Scientists recognise that species continually disappear at a background extinction rate estimated at about one species per million per year, with new species replacing the lost in a sustainable fashion.
Today we’re living through the sixth great extinction, sometimes known as the Holocene extinction event.
But, as harmful as our forebears may have been, nothing compares to what’s under way today. Throughout the 20th century the causes of extinction – habitat degradation, overexploitation, agricultural monocultures, human-borne invasive species, human-induced climate-change – increased exponentially, until now in the 21st century the rate is nothing short of explosive.
When we hear of extinction, most of us think of the plight of the rhino, tiger, panda or blue whale. But these sad sagas are only small pieces of the extinction puzzle. The overall numbers are terrifying. Of the 40,168 species that the 10,000 scientists in the World Conservation Union have assessed, one in four mammals, one in eight birds, one in three amphibians, one in three conifers and other gymnosperms are at risk of extinction.
We will show you a list with 20 species that are critically in danger of extinction, but there are many more: whales, certain shark species, polar bears, etc. Only ambitious plans for protection can save these fascinating species.
Hooded seals are found only in small areas of the North Atlantic and are heavily hunted. The seal is known for its unique nasal cavity located at the top of his head, which inflates and deflates while swimming. The campaign also inflates when it feels threatened, attracts mates and symbolizes health and higher status. These huge animals can weigh up to 900 pounds and measure 8 feet long.
These marsupials live in the rainforests of New Guinea and Queensland, and as the name suggests, are members of the family of kangaroos that live in trees. Hunting and deforestation have reduced the strength of these amazing creatures to 1%.
These beautiful birds inhabit the Everest, the Himalayas and other mountainous regions of Europe and Asia. Bearded vultures were almost eradicated in the last century due to fears of attacks to lambs and children, and now, the WWF estimates that there are only 10,000.
Also known as the Mexican salamander, these little odd amphibians inhabited several lakes in Central America, including Lake Xochimilco in Mexico City. Since 2010, the strange creatures have been critically endangered and in a study in 2013 failed to find any salamanders in the wild.
The saiga antelope is found critically endangered. Inhabiting the Eurasian steppe, including Dzungaria and Mongolia. This incredible creature that seems alien, has an uncanny nose is extremely flexible and helps filter out the dust raised by the flock in migration. Hunting and habitat loss mean that there are only a few thousand of these strange animals.
The olm lives in the caves of Central and Southeastern Europe and is one of the few that is completely aquatic amphibians. They eat, sleep and grows underwater. Lives its entire life in complete darkness. The Elm has never developed eyes and instead has incredible senses of hearing and smell. Water pollution has led to its downfall.
David Attenborough once said that these wonderful monkeys are like “elves.” It is found in Asia, at a height of up to 13,000 feet. These primates with a short stump for nose are rarely seen. These strange monkeys have become critically endangered because of deforestation.
The world population of gharial crocodile is thought to number less than 235, most of which are in the Indian subcontinent. These beasts are 20 feet long weighing 350 pounds and dominated all major river systems, as their long, slender jaws makes them agile in hunting and eating fish. Overfishing by humans has been reduced the strength of this animal to 2%.
This strange kind of monkey found only on the island of Borneo, is known for his enormous belly and nose. These features gave it the nickname “Dutch monkey” after the Indonesians said the Dutch settlers who arrived on the island had great guts like these monkeys. The population of these monkeys was reduced by 50% in the last 40 years as a result of deforestation.
The Irrawaddy dolphins are found in coastal areas of South and Southeast Asia. These animals are known for their domed forehead and short beak, giving them a much stranger look from other dolphins appearance. Recent studies put their numbers at 77, citing overfishing as the main threat.
Coconut crabs are the greatest example of arthropods in the world, weighing up to 9 kilos. As the name suggests, the animals are known to climb trees to pick coconuts and then crush with their powerful claws. Considered a delicacy by some, these crustaceans are protected in some areas.
The Kakapo is the world’s fattest parrot and due to their weight problems, the only flightless parrot. Originally from New Zealand, the European colonization of the island brought with them cats who would make Kakapo easy prey. These birds are critically endangered, with only about 128 specimens remain in some predator-free islands.
The dugong is one of only four living species of sea cows and are located in the Pacific Ocean to the east coast of Africa. These majestic giants have long been hunted for their meat and oil, leaving them in danger of extinction.
The slender Loris elusive of Horton Plains has been seen only four times since 1937 and disappeared altogether from 1939-2002, raising fears that the primate was extinguished. It is located in Sri Lanka. They have big eyes giving them excellent night vision, but have also given birth to superstition. Some communities believe that the flesh of the animal can cure leprosy, and body parts can be used to ward off curses and spells.
The Gooty spider – or Poecilotheria metallica – found only in a small Indian forests of around 60 square miles. Collectors asking up to $ 500 for these arthropods of beautiful colors and this has led its population to fall significantly and are now critically endangered.
The markhor straight out of a fantasy book and it’s easy to see why it is the national animal of Pakistan. His high status and incredible style surprise and they were a perfect target for trophy hunters and now there are only about 2,500 remaining.
Quokkas are very friendly marsupial found in a small corner of southwestern Australia. Their kindness partly explains why they are at risk as they have been known to approach dingos and foxes in the hope of making friends.
Known as the “giraffe zebra.” The animal rose to fame during the 1800s, when they were found by British explorers – yet no one went home believing that a strange creature could be real. Today, you can only find in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and there are only 10,000 to 20,000.
Hunting and sale as pets and the large palm oil industries are the reasons for its critical situation. These consider the orangutan as an enemy of their crops and kill them without pity. Indonesia has lost more than half the surface of its tropical forest in the last 50 years to favor these plantations. These ape can only be found in Borneo and Sumatra.
This species is threatened by the human invasion of its habitat: China, Pakistan, India, Nepal. Living in a setting like the Himalayas has not prevented their number from falling to less than 5 thousand. This feline can live at altitudes over 6,000 m. Their skin is also used in trade and they feed on farm animals at times, so they are hunted when this occurs.
The delicate natural balance is being affected by us, every day we destroy forests, burn plains, pollute the oceans and river sources, we are changing the natural habitat of most species of the world.
So much so that over 33% of known species is on the red list of endangered animals. These are just some of the amazing animals that we might never see it again unless something is done.
THE Supreme Court recently reserved its verdict on the review petitions filed against the ban imposed on hunting the houbara bustard. Ever since the issue first came in the limelight last year, it has divided and polarised public opinion.
For many in Pakistan, the houbara bustard has grown into a symbol of our government’s infirmity. The government’s decision to appeal against the ban on hunting the houbara bustard has largely been viewed as an act to appease the Arab states. As a corollary, it has been assumed that doing so has only been in the interests of the Arabs. The state’s undue eagerness to reverse this ban when coupled with the popular belief that houbara bustard’s hunting is illegal and in violation of Pakistan’s international obligations, explains why many, in the public, view Pakistan’s response with grave contempt.
The houbara bustard, however, remains a classic case of the government mishandling a simple issue. While there may be an element of truth in the idea that the government is driven by a fear of falling out with Arab dignitaries (as comical as it might sound), it is nevertheless wrong to believe that the government has somehow acted only in the Arabs’ interests. Contrary to popular misconception, a complete ban on hunting houbara bustards is neither in the interests of Pakistan, nor does it serve any useful purpose in conserving the bird’s population.
Sustainable hunting is better than a blanket ban.
Put simply, conservation requires that the population of an endangered species should increase over time by breeding at a faster rate than hunting. In that sense, breeding is essential for conservation efforts. What is often overlooked is that breeding can only take place within the species’ habitat. Relying on the natural cycle of reproduction (in the wild) can be slow, particularly when there is a need to speed up conservation efforts. This is why, world-over, the support of the local community residing in, or around, a threatened species’ habitat is enlisted by encouraging it to not only protect the species but also to promote its breeding.
This appears simple but we can ask why people in interior Sindh or Balochistan, (where the houbara bustard migrates to) would be interested in preserving and breeding a bird that comes for a few months each year. Will these people — living in some of our most malnourished regions — not be tempted to hunt the houbara for its meat?
How does the government ensure that the community does not hunt endangered species? By imposing a complete ban? Possibly, but then, as other countries have discovered, imposing such bans are not only difficult to monitor and implement but counterproductive too, because it alienates the local community, forces them to hunt discreetly, and provides no incentives for breeding.
It is due to this counterproductive nature of blanket bans that sustainable hunting is internationally recognised as a conservational tool. The government issues permits for hunting threatened species bought by hunters at higher prices. Money received from issuing hunting permits is distributed amongst the local community that resides within the species’ habitat. The distribution of money serves as an incentive for the local community to not only protect the species but also promote its breeding. After all, the faster the species is bred, the greater its population and the greater the population, the more permits can be issued and the more permits are issued, the more money is available for distribution amongst the local community.
In 1998, for instance, trophy hunting was introduced to save Pakistan’s national animal, markhor. Generally, hunting permits for markhor range between $50,000 to $100,000. According to the KP Wildlife Department, 80pc of the amount generated through each permit is distributed amongst the local community and the remaining 20pc are spent on projects for improving biodiversity. The results are astonishing. The markhor population has increased from 275 in the early 1990s to over 3,500 in 2015.
This experience indicates that sustainable hunting is a potent tool in conserving threatened species. It also demonstrates that enlisting indigenous support is essential for the success of any conservation programme.
In this context, a complete ban on hunting is not likely to serve the purpose of protecting the houbara bustard’s population. Instead, a strictly regulated system of sustainable hunting, as required under Pakistan’s international obligations, that creates financial incentives for the local community is needed. In selling the permits, the government can not only impose limits on hunting but also impose additional obligations on the buyer to promote breeding too. This will not only improve conservational efforts but will also help in the economic development of communities in backward areas of Punjab, Sindh and Balochistan.
The decision of the court is awaited — a complete ban or sustainable hunting?
The writer is a lawyer.
Published in Dawn, January 21st, 2016