Our planet is made up of several species, each uniquely contributing to the natural processes of our planet’s ecosystems. Although it’s easy to ignore the place of wildlife in our world due to how distant some animals seem, there’s no denying the roles wildlife plays in the grand scheme. The complex web of life requires humans, plants, and animals. And when this system is altered as a result of extinction, life on Earth is affected.
Many of us automatically consider how global warming and climate change impact human life. However, we need to examine how the changing climate system affects animals. And we also need to consider the impact of human actions like overhunting, pollution, deforestation, and commercial fishing on animal populations. Although many animals are finding ways to adapt to changes like habitat loss, not all of them have been able to find their way through.
From maintaining the food web to helping fight the climate crisis and everything in-between, animals are an essential part of our environment. When we disturb the equilibrium in our ecosystem by putting certain animals at risk, we disrupt nature’s process. While extinction is a natural phenomenon, human impact has accelerated the rate. A 2019 report revealed that about 1 million plant and animal species face extinction due to human activities.
If you’re curious about some of the species that have already met this destiny, we’ve compiled a list of recently extinct animals below. You’ll also discover action steps you can take to protect endangered species in the future.
8 Recently Extinct Animals You Should Know About
1. Ivory-Billed Woodpecker
Declared Extinct: 2021
Ivory-billed woodpeckers were the largest woodpecker in North America. They were about 18 to 20 inches long with a wingspan of 30 to 31 inches. They had long pale bills that enabled them to strip bark from trees to access beetle larvae, their primary food source. Their bodies were black with two white stripes down their necks.
This bird species has faced significant controversy in terms of its extinction. Although condemned to extinction about 50 years ago, a video emerged in 2005 with reports of sightings of this bird in an Arkansas swamp forest. However, some suggested that the tape showed a similar-looking woodpecker, the pileated woodpecker, which is native to North America.
2. Splendid Poison Frog
Declared Extinct: 2020
When you think of frogs, your mind most likely wanders to the common frogs with olive green, gray, or brownish skin. However, there are thousands of frog species struggling for survival in their respective moist habitats.
The splendid poison frog is among some of the world’s now-extinct animals. Belonging to the poison dart frogs species, splendid poison frogs were part of the most brightly colored frogs in the world! These bright red frogs took residence in Western Panama, living in humid lowlands and wet montane forests.
In 2020, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) officially declared splendid forest frogs extinct. Unlike some species that have gone extinct solely due to natural phenomena, the extinction of this species is largely attributed to human activity.
Habitat degradation and deforestation threatened the survival of this species. As a result, activities such as logging and human settlement affected the splendid poison frog. Apart from this, researchers also believe that a fungal outbreak—chytrid fungus—in 1996 contributed to their extinction.
3. Lake Lanao Freshwater Fish
Declared Extinct: 2020
Lake Lanao, one of the few ancient lakes in the world, was home to about 17 freshwater fish species. It’s the second largest lake in the Philippines and research estimates it to be about 10 million years old. Of the species it inhabits, 15 of them have been declared extinct.
These species include: Barbodes amarus, Barbodes baoulan, Barbodes clemensi, Barbodes disa, Barbodes flavifuscus, Barbodes herrei, Barbodes katolo, Barbodes lanaoensis, Barbodes manalak, Barbodes pachycheilus, Barbodes palaemophagus, Barbodes palata, Barbodes resimus, Barbodes tras, and Barbodes truncatalus.
From the IUCN’s studies, we can likely link the extinction of these species to the introduction of invasive species into the lake for commercial purposes. Other factors like overfishing and destructive fishing methods also contributed to the extinction.
4. Smooth Handfish
Declared Extinct: 2020
The smooth handfish had quite an unusual look. With its bulging eyes and mohawk-like fins, the smooth handfish was anything but a common fish. In fact, it’s most known for its ability to “walk” on the seafloor due to its fins that look like hands.
The smooth handfish was about 5.9 inches long and lived in coastal water bodies in Tasmania. Since handfish are generally homebodies, they struggled to move and adapt when their habitats were disturbed. As a result, they were vulnerable to threats.
The smooth handfish is the first modern-day marine fish to become extinct. With only 14 handfish species previously in the world, the extinction of these animals dropped that number to 13. In 2020, IUCN officially declared it extinct.
Habitat destruction was the main cause of these animals’ extinction. Human activities such as fishing and pollution, and also the impacts of climate change, drove these animals to extinction.
5. Bramble Cay Melomys
Declared Extinct: 2019
The Bramble Cay melomys got its name from its habitat, the Bramble Cay—a small vegetated coral cay in the northeastern part of Australia.
These rodents had long tails, large feet, and short ears. Their furs were in a red-brown color above with a gray-brown color below, and they were about 6 inches long and weighed less than a quarter of a pound. And their habitat was less than 10 feet above sea level. As temperatures increased and sea levels rose, the animals saw a threat.
The Bramble Cay melomys made history as the first mammal to go extinct due to climate change. Human-driven activities leading to warming ocean temperatures and higher sea levels contributed to their extinction. Plus, severe storms, high tides, and rising sea levels led to the flooding of the island—drowning and washing away vegetation that the animals used as shelter and food.
Without adequate resources for survival and the loss of their habitat, this species went from being endangered to extinct—as declared by the Australian government in 2019.
6. Spix’s Macaw
Declared Extinct (In the Wild): 2019
If you’ve seen the animated movie Rio, then you already have an idea of what this bird looks like. Blu, the main protagonist in the movie, is a Spix’s macaw. This bird is also known as the little blue macaw, and its bright blue color makes it stand out in the wild.
The Spix’s macaw was found in Brazil; however, it’s now extinct in the wild, according to the IUCN. That means the Spix’s macaw is no longer in its natural habitat—but there are a little over 100 in captivity.
Their extinction in the wild stems from practices like deforestation and the illegal pet trade. Captive breeding programs are looking to increase the population of this species and reintroduce them to their natural habitat.
Declared Possibly Extinct: 2017
Baiji, sometimes called the Chinese river dolphin, is a pale blue-gray dolphin that grew up to 8 feet long. For about 20 million years, the Yangtze River in China was the baiji’s home. You could identify this dolphin by its long, narrow beak and tiny eyes that sat at a higher position on its head. Baiji dolphins were also quiet and would actively avoid boats.
The baiji holds the record as the first dolphin species to be driven into extinction by human activity. In 2006, scientists did a thorough survey of the Yangtze River and couldn’t find evidence of the species. However, the baiji now has the conservation tag of being “possibly extinct,” according to the IUCN in 2017.
The baiji’s decline can be attributed to environmental damage to the Yangtze River due to dam construction, river pollution, overfishing, and boat traffic.
8. Western Black Rhinoceros
Declared Extinct: 2011
The Western black rhinoceros was the rarest of the black rhinoceros species. Contrary to its name, this rhino subspecies had a dark gray color.
Like other rhino species, they were big and bulky. You could identify them by their two horns. They were distributed around grasslands in West and Central Africa, and they could move fast and change directions quickly. Although they had poor sights, they had heightened senses of hearing and smell. Unfortunately, these unique characteristics couldn’t save them.
The extinction of these rhinos was mainly a result of human intervention. Due to big profits from horn trading, they became victims; poachers would kill these animals for their horns. People would then use these horns for decorations or in traditional Chinese medicine.
In 2000, there were only 10 of these rhinos left. Finally, researchers declared them extinct in 2011.
How Can We Protect Endangered Species?
The World Wildlife Fund’s 2018 Our Living Planet Report revealed that wildlife population sizes decreased by 60% between 1970 and 2014. However, we can take action to curb the decline of natural processes and protect wildlife.
Ready to save some animals? Here are four actionable steps to ensure you’re not contributing to the rapid extinction of animals.
1. Learn About Endangered Species
Learning about the endangered species—especially the ones that are native to your area—is a critical step in taking action. The process of educating yourself allows you to gain knowledge on the importance of animals in our ecosystems.
Also, it shines a light on those vulnerable animals, giving you room to take action to contribute to their protection. You can also support animal conservation organizations like the World Wildlife Fund, the Jane Goodall Institute, and the International Rhino Foundation.
2. Buy Sustainable Products
Switching to a sustainable lifestyle is one of the key steps you can take to protect wildlife. Many conventional products in the market come from forests that aren’t managed sustainably, thereby affecting wildlife habits. By choosing products with Forest Stewardship Council certification, for instance, you can be sure that the products come from responsibly managed forests.
Choosing chemical-free and plastic-free items also helps reduce pollution of the oceans, thereby protecting marine life. Also, you make more sustainable swaps in your daily routines. That means opting for reef-friendly, zero-waste sunscreen, products with compostable packaging, and more. All in all, being a conscious consumer makes all the difference.
3. Avoid the Use of Pesticides in Your Yard
You may be using pesticides to keep certain pests away; however, these chemicals are pollutants that affect animals and insects. By using them to send pests away, other animals can become exposed to these chemicals. If animals ingest these toxins, it can cause health problems and disrupt hormones that affect their ability to reproduce.
To avoid poisoning, you can try pesticide alternatives like companion planting, biological control methods, and natural pesticide products. Check out our guide for natural insecticides that keep houseplants pest-free.
4. Choose Responsible Wildlife Tourism
If you’re an enthusiastic traveler, chances are you’ll find yourself exploring wildlife areas from time to time. Traveling and exploring are great; however, you can prioritize responsible practices.
Employ practices like only taking photos of animals in their natural environments as opposed to forced selfies where they’re removed from their homes.
Other practices include supporting local economies, avoiding feeding animals, and keeping your distance. And you can even adopt more sustainable travel habits in general, from the airplane to the hotel.
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