Thursday, November 10, 2011

Entire mammal genus on brink of extinction

From National Geographic:
For the first time in 75 years, an entire genus of mammal may go the way of the dodo—unless a new conservation effort shepherded by Somalian herders succeeds.

The hirola, a large African antelope known for its striking, goggle-like eye markings, is the only remaining species in the genus Beatragus—and its numbers are dwindling fast, conservationists say.

The last mammal genus to blink out was Thylacinus, in 1936, with the death of the last Tasmanian tiger. A genus is a taxonomic ranking between species and family.

Considered critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the hirola has seen its numbers fall by as much as 90 percent since 1980. The latest survey, in February, found about 245 animals in fragmented pockets of northeastern Kenya and southwestern Somalia, according to the Nature Conservancy.

In all, conservationists estimate there are fewer than 400 hirolas scattered throughout the species' historic range of East Africa.

A range of factors, including climate change-related drought; unregulated hunting; habitat destruction; and more recently, predation have slashed populations.

Coincidentally - or not - the world population of human beings has just reached 7 billion! That's double the number of people living on Earth in the 1960s. That's almost four and a half times as many people as existed at the start of the 20th Century.

We are squeezing out other species of animals - all of them our relatives, in fact - because we just won't limit our own numbers. We're also destroying our own environment as we destroy theirs. Where's the intelligence in that? Are we just going to breed and breed until our environment collapses? Are we like lemmings, then? Or rats?

I remember as a grade school kid learning about the Tasmanian tiger, about the dodo, about the passenger pigeon. I remember learning about the close calls, too - the whooping crane, the buffalo, the whales. In school, the implication was that we'd made terrible mistakes, but that we'd learned our lesson.

Guess what? We haven't learned anything.

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