nest frog, Pseudophilautus zorro, Sri Lanka
Allobates juanii, Colombia
Ash's lark, Mirafra ashi, Somalia
Tahiti monarch, Pomarea nigra, French Polynesia
Zino's petrel, Pterodroma madeira, Madeira
Mascarene petrel, Pseudobulweria aterrima, Reunion Island
Wilkins's finch, Nesospiza wilkinsi, Tristan da Cunha
Amsterdam albatross, Diomedea amsterdamensis, New Amsterdam (Amsterdam Island)
Their low chance for survival is due to high probability of their habitat becoming urbanized; political instability; and high costs of habitat protection and management.
The opportunity of establishing an insurance population in captivity for these 15 species is low, due to high costs or lack of breeding expertise for the species.
Although the cost seems high, safeguarding endangered species is essential if we want to reduce the extinction rate by 2020. When compared to global government spending on other sectors - e.g., US defense spending, which is more than 500 times greater - an investment in protecting high biodiversity value sites is minor.
Although protected areas such as national parks can play a crucial role in conserving wildlife, most species of large carnivores and large herbivores also depend on being able to occupy human-dominated landscapes. This sharing of space is often associated with conflicts between humans and wildlife, and between different groups of humans with divergent interests. In order to achieve a situation that can be described as "coexistence", there is a need to develop a more nuanced and realistic understanding of what this state looks like.
Recent research looks at ways to improve the ability of humans and carnivores to co-exist, which is crucial to carnivore conservation efforts around the world. Based on studies in areas as diverse as North America, Europe and Asia on species such as wolves, tigers, leopards, lynx and bears, researchers note that large carnivores need larger ranges than many protected areas afford. This means that carnivores often come in contact with human populations that are sometimes less than welcoming.
What actions could help mitigate the negative impacts of these contacts, allowing both humans and carnivores to more peacefully coexist in shared landscapes? Scientists suggest that mutual adaptations are key to success. Not only do wild animals have to behaviorally adapt to the presence of humans, but humans also have to adapt their behavior to the presence of wild animals.
Studies have shown that many species of large carnivores show an incredible ability to occupy heavily modified human-dominated landscapes. Many human societies also show a wide range of adaptations to the proximity of large carnivores. This includes changes to the way they farm and the adoption of cultural or religious practices to "negotiate" their relationship with their wild neighbors.
However, in many areas these adaptations have been lost, either due to a temporary absence of large carnivores or in the face of changing social-economic situations. The result is often severe conflicts of both an economic and social nature. Realizing the necessity of adaptation by both humans and the carnivores is a key first step towards transforming conflict to coexistence. Conservation efforts that fail to focus on both halves of the equation are doomed to fail.
A factor for success has to do with recognizing that a state of coexistence does not involve an idealized absence of conflict. Rather than trying to eliminate all risk, which can mean eliminating a species, we must explore ways to keep risks below tolerable levels. That involves understanding what factors influence tolerance.
While some communities may not tolerate any risks from carnivores, others may tolerate high risks because they attribute carnivores with ecological and cultural benefits that exceed those risks. In many communities, the priorities of various stakeholder groups are still sometimes at odds, and there is a reduced trust in authorities. Interventions such as new policies must take into account local concerns such as the adoption of novel decision-making strategies that give voice to varying viewpoints.
The challenges are surmountable through the help of community leaders, conservation organizations, and state or federal agencies. Insights from studies on coexistence can help reconcile debates about carnivore conservation in shared landscapes and advance broader discourses in conservation such as those related to rewilding, novel ecosystems, and land-sharing vs. land-sparing.
In many ways, large carnivores represent the ultimate test for human willingness to make space for wildlife on a shared planet. If it is possible to find ways to coexist with these species, it should be possible to coexist with any species.
Corals are popular as souvenirs, for home decor and in costume jewelry, yet corals are living animals that eat, grow, and reproduce. It takes corals decades or longer to create reef structures, so leave corals and other marine life on the reef.
Corals have long been popular as souvenirs, for home decor, and in jewelry, but many consumers are unaware that these beautiful structures are made by living creatures. Fewer still realize that corals are dying off at alarming rates around the world.
Coral reefs are some of the most biologically rich and valuable ecosystems on Earth, but they are threatened by an increasing array of impacts—primarily from global climate change, unsustainable fishing, and pollution. Strong consumer demand for coral, heightened over the holiday season, is another factor that is contributing to the decline of coral reefs. Each year, the U.S. imports tons of dead coral for home decorations and curios. Most of these corals are shallow-water species.
The U.S. is also the world's largest documented consumer of Corallium, red and pink corals often used to create jewelry. Finished pieces of jewelry and art crafted from this type of coral can fetch anywhere between $20 and $20,000 in the marketplace. Continued consumer demand is contributing to the decline of these delicate corals around the world.
Commercial harvesting to satisfy the demand for coral jewelry has reduced colony size, density, and age structure of Corallium over time. Harvesting is also lowering the reproduction capability of this species and is decreasing its genetic diversity. Research indicates that removal of red and pink corals for the global jewelry and art trade is also leading to smaller and smaller Corallium in the wild.
Corals grow very slowly, are extremely long-lived, and take years to reach maturity. It takes corals decades or longer to create reef structures. Once coral is harvested—especially when it's extracted at a young age—surrounding coral beds often do not recover. That's why it's best to leave corals and other marine life on the reef.
Remember: corals are already a gift. Don't give them as presents.
As palm oil production expands from Southeast Asia into tropical regions of the Americas and Africa, vulnerable forests and species on four continents now face increased risk of loss.
The largest areas of vulnerable forest are in Africa and South America, where more than 30 percent of forests within land suitable for oil palm plantations remain unprotected, according to a Duke University study. Rates of recent deforestation have been highest in Southeast Asia and South America, particularly Indonesia, Ecuador and Peru, where more than half of all oil palms are grown on land cleared since 1989.
Palm oil is now the world’s most widely traded vegetable oil, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. The oil, which is harvested from oil palms, and its derivatives are common ingredients in many processed foods and personal care products. As global demand grows, large swaths of tropical forest are being converted into oil palm plantations in 43 countries.
Almost all oil palm is grown in places that once were tropical forests, forests containing high concentrations of different mammal and bird species at risk of extinction or extirpation. Clearing these forests threatens biodiversity and increases greenhouse gas emissions. By identifying where the greatest extent of palm oil-driven deforestation has recently occurred, and modeling where future expansion is most likely, scientists are hoping to guide efforts to reduce these adverse impacts.
While the Amazon and Indonesia have many species of globally threatened mammals and birds, other areas such as the Congo Basin and the coastal forests of Colombia are home to species with small ranges that make them especially vulnerable to habitat loss despite not being classified as threatened or endangered. This also needs to be considered in conservation planning.
The palm oil industry has a legacy of deforestation, but consumer pressure is pushing companies toward deforestation-free sources of palm oil. Government regulations and voluntary market interventions must reshape oil palm plantation expansion in ways that protect biodiversity-rich ecosystems and prevent deforestation.
You can send a clear message to the palm oil industry by reducing or eliminating your purchases of products containing palm oil.
Take action on Earth Day, April 22, and everyday to preserve and protect our natural environment and its animals. Picking up litter, removing invasive plants, cleaning up parks and roads, recycling programs and simply encouraging friends, family and youth to get outside to experience nature are just some of the efforts you can take to make a difference for the planet. As an individual, family or group, you can get involved in numerous ways to protect and preserve our planet and its animals.
Volunteer: Volunteers are individuals who want to give back to our community, parents who want to be good stewards of the land and set examples for their children, retired people willing to share their wealth of knowledge, concerned citizens of all ages who want to learn more about conservation, and passionate people who enjoy the outdoors and want to spread the word about our natural treasures. Get active by joining a group, adopting a highway or cleaning up a park, river or creek.
Pickup Litter: Don’t litter. Trash tossed carelessly outside washes into storm drains or creeks, which empty into rivers that eventually flow to the oceans. Trash negatively affects the habitat of aquatic environments causing death and injury to birds, fish, mammals, turtles and other species through swallowing and entanglement. Common litter includes plastic bags, paper, candy wrappers, fastfood packaging, bottle caps, glass bottles, plastic six-pack rings and plastic straws. Spend one hour picking up litter. Organize a team of family, friends, or co-workers to pickup litter. Enjoy making a difference, getting exercise, working with others and having cleaner surroundings.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: Recycling turns materials that would otherwise become waste into valuable resources. Collecting used bottles, cans and newspapers and taking them to a collection site is just the first in a series of steps that generates a host of financial, environmental and social returns. Reuse glass and plastic bottles. Coffee cans and buckets can be used as plant containers. Milk jugs with holes punched in the bottom can keep newly planted trees watered. Newspaper can be used to wrap gifts or as packaging material when shipping. Old clothes can be used as rags. Reuse plastic bags to line trashcans or to pickup animal waste. Avoid purchasing items that are over packaged. Use a reusable shopping tote to reduce plastic waste. Opt for a reusable water bottle as opposed to one-time-use plastic bottles. Reuse “disposable” food containers. Refuse to buy products that are not environmentally responsible.
Go Outside: Reconnecting with nature encourages a healthier lifestyle and helps to ensure future generations appreciate the natural world around them. Get outside and enjoy nature and wildlife. Experiencing nature can be as simple as visiting a park, bird watching in your own backyard, hiking in a forest, or watching for wildlife in a nature preserve. Watching wildlife is an extremely easy, fun and free way to enjoy the environment, spend family time or just to relax. Don’t pick flowers or collect wild creatures for pets. Leave animals and plants where you find them.
Plant Native: How ‘green’ is your garden? Ensure that it is truly sustainable by planting seeds of wildflowers native to your region for low-maintenance blooms next spring and all summer long. Not only will they thrive — they’ll support native birds, insects and other pollinators that depend on familiar, home-grown species for a healthy ecosystem. Plant native fruit and ornamental trees. Look for native and/or heirloom plants and seeds when planting a garden.
Create a Habitat: Habitat is the collective term for the food, water, shelter and nursery areas that all wildlife need to survive. The loss of habitat is one of the greatest threats facing wildlife today. Many habitat features can be added to an existing property, such as a garden, wetland pond, or nesting boxes.
Prevent Stormwater Runoff: Poor water quality can harm fish, wildlife and their habitat. Many things are known to cause poor water quality, including sedimentation, runoff, erosion and pesticides. All vehicle fluids are toxic and extremely harmful to the environment. Recycle used oil in a clean, sealed, plastic container. Keep litter, animal waste and leaves out of storm drains, ditches and creeks. Deliver old paint, pesticides, solvents and batteries to a hazardous waste drop off facility. Pouring hazardous substances down a storm drain, onto the ground or into a creek creates a danger to all, as well as animals and the environment. Yard waste, such as grass clippings, tree trimmings and leaves, can be composted and used for fertilizer around your property.
Protect Pollinators: Many pollinators are in decline. There are simple things you can do at home to encourage pollinator diversity and abundance, such as planting a pollinator garden. Choose native plants that flower at different times of the year to provide nectar and pollen sources throughout the growing season. Plant in clumps, rather than single plants, to better attract pollinators. Provide a variety of flower colors and shapes to attract different pollinators.
Reduce Bird Strikes: As many as 1 billion birds die each year due to collisions with windows in homes and office buildings. The primary cause of birds colliding with glass is due to reflection. Objects or ornaments hanging in windows will reduce the reflection by breaking it up. Hang ribbons or other material in strips on the outside of windows for the full width of the glass. Keep houseplants away from windows as they can appear like trees.
Clean Up Animal Waste: Clean up after your animals to reduce pollution in creeks and rivers. Poor water quality harms fish, wildlife and their habitat. Waste may be washed into waterways by rain or melting snow carrying disease causing organisms.
There are many things we can do or not do to help the planet. But did you know you can help save the Earth by going green with your fork? By purchasing plants over meat you can help end the destruction of our soils, forests and oceans, eliminate water and air pollution, and even stop species extinction. Take the plunge into positively changing your life and the lives of billions of people on this planet by choosing a vegan diet.
The raising of the cows, heifers, beef cattle, calves, sheep, lambs, hogs, pigs, goats, horses and poultry not only pollute our bodies but also our environment. The livestock industry, more appropriately referred to as the factory farming industry, is a major player in the devastation of our environment – polluting our air and water while destroying our ecosystems.
Water and Air Pollution
The United Nations reports that raising animals for food generates more greenhouse gases than all the cars and trucks in the world combined. Factory livestock farms are the largest source of water pollution that contributes not only to the degradation of our streams, lakes, rivers and oceans but also to the land. The range of statistical analysis conducted, and the surmountable facts, all point to the cure; going vegan.
Did You Know?
- Factory farming is responsible for 18% of CO2 greenhouse emissions and 64% of ammonia which produces acid rain.
- Switching to a meat-dairy-egg free diet can save 50% more CO2 emissions than driving a Prius.
- Livestock animals produce toxic excrement from the high levels of antibiotics and hormones they are given.
- Cows and sheep account for 37% of the total methane generated.
- Methane is 25 to 100 times more damaging than CO2.
- Cows alone produce approximately 120lbs of manure per day, as many as 20 to 40 humans. And their manure produces about 150 billion gallons of methane per day.
- The overpopulation of animals in theses factories creates unmanageable amounts of waste. It is collected in cesspools and is either sprayed on fields or left to sit. The toxic fumes from the pools are emitted into the air and harm the environment – causing health issues to the people living in those areas.
- In the US 55% of water is consumed by animal agriculture while only 5% is used by households.
- 1 cow drinks up to 50 gallons of water per day. It takes 683 gallons of H2O to make 1 gallon of milk. 2,400 gallons of water are used to make 1lb of beef. 477 gallons are needed to produce 1lb of eggs, and 900 gallons are used in the process of making cheese.
- Runoff water from factory farms and livestock grazing is the leading cause of dead zones in our oceans and eutrophication in our freshwater sources.
Soil Erosion, Deforestation and Habitat Loss
From air and water to land, the business of animal agriculture is destroying our environment. With over 30% of Earth’s landmass being used to raise animals for food – including both grazing and growing feed crops – topsoil erosion, deforestation, habitat loss and species extinction are of major consequence.
Did You Know?
- 70% of the grain grown in the US is used to feed farmed animals.
- 56 million acres of land are used to feed factory farmed animals, while only 4 million acres produce plants for human consumption.
- It takes 20 times less land to feed someone on a plant based diet than it does to feed meat eaters.
- It takes 10lbs of grain to produce 1lb of meat.
- The rapid growth of livestock leads to deforestation, particularly in Latin America. 70% of the Amazon Rainforest has already been destroyed and is now occupied by pastures and feed crops.
- Tropical deforestation and forest clearing have adverse consequences that contribute to climate change, biodiversity loss, reduced timber supply, flooding and soil degradation.
- Unlike sustainable farming systems that work harmoniously with the natural environment by rotating crops to help replace nutrients, unsustainable industrial farming uses one crop that is not rotated which leads to loss of soil fertility.
- Low soil fertility causes farms to continuously move from place to place which leads to deforestation and rapid growth in weeds.
- The use of herbicides to combat weeds and pesticides to eliminate insects both harms the soil fertility and ultimately contaminates our water sources through runoff.
- Land based factory farming has caused more than 500 nitrogen flooded dead zones around the world.
Farmed animals are bred in mass amounts and consumed by masses of humans. The unsustainable ways in which we produce eggs, meat and dairy is a threat not only to public health, but is damaging our environment.
The positive effects of going vegan are limitless and results in significant reductions in climate change, rainforest destruction and pollution of our air, water and land. While one person alone cannot change the consequences that have been placed on our environment, we as a whole can use our knowledge and voices to spread the word that veganism is not just about health but is also about going green by eating green.
Our planet has a natural environment, known as ‘ecosystem’, which includes all humans, animals, plants, land and water. Human activities have caused much depletion and destruction of this ecosystem.
Environmentalism advocates the preservation, restoration and/or improvement of this natural environment by controlling pollution and protecting plant and animal diversity. Environmentalists attempt to balance relations between humans and the various natural systems on which they depend to achieve sustainability.
Earth advocates work to protect natural resources and ecosystems through education, activism and the political process. They seek to give the natural world a stronger voice in human affairs.
The environmental issues of today know no borders. We can't just put up fences around natural places to keep humans out. We must protect the entire planet for the survival of all species — plants, animals and people. Governments, businesses, communities and individuals must make better decisions to live in balance with nature. Through science, responsible planning, legislation and daily choices, we can ensure the survival of the ecosystem.
There are many ways you can help to save wild places and wild animals. Volunteer. Recycle. Install solar panels on your roof. Organize an event where you live. Change a habit. Help launch a community garden. Communicate your priorities to your elected representatives. The possibilities are endless! Do something nice for the earth, have fun, meet new people, and make a difference.
The world population is expected to reach 9 billion by 2050. As our population increases, there is even more pressure on forests, grasslands, deserts and other natural areas to provide food, housing and energy for humans. These demands increase the stress of already fragmented natural areas suffering from pollution, deforestation, disrupted migratory routes and changing environmental conditions.
Already, large numbers of people have been declared food-insecure; resulting in a land rush with nations hurrying to secure properties for agriculture and fuel crops. Forests are being cleared at alarming rates, an estimated 18 million acres each year. At the same time, poor agriculture practices lead to millions of acres of land lost annually through soil erosion and land degradation.
Trillions of tons of garbage is produced every year, while more and more goods are produced...resulting in the creation of more waste. Most garbage is buried underground in landfill sites, causing environmental and health concerns.
If we don’t make changes now, future generations will not experience the same plentiful, diverse planet that we know today.
Air pollution is a mixture of solid particles and gases in the air. Car emissions, chemicals from factories, dust, pollen and mold spores may be suspended as particles. Ozone, a gas, is a major part of air pollution in cities. When ozone forms air pollution, it's also called smog.
Air pollution is caused by polluters who refuse to clean up toxic air emissions, despite proven pollution control technologies. Most air toxics originate from human-made sources, including automobiles, factories, refineries and power plants. Indoor sources include building materials and cleaning solvents.
As the environment suffers, humans suffer from asthma, lung disease, heart ailments, cancer and shortened lives. Acid rain, often caused by pollutants in the atmosphere from automobile or industrial processes, falls from the sky in the form of rain, snow, fog or dry material. Devastating effects to forests, aquatic systems, buildings and human health can result. Air toxics then contaminate our food products, drinking water and soil.
Pollution, habitat fragmentation and destruction, and overfishing are having devastating effects on our oceans, rivers and lakes. Acidification, caused by increased carbon emissions, degrade coral reefs and corrode the shells of sea creatures. Freshwater ecosystems provide us with drinking water, food, energy and recreation. These ecosystems are also critical to plants and animals. Increased demands for food, energy and material goods have placed unprecedented pressure on these fragile environments. Within the next 20 years, half of the world’s population may face water shortages.
Oceans are a critical part of the earths support system. Acid rain pollutes our seas. Oceans are degraded by spills and chemical runoffs. The largest living structures on earth, coral reefs, are among the greatest storehouses of biodiversity on the planet. Up to 70 percent of coral reefs are expected to be lost by 2050 due to human activities.
Water is under threat from fertilizers and chemical runoff, dumped chemical and industrial wastes, untreated sewage and medicinal residues.
Genetic modification of plants and animals is a controversial subject, with many experts believing the ill impacts far outweigh the benefits to mankind. Manipulating plant DNA to produce super crops is a dangerous global experiment. When released into the environment, they cannot be recalled.
Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) can spread through nature and interbreed with natural organisms. They can contaminate natural environments in an unforeseeable and uncontrollable way. This is referred to as 'genetic pollution', a major threat to the environment.
Due to commercial interests, the public has been denied the facts about GMO ingredients in the food chain. The absence of labeling laws in many countries denies individuals the power to avoid them.
Biological diversity must be protected and respected. It is fundamental to our planet's survival.
Earth isn’t perfectly round. Earth is thicker around the equator, the belt around the middle. How much thicker? Well, it’s about 0.3% thicker. It’s not much, so when you see a photo of Earth, it appears round. But it’s just barely not.
Days are getting longer. When Earth first formed 4.6 billion years ago, a day was about six hours long. Since then, the Earth has slowed down. It takes longer to spin around. Every 100 years, the day gets 0.0017 seconds longer. Why? The moon is slowing down Earth’s rotation with the tides it creates. As the tides rise and fall all over Earth, it creates a force that slows down Earth’s rotation.
Continents are always on the move. About 250 million years ago, all the continents we see today were one big supercontinent called Pangaea. They’ve slowly moved ever since to spread out and form the continents we see today: North America, South America, Africa, Europe, Asia, Australia, and Antarctica. But Pangaea wasn’t the first supercontinent. About 800 million years ago, all the continents were pushed together too. We call this previous supercontinent Rodinia.
There wasn’t just one Ice Age. You may have heard of the Ice Age on Earth. It was a time when woolly mammoths roamed. But this didn’t just happen one time 30,000 years ago. There may have been as many as four different Ice Ages in the past. During these times, Earth would have been covered completely in ice.
The driest place on Earth is near the ocean. The Atacama Desert in northern Chile is the driest place on Earth. It is said that a city there went without rain for 400 years! And yet, this desert is right next to the biggest body of water on Earth, the Pacific Ocean. Do you know what they say about the ocean? Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink.
Earth’s gravity isn’t the same everywhere on Earth. If the Earth were smooth and perfect, gravity would be the same everywhere. But Earth has mountains, oceans, valleys, and other features. The differences in gravity across Earth are called gravity anomalies. A mission called GRACE (Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment) has a satellite that orbits Earth and maps the gravity across the surface.
Sea levels have changed in the past. During the last Ice Age, so much water was trapped in icy glaciers that the sea level dropped by as much as 390 feet (120 meters). That’s about as tall as building 40 stories high. Long before that, the sea level was actually much higher than it is now. It was as much as 230 feet higher. There are parts of land today that used to be far beneath the ocean waters.
The sun won’t shine forever. Don’t worry, the sun isn’t going anywhere for a very long time. But nothing in the whole universe lasts forever and ever. Our sun will run out of energy in about five billion years. If anyone is around when it happens, they’ll have to leave Earth and find a new planet. Luckily, we have these next five billion years to plan for that.
Earth has other “moons.” Besides our moon, there are two other objects in space that orbit near Earth. They're not truly "moons," but they are there. One of them is an asteroid that follows Earth as we orbit around the sun. It’s called Cruithne. A different asteroid orbits the sun near us but its orbit is horseshoe-shaped, so it only gets near Earth every 95 years.
Before a big storm hits, sometimes there is a moment of calm. When a storm grows, it pulls in warm, wet air around it. The air goes into the storm cloud, and when it gets to the top, it rolls out over the big head of the cloud. Then it falls back down. As it falls, it becomes warmer and drier, which makes for stable, calm weather. This is the calm that can happen right before the storm hits.
An ecosystem is the natural balance between organisms, plants, and animals in a particular place. Certain species of wildlife depend on particular species of plants, insects and organisms for survival. Even a small patch of forest can have a complete ecosystem of its own. So can a rivulet, a pond, a lake and sea. In any given landscape, there can be numerous ecosystems. This is what is called biodiversity.
Never before has biodiversity faced such destructive forces as it has in recent times from human activities. Almost half of what took millions of years to take shape and evolve has been destroyed by man in a very short time.
Man-made pollution is one of the main threats to wildlife habitat. Humans have regarded the air, water, and soil as waste receptacles, giving little consideration to the ecological consequences of pollution. Wildlife populations are constantly confronted with a massive array of pollutants released into the environment.
In the last 80 years, the world chemical output has grown 500-fold, contaminating entire landscapes, accumulating in bodies of animals and plants, and altering and disrupting the DNA of wildlife in those places. Out in the seas and oceans, destruction caused to marine life cannot be fathomed. Trash washed down rivers and city streets, mountains of plastic, garbage and debris, are finding their way into the oceans by the ton on a daily basis – causing massive disruption in coastal ecosystems. Pollution from industrial emissions, traffic and other commercial activities have eaten into the ozone layer and altered complete climatic patterns. Ecosystems that have survived and evolved through the ages, dependent on climate and seasonal cycles, have been totally derailed.
These destructive human activities are causing massive extinctions. Up to 30% of mammal, bird and amphibian species are already threatened with extinction, including: 1 out of 4 mammals, 1 out of 8 birds, 1 out of 3 amphibians, and 6 out of 7 marine turtles. A third of reef-building corals are threatened with extinction. If global temperatures rise by more than 3.5°C, up to 70% of the world’s known species risk extinction. Extinction risks are outpacing conservation successes.
Pollution Disrupting Ecosystems
Thousands of synthetic chemicals are being released into the environment at alarming rates, altering the distribution of naturally occurring substances. Wild animals are facing conditions they have never experienced before. These alien conditions disrupt the delicate biological balance that has evolved over thousands of years.
Toxic metals from human activities accumulate to create a bewildering number of hazards to wildlife. Animal agriculture, fossil fuels, mining, metal refining, and waste-water discharge create toxic levels of pollutants beyond what naturally cycles through soil, air and water.
Pollution is have detrimental effects on the health of wildlife. Synthetic chemicals, acid rain and oil are all toxic. Additional types of pollution harm wildlife in indirect ways, changing or destroying their habitats. Carbon dioxide is accumulating in the atmosphere, resulting in changes in climate and the distribution of habitats. The ozone layer is being damaged by chlorofluorocarbons, causing destruction from the effects of excessive ultraviolet radiation on wild animals and their food sources. Grasslands, marshes and canyons are being destroyed by solid waste landfills.
Air Pollution Harming Wildlife
Gases, solid particles and aerosols are polluting the air. Air pollution negatively affects wildlife by changing plant communities. Stunted plant growth from atmospheric ozone affects the quality of habitat and food sources.
Birds are threatened directly by coal power production exhaust, which damages their respiratory systems. Air pollution also indirectly threatens birds. pH level increases result in fish kills, causing a decline in food sources. Mercury accumulates in the food chain, wreaking havoc on predatory bird populations.
Acidic rivers and streams, resulting from acid rain, causes respiratory distress in fish. Clearer water from higher acid levels also results in temperature and light increases in the water, causing native fish to relocate to cooler and darker habitats. Amphibians have changed both physiologically and behaviorally due to air pollution. Ozone damages their immune systems.
Insects are especially susceptible to the dangers of air pollution. Air quality fluctuations can cause insects to relocate, affecting the plants and animals connected to them. Insects more resilient to air pollution digest organic waste less effectively, resulting in a buildup of organic waste when air pollution increases.
Metal smelters release toxic metals through tall smokestacks that have negative effects on wild animals. Pollutants cause environmental contamination both close to the source, and downwind of smelters.
Air pollution is damaging lung tissues of animals. Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) have damaged the ozone layer that protects the Earth from ultraviolet radiation. Ozone molecules near the ground damage wildlife lung tissues and reduces plant respiration by blocking openings in leaves. A plant not able to photosynthesize at a high rate due to inadequate respiration cannot grow. Holes in the ozone layer also cause skin cancer in wildlife.
Greenhouse gases from air pollution are warming the planet. Through photosynthesis, plants convert carbon dioxide into oxygen and use the carbon to grow. But the amount of carbon dioxide being released by human activities is much greater than plants can convert. Ice and frozen ground are melting near the Poles. As a result, habitats and resources are changing for plants and animals. Ocean warming and rising sea levels are affecting shallow marine environments, including coral reefs. Less rainfall, caused by global warming, is limiting water resources for plants and animals.
Air pollution is particularly hazardous to animals when in the form of acid rain. Acid rains kills fish by increasing water acidity. Rising pH (a measure of acidity) levels are destroying plants and trees.
Acid Rain Killing Wild Animals
Acid rain, primarily caused by sulfur and nitrogen released into the atmosphere from automobiles and the combustion of oil and coal, discharges toxic aluminum into water systems. Acid rain has numerous disastrous effects on ecosystems, especially aquatic ecosystems. pH levels are changed, killing many wild animals outright and throwing ecosystems completely out of balance.
Gravity draws acid rain towards water bodies in low areas. When the acidity in these water bodies increases, fish and other organisms lose their ability to survive and reproduce. Acid rain has already killed off fish populations in hundreds of lakes.
Water Pollution Detrimental To Wildlife
Water pollution is detrimental to wildlife. Frogs species are in decline. Water bodies polluted with nutrients are causing massive growths of toxic algae that are eaten by animals, resulting in diseases and deaths.
Mining operations result in weathering waste rock and ore deposits, creating "acid mine drainage." Acid mine drainage creates toxic water pollution.
Monumental amounts of toxic metals are released into the air by industries and automobiles. These toxins settle to the ground and are then transported by fallen rain, along with pesticides. "Storm water runoff" is carried to local sewer systems, streams, rivers, lakes and oceans. It is one of the largest sources of toxic water pollution.
Oil spills result in the deaths of countless wild animals. Oil coats animal fur and feathers reducing their insulating properties, and exposes animals to deadly toxins. The long-term effects of oil spills are more subtle, but just as detrimental. Toxic chemicals on beaches, in the water, and in the food web results in anemia, decreased disease resistance, impaired reproduction, cancers, birth defects and neurological damage.
In coastal belts where human habitation concentration has grown the most in the past few decades, wanton garbage disposal, especially of plastic, has almost completely wiped out marine ecosystems within miles of the shores. Spectacular creatures such as whales and dolphins, that were once a common sight for beach goers, have been driven from their natural habitat into deep seas – having lost their centuries-old feeding grounds to pollutants.
In closeted water bodies like lakes, pollutants like oil, detergents, nitrogen and phosphate can create havoc in its ecosystems by stimulating growth of unwanted plants and choking the water of oxygen so essential to the survival of fish.
Wild Animals Affected By Noise Pollution
Pollution is not always physical. Sound waves from oil rigs, ships and sonar travel for miles disrupting communication, hunting, migration, and reproduction of aquatic animals. Noise pollution from gas and oil explorations are causing mass strandings and chronic stress.
Animal Agriculture A Major Threat To Wildlife
Pollution from animal agricultural is one of the biggest threats to wildlife. Pesticide usage in agriculture has jumped 26-fold in the last 50 years causing serious consequences for the environment. Lakes, streams, drains and groundwater have been contaminated to an extent that not only are they not fit for use, entire ecosystems around them have perished. Chemical runoff leaches into streams, waterways and groundwater. Fertilizers alter nutrient systems in waterways, creating explosive growths of algae that deplete oxygen in the water. Around 400 dead zones have already been created as a result.
Animal agriculture produces significantly more greenhouse gases than all of the traffic in the world combined. Spouting out huge percentages of carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide, the industry is leaving behind pollutants known to remain in the atmosphere for more than 100 years. Animal waste also produces toxic levels of methane and ammonia, which leads to climate change as well as acid rain. Cows alone produce approximately 120lbs of manure per day, resulting in about 150 billion gallons of methane each day. Unmanageable amounts of animal waste is collected in cesspools and is either sprayed on fields or left to sit. The toxic fumes from the pools are emitted into the air and harm the environment.
Pesticides not only harm wild animals through long-term exposure via the food web; direct exposure also kills wild animals. Pesticides drift, decimating mammal, bird and fish populations.
Littering Killing Wildlife
Littering causes the deaths of many wild animals. Toxic trash can be fatal. Entanglement in litter is a common threat. Tons of plastic litter finds its way into the oceans, washed off streets and blown from landfills. Animals often mistake litter for food and attempt to eat the litter, resulting in fatalities. Litter accumulates in giant patches. Some is transported by currents and washed onto shore. Trillions of other pieces of decomposing plastic create gigantic swirling garbage patches in the ocean.
Effects of Household Pollutants On Wild Animals
Many households products contain toxic metals. Household waste-water often transports toxic metals into aquatic environments. Toxic chemicals used in households are washed down drains and flushed down toilets. Even more massive amounts of solvents, cleansers, and other chemicals are used in industrial activities, adding toxic pollutants to industrial waste-waters.
We Must Act Now
Pollution, along with habitat loss and degradation, over-exploitation, unsustainable practices, and invasive alien species, are affecting biodiversity around the globe. The result is the massive destruction of ecosystems and a frightening reduction in biodiversity.
Earth's ecological system has been in balance for millions of years, but is now threatened by human activities. Current extinction rates are likely to result in collapses of ecosystems on a global scale.
Pollution has had devastating impacts on wildlife. Most types of pollution are not necessary, and others can be drastically reduced. Technology is available that can significantly reduce pollution. Reduced consumption of fossil fuels would also bring down emissions of toxic metals and acid rain. Shifting to plant-based, organic farming would eliminate the massive amounts of pollutants produced by the animal agriculture industry.
Awareness, creativity, and a willingness to modify our lifestyles will curtail threats that pollution causes to both wildlife and humans. You can help wildlife and ecosystems by supporting environmental groups that are fighting polluting practices, as well as by making your own conscious decisions regarding eating choices, waste management, harmful chemicals and irresponsible household products.
Wildlife preservation is informed management of the natural environment to protect and benefit plants and animals. Extinction may occur due to natural causes. However, the actions of people and the growth of human population have all too quickly created a threat to the well being of wildlife. There have been declines in the numbers of some species and extinction of others. The need for conservation was created by human beings.
About 2 million years ago, when Homo sapiens first appeared on the earth, their world was biologically rich. Millions of species of plants and animals flourished...from the single celled to the complex. The first humans enjoyed a lush and beautiful environment filled with brilliant color and variety. Every ecosystem harbored life in many forms...from forest to meadow, wetland to desert.
These early people chose to decorate their dwellings with paintings of the wildlife that made up their environment. As they evolved and developed belief systems, they used the plants and animals that surrounded them in their rituals. Nature was integrated into their culture. It has played an important part in the way modern man thinks and behaves today. We bring nature into our daily lives. If you have a companion animal, or even a house plant, if you enjoy a landscape painting or a piece of nature photography, or if you visit a park or a nature preserve, you are recognizing the importance of natural elements in your life. The difference we perceive in the range of natural settings, from the beauty of a garden to the desolation of a vacant lot, is determined by the kinds of organisms that each contains and the communities they form.
ALL THINGS CONTRIBUTE
Few of us would prefer an environment of concrete buildings and asphalt paving to gorgeous coastlines, majestic mountains or peaceful forests. Our pleasure in life would be diminished if only one bird sang, or merely a handful of fish lived in the sea. But our aesthetic appreciation of the wildlife that fills our earth is only one reason to preserve the variety and abundance of species. All living things contribute to the ecology and are vital to its health and continuation. Despite our advances in technology, we as human beings still rely on our environment to provide many of the things necessary to our survival. The earth's biodiversity supports all life, including that of humans. Our food, medicines, energy sources, textiles and building materials are all derived directly or indirectly from living organisms. Our way of life is inextricably linked to the natural world.
Plants convert the energy of the sun through photosynthesis into the energy that sustains all life on this planet. Everything we eat can be traced to either a plant or to an animal that lived by eating plants. For this reason, the vegetation on this planet is necessary to our survival. Maintaining a variety of plant forms is crucial. Although the food we consume represents only about 100 kinds of plants, there are countless others we might utilize. As our population increases and land for agricultural use dwindles, we will have to look for other food crops and new ways to grow them. It is important to preserve a variety of plant species with their future use in mind.
Almost all of our medicines come from living organisms: some directly as from bacteria or fungi or plants, others are now synthetically made but were originally discovered in their natural form. In China and other parts of the world, medicinal plants in their original form are used as treatment for all kinds of illness. Many of our manufactured pharmaceuticals offer a more controlled use of these plants, but are none the less dependent upon them. Science hopes to identify even more organisms beneficial to the treatment of disease. We have only scratched the surface of the vast number of plant species to be studied. A great discovery could still be found that might change the lives of millions.
The study of living things advances our knowledge in all areas. By observing the behavior of the great apes anthropologists learn about prehistoric man. By studying the movements of the creatures and plants of the earth engineers can learn about mechanics. Yet there are organisms that have yet to be scientifically studied. For example, fungi exist in countless numbers and forms. They can be used to preserve food, to produce medicine such as antibiotics without which many lives would be lost and much of the food we eat depends on them. We would have no bread if not for yeast to make it rise, no wine without fermentation. The importance of the organisms around us gains some perspective when we see the practical and economic applications of those organisms. Yet we have explored only a fraction of the species of existing fungi. There are secrets yet to be learned and benefits yet to be gained. If even one species is lost we may have missed a vital opportunity to improve our lives. The one species that perishes might have had the potential to feed entire populations, to cure disease or to provide invaluable knowledge.
We must also see beyond our own needs. There is a much larger picture and many ecological reasons to preserve species. Scientists refer to the role played by living things as "ecosystem services." Communities of microbes, plants and animals, along with nonliving environmental features such as soil and water, constitute an ecosystem. Ecosystem services are provided by many species including those that prevent soil erosion or affect the quality of the air, or convert the energy from the sun into food, or influence the climate, and other functions vital to the ecosystem as a whole.
Optimally, the earth is self-perpetuating, but its continued ability to be a healthy environment for humans is dependent upon the species that sustain its ecosystems. The forests, wetlands, prairies and deserts are all necessary to its well being. If we continue to allow species to die out, it will become increasingly difficult for these ecosystems to operate successfully and it may become difficult for all living things to survive.
The very climate of the earth is dependent on the vital ecosystems that comprise it. The earth's forests perform the vital task of photosynthesis, which removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as plants make food. If the forests are cleared and not replaced, our atmosphere will change.
TAKING IT FOR GRANTED
There is dramatic evidence that the earth's ecology is badly stressed. We have taken the importance of the ecosystem for granted and we are blind and deaf to the signs of the strain. Because plants that hold soil in their roots have been eliminated, about one-fifth of all the topsoil in the world has eroded and is lost. The consequences of this loss are fewer plants, fewer productive farms and therefore less food for animals and humans alike. Understanding and maintaining natural communities is the key to sustaining life on earth. No species is unimportant. They are all part of the system.
DOING THE RIGHT THING
Beyond the questions of ecology and economics is the ethical issue. What right do we have as one single species to destroy other living things. Human beings began to destroy the other organisms in their environment when they began to practice agriculture more than 10,000 years ago. There were no more than several million people then. With our exploding population the rate of consumption has proportionately increased...about 40 percent of the net biological productivity (what is produced by all living organisms) on the land. We are already taking a disproportionate share of the bounty of the earth. Ecologists believe that we need to respect the value of other organisms and preserve them before we increase that share. These organisms deserve our respect. They support our very lives on the planet.
With the development of ever more efficient weapons, humans have been able to kill wildlife with growing efficiency. Hunters have caused several species of animals to perish. For agriculture, industry and for living space we have cleared the forests, drained the wetlands, and dammed the rivers. This encroachment on the environment has negatively impacted vast amounts of plant and animal habitat. What hasn't been destroyed has been disrupted, and the natural processes altered. This affects the diversity and size of wildlife populations in these habitats. Some are no longer connected to their ecosystems.
Various species became extinct before there were humans on the earth, but new species developed to replace them. The variety of life continued. Now, however, when people kill off a species there is little hope that it will be replaced. The variety of life is decreasing. Many species of wildlife are gone forever. In North America alone such extinction includes the Carolina parakeet, the passenger pigeon, the California grizzly bear and a birch tree that once flourished in Virginia.
An increased interest in conservation began in the late nineteenth century. Many governments passed laws to protect and set aside national parks and reserves for wildlife. It was these efforts that saved the American bison, the pronghorn and many rare plants found in Hawaii and in the Galapagos. Yet several hundred species of animals and thousands of species of plants are still at risk. These include well-loved animals like the Giant Pandas, the Asiatic lion, the Bengal tiger, the blue whale, the mountain gorilla, the whooping crane, the California condor, the Florida panther and all the Asian rhinoceroses. The St. Helena redwood, the black cabbage tree, the Ozark chestnut and several kinds of California manzanitas face extinction as well.
While some wildlife groups may use media attention to speculate that cats are causing species loss, leading biologists, climate scientists, and environmental watchdogs all agree: endangered species’ fight for survival rests in our own hands.
Focusing on cats diverts attention from the far more dangerous impact of humans. Too many media stories sidestep these realities to focus on sensational issues like cats’ imagined impact on birds. But cats have been a natural part of the landscape for over 10,000 years—that has not changed. What has changed in that time is how we have re-shaped the environment to suit 21st century human needs—at a great cost to the other species that share our ecosystem. Our direct impact on our environment is without a doubt the number one cause of species loss.
Make no mistake—habitat loss is the most critical threat to birds. With this exponential human population growth comes massive use of natural resources and rampant development: industrial activity, logging, farming, suburbanization, mining, road building, and a host of other activities. The impact on species from habitat destruction, pollution, fragmentation, and modification is alarming. According to the World Watch Institute, “people have always modified natural landscapes in the course of finding food, obtaining shelter, and meeting other requirements of daily life. What makes present-day human alteration of habitat the number one problem for birds and other creatures is its unprecedented scale and intensity.”
Human activities are responsible for up to 1.2 billion bird deaths every year. Nearly 100 million birds die annually from collisions with windows; 80 million from collisions with automobiles; 70 million from exposure to pesticides. Millions of birds are intentionally killed by U.S. government-sponsored activities each year.
The human population continues to grow, threatening other species. Exponential population growth has left little land untouched by human development. In America alone, the population grew by 60 million people between 1990 and 2010, and experts predict we will add 23 million more people per decade in the next 30 years. That kind of growth—the equivalent of adding another California and another Texas to our already teeming population—is unprecedented in American history.
Killing cats will not save wildlife. Studies have shown cats to be mainly scavengers, not hunters, feeding mostly on garbage and scraps. When they do hunt, cats prefer rodents and other burrowing animals. Studies of samples from the diets of outdoor cats confirm that common mammals appear three times more often than birds. Additionally, scientists who study predation have shown in mathematical models that when cats, rats, and birds coexist, they find a balance. But when cats are removed, rat populations soar and wipe out the birds completely.
Some wildlife organizations and media outlets continue to quote scientific studies that have been proven inaccurate. A careful analysis of the science concludes there is no strong support for the viewpoint that cats are a serious threat to wildlife.
Although human civilization and domestic cats co-evolved side by side, the feral cat population was not created by humans. Cats have lived outdoors for a long time. In the thousands of years that cats have lived alongside people, indoor-only cats have only become common in the last 50 or 60 years—a negligible amount of time on an evolutionary scale. They are not new to the environment and they didn’t simply originate from lost pets or negligent animal guardians. Instead, they have a place in the natural landscape.
Three quarters of the world’s threatened species are imperiled because people are converting their habitat into agricultural lands and overharvesting their populations. 72 percent of species are imperiled by overexploitation (the harvesting of species from the wild at rates that cannot be compensated for by reproduction or regrowth), while 62 percent of species are imperiled by agricultural activity (the production of food, fodder, fiber and fuel crops; livestock farming; aquaculture; and the cultivation of trees). In comparison, 19 percent are considered threatened by climate change.
There are 5,407 species threatened by agriculture alone, according to the University of Queensland, Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Illegal hunting is decimating populations of all rhinoceros and elephant species, western gorilla and Chinese pangolin. Other threats are affecting substantially fewer species, for example hooded seals being threatened by climate change. Climate change is ranked 7th among 11 threats.
Addressing overharvesting and agricultural activities are key to turning around the biodiversity extinction crisis. This must be at the forefront of the conservation agenda. Government and society must focus on proposing and funding actions that deal with the biggest current threats to biodiversity.
History has taught us that minimizing impacts from overharvesting and agriculture requires a variety of conservation actions, but these can be achieved. Actions such as well managed protected areas, enforcement of hunting regulations, and managing agricultural systems in ways that allow threatened species to persist within them, all have a major role to play in reducing the biodiversity crisis. These activities need to be well funded and prioritized in areas that will reduce threat, according to scientists.
While overharvesting and agricultural activities are currently the predominant threats to species, this may change in the coming decades. Reducing immediate impacts is essential to tackling the biodiversity crisis, but climate change could become an increasingly dominant threat for species.
Thankfully, those actions that best reduce current threats such as unsustainable use, habitat destruction, and invasive species are also the best solutions in responding to the challenges of rapid climate change.