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Animal Extinction

Animal Extinction

People have a greater influence on animals than they realize. The extinction of animals is inevitable, and it is believed that about 99.9% of all species to have existed have gone extinct. However, the rate at which species become extinct is currently the highest it is known ever to have been; for the first time since the extinction of the dinosaurs, organisms are losing genetic diversity and becoming endangered and extinct at a higher rate than that at which they can evolve to survive changes in their environment. This ongoing event is often referred to as the sixth mass extinction, and is caused most notably by human activity.

Habitat change and destruction is the leading cause of extinction; though habitat destruction occurs in nature, it has been afflicting populations at an accelerated rate in recent years due to human activity. Humans build homes and towns in animals' habitats, cut trees for timber, and clear land as farmland, usually destroying the habitat of whichever species live in these ares. Destroying the habitat in an ecosystem subjects the affected populations to devastating effects such as the loss of food and shelter, making the continued survival of affected species tenuous and, eventually, impossible.

Humans also contribute to this leading cause of extinction extinction by causing dramatic climate change. Since the industrial era, human activity has caused the accelerated release of greenhouse gases and aerosols into the environment, trapping heat in the atmosphere and contributing to global warming. In addition to posing a potential serious danger to human health, environmental change contributes to or causes the extinction of vulnerable animals, or those overspecialized to their environments.

Humans may also cause extinction through means other than habitat change and destruction. Poaching, notoriously responsible for endangering many species, may also become a very serious threat to the survival of several species. If many animals of one species are killed by human hunters, there may eventually be too few organisms left to breed enough to repopulate, and the species may become extinct. Many fear that this is the looming fate of animals such as elephants and rhinoceros, which have been controversially subject to much poaching.

Poaching may also reduce the viability of several of the animals it affects. By killing several animals in a population, poaching reduces the genetic variability within a population, subjecting future offspring of its animals to health complications due to inbreeding. This effect of poaching may prevent several animals in a population from surviving to sexual maturity, and therefore mating, reducing the number of animals in a population over the course of several generations. Though this effect of poaching alone may not effect extinction, it can severely hurt a population, contributing significantly to its endangerment and eventual extinction.

Because of human activity, extinction is becoming an increasingly prevalent danger to Earth's biodiversity. Biodiversity is important because it is necessary long-term to sustain ecosystems. As the health and survival of ecosystems often depend on various predator-prey relationships, the extinction of a species may have devastating effects on the ecosystem to which it belonged; when the diversity of life on Earth is harmed, so is the ability for the rest of Earth's life to sustain itself. Furthermore, many people appreciate biodiversity not only for its cultural, aesthetic, and educational value, but for its providing a variety of food sources, research opportunities, and medicinal resources; biodiversity is therefore, to humans, worth protecting.

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