Human Impact on Wildlife Endangerment and Extinction

This week focuses on the issue of biodiversity loss and the ways humans have had part in the decline of Earth’s species. Through our destructive and wasteful means of consumption, wildlife populations and biodiversity have decreased rapidly in recent years, and are likely to continue this pattern. In order to reverse the damage done, we must emphasize the protection and preservation of wildlife through laws, treaties, and other environmental initiatives. 

Extinction occurs when there is a “disappearance of all members of a species from the earth” (Miller 2019, 176). This phenomenon occurs naturally, when a species is unable to adapt to changes in its environment. However, since the emergence of human culture, extinction rates have skyrocketed to 1,000 to 10,000 times the natural rate (Miller 2018, 176). According to the London Zoological Society and the World Wildlife Federation, “populations of wild animals have decreased by an average of more than fifty percent over the past forty years” (Geo Beats2014). This steep loss of life has occurred “mostly because of habitat loss and degradation, climate change, ocean acidification, and other environmentally harmful effects of human activities” (Miller 2018, 176). Our impact on biodiversity is so severe that biodiversity researchers have predicted that up to 20-50% of the earth’s species could be extinct by the end of the century. This is extremely dangerous, because the premature loss of species can alter the balance of an ecosystem. Everything in the environment works together in a complex and intricate life system. Therefore, if even one piece is removed quicker than the ecosystem has time to adjust, there can be serious consequences for that ecosystem as well as human life. 

For example, The core case study of chapter nine focuses on the decline of bee populations. The natural world (the human race included) relies on bees to maintain equilibrium within ecosystems and provide fertilized crops. According to the text, “European honeybees pollinate about 71% of vegetable and fruit crops that provide 90% of the world’s food and a third of the U.S. food supply” (Miller 2018, 175). Bees are a necessary piece of our biosphere, and their absence could lead to immense ecological damage and global food crisis. Since the 1980s, bee populations have been declining rapidly due to emerging “parasites, viruses, fungal diseases, and pesticides” (Miller 2018, 175). This could have dangerous ramifications not only for the environment, but for humans as well, as we rely heavily on the honeybee for food and products. This demonstrates that human activities have led to a dangerous decline in earth’s species, and this could threaten the health of ecosystems as well as human food security. 

Fig. 1, Human Dependence on Bees.

The killing, capturing, and selling of wildlife are destructive human consumption practices which occur on a large scale and contribute to increased extinction rates. Many species of animals (even those which are legally protected)  are poached for their parts deemed valuable, or are sold live to collectors. The textbook even highlights that “the global wildlife trade is worth an estimated $19 billion a year” (Miller 2018, 189). This is because people find a great amount of fiscal value in animals and their parts, especially if they are deemed threatened or endangered. For example, Rhino and Elephant species are butchered for their horns and ivory tusks, and the rest of their bodies are discarded and wasted. A majority of rhino species are endangered because of these poaching practices. Additionally, the demand for bushmeat, which is a source of protein for many indigenous people in West and Central Africa, has increased dramatically in recent years. This is likely due to the rapidly increasing populations in certain areas of Africa, as well as the demand for “exotic” meats such as gorillas, antelopes, elephants, etc. in restaurants. This is a dangerous trend, as the hunting of wildlife has threatened many species, and has even led Miss Waldron’s red colobus monkey to extinction. 

In the Global Wildlife Population Decline video, several shocking and heartbreaking images demonstrate the painful harm human activities are placing on wildlife. In one scene, a rhino lays on the grass as his face (horn removed by poachers) bleeds profusely. This image is extremely graphic and tragic, as it is evident that the animal was killed violently for one “valuable” part, and left to suffer and rot. In another scene, a tiger is shown trapped in a well, his eyes wide in fear. If he is not helped, he will likely die of starvation because of human alterations to the creature’s habitat. These images were haunting and eye opening. As someone with an intense soft spot for animals and wildlife, the sight of these innocent beings’ pain at the hands of humans brought me to tears. The worst part is that this sort of harm is happening all over the world, at alarming rates. 

Fig 2, Poaching of a Rhinoceros.

There are several ways in which governments and individuals are attempting to alleviate the destructive impact of humans on wildlife populations. Legislation and treaties such as the Endangered Species Act of 1973 attempt to tackle issues on a governmental level. The Endangered Species Act “is designed to identify and protect endangered species in the United States and abroad” and aims to “help the populations of protected species recover to levels where legal protection is no longer needed” (Miller 2018, 195). Other means of protecting wildlife on a federal level include wildlife refuges and other protected areas such as national parks. Seed banks, botanical gardens, zoos, aquariums, and wildlife farms are also established with the goal of protecting, preserving, and nurturing threatened and endangered species and habitats. 

Costa Rica is a great example of a country that has taken the initiative to protect and sustain wildlife and ecosystems. Home to an immense amount of biodiversity, Costa Rica has assumed the responsibility of protecting its precious and life-giving ecology. Through establishing a system of nature reserves and national parks, the country has devoted “a larger proportion of its land to biodiversity conservation than any other country” (Miller 2018, 202). Costa Rica also incentivizes the conservation and restoration of its environment to landowners and corporations. In order to preserve the precious and necessary biodiversity around the globe, we must learn from places like Costa Rica and take dramatic action towards the protection of wildlife if we intend to maintain a healthy planet for future generations. 

In conclusion, because of human activities, wildlife and biodiversity have been severely threatened in recent years. This is an extremely dangerous reality, as biodiversity plays a crucial role in the environment’s health and equilibrium. If we don’t act soon through increased legislation, treaties, and other environmental initiatives, we could face severe ecological crises, as well as the demise of species who deserve to live unharmed by human activities. 

Word Count: 1107

Question: What would be a feasible alternative for Indigenous West and Central Africans who depend on bushmeat for a source of protein?

Bibliography

Geo Beats. “Global Wildlife Population Declined By 50% In Last 40 Years.” Dailymotion. Dailymotion, September 30, 2014. https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x26ybub. 

Miller, G. Tyler, and Scott Spoolman. Living in the Environment. Stamford, CT: Cengage 

Learning, 2018.

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