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Last Chance to See?

December 1, 2009
Golden Toad

No longer with us: a Golden Toad

Reviews of the decade allow greater scope for reflection than end of year sum-ups, a year being just too short a frame of reference to allow considered observation of changes and emerging trends.  When we raise our glasses to 2010 later this month, ‘the Noughties’ will be history.  So now is the time to look back over the last ten years.  In this vein, a few weeks ago a weekend magazine presented readers with a broad survey of world events during this first decade of the 21st century, including a list of ten animal extinctions.

It’s easy to imagine that the only species which become extinct these days are obsure and undistinguished beetles, virtually identical to thousands of other related beetles, or other lifeforms uninteresting to the layman and not contributing much to the colour and diversity of global fauna. 

However, top of the magazine’s list was the Baiji dolphin, which lived in China’s Yangtze river.  The last documented sighting was in 2002.  Were there no glaring warning signals?  After all, dolphins are among the more photogenic animals.  A Save the Yangtze River Dolphin campaign would have had garnered plenty of attention.  And then there’s the Golden, or Monteverde, Toad.  A gold-coloured amphibian can’t be that easy to mislay.  Yet it was confirmed extinct in 2007.  It seems pollution and global warming led to its downfall, as it existed only on a high altitude ridge in Costa Rica.

All this has happened in a decade when conservation has been relatively high on the agenda.  Higher certainly than in the first half of the 20th century.  The most-missed species to have disappeared in that period is surely the Tasmanian Tiger, a wolf-like carnivorous marsupial, the last specimen filmed for posterity at Hobart Zoo in the 1930s.

Back to the current decade, and Hawaii has lost two bird species, the Po’o-uli and the Kama’o.  The latter was a large thrush: research for this blog has found that a smaller variety still exists, but is listed as ‘Critically Endangered’.  Will it still be around when we write our decennial reviews in 2019?

 

 

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. Janet permalink
    December 1, 2009 9:47 pm

    Apart from global warming and pollution which account for animals, birds, etc. becoming extinct,there is also the danger of Man. It seems some people kill for the sheer enjoyment of killing and also Men kill to eat. I don’t know about the toad and the dolphin mentioned in the article but surely educating adults and children and teaching them about the value of animal and birdlife, etc. would help preserve their species.So much damage is done through ignorance.

  2. Jemma J permalink
    December 1, 2009 11:29 pm

    Yes there has been a problem with over-hunting in the past & with illegal poaching, which has decimated the numbers of certain species, i.e. the Sumatra Tiger (don’t think toads really fall into this category …), but there has always been a problem with changing climate & natural environments over the last few million years or so, which can’t always be blamed on ‘Man’ and industrial revolution. A recent article reproduced in The Week suggested that in some geographical locations the Ice Age took hold over a period of 6 months (Ireland if I recall correctly), which indicates that some things are out of our control. The dinosaurs weren’t exactly hunted to extinction either, so again, a process of natural ‘wastage’ – survival of the fittest, so to speak, or rather the most adaptable creature wins … if your time is up, then your time is up.

    The naturalist Chris Packer (?) also argued recently that we should just let the panda run itself into extinction as it’s eating habits don’t really give it much hope for the future, whether we intervene or not. Basically a design fault in the animal rather than lack of habitat. He might have a point.

    What your blogger omits to mention is the number of new species that are being discovered each year. The media seldom report the ‘good news’ as that doesn’t sell papers. However, please don’t blame the demise of dolphins & toads on people hunting & killing for meat – it’s what we were invented for!! Far better to kill a deer, rabbit or pheasant & use it properly, than to support these ghastly fast food chains & their reconstituted meat, who in their ongoing quest for expansion & world domination are probably the biggest destroyers of habitat & wildlife. Have a go at the huge supermarkets, fast food chains & other such conglomorates & leave us ‘hunters’ alone!

  3. solarukweblog permalink*
    December 2, 2009 10:52 am

    For us non-scientists it’s hard fighting our way through the thicket of claim and counter-claim about global warming, but there does seem to be a consensus that the climate has undergone change more quickly in the modern era than ever before; at the same time, of course, there will always be fluctuations caused by natural influences such as El Nino.

    It made me smile, Jemma J, when you mentioned the demise of the dinosaurs and the ‘survival of the fittest’, but then wondered if the panda has a fault in its ‘design’. Do you think that species evolve via adaptation by natural selection or did an intelligent designer play a part at the outset? Of course, it is possible to be a keen proponent of Darwinism yet also believe in the guiding hand of a Supreme Being (although I imagine Richard Dawkins and others would disagree).

  4. December 4, 2009 5:43 pm

    A “Save the Baiji” campaign did exist (see http://web.ipac.caltech.edu/staff/hoard/baiji/baiji02.html) – it didn’t work.

  5. solarukweblog permalink*
    December 6, 2009 3:39 pm

    Thanks for pointing this out. Your ‘Adventures in China’ pages look interesting, though I can’t seem to scroll down to the end of each page. From what I read it seems that people living near the river weren’t very aware of the dolphin.

    • D. W. Hoard permalink
      December 7, 2009 6:29 am

      Are you using an iPhone/iPod Touch to view the website? Try scrolling with two fingers on the touchscreen.

  6. solarukweblog permalink*
    December 8, 2009 10:27 am

    I’m using Internet Explorer to look at the website, and can scroll down the contents list on the left-hand side, but on the Introduction page (for example) cannot read anything below the line “The Yangtze River is the longest river in Asia and the third longest in the world, at roughly 6000 km”.

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