One thing is for sure, judging from the title, this is not going to be the most cheery article. However, this is the current state of things in our natural world and we need to be aware of it if we are going to attempt to do something about it. So, as we brace ourselves for the seeming inevitable depression and despair, who are we talking about and what seems to be the problem? Well, this time we are focusing on three species, a great ape, the Bornean orang-utan, the worlds biggest fish, the whale shark and a species of hammerhead shark, the winghead shark. What do these three all have in common? They have all had their conservation status’s reassessed by the IUCN. While the whale shark and the winghead have both now been classed as ‘endangered’, the Bornean orang-utan is now dangerously close to extinction, being classed as ‘critically endangered.’
So, what’s the problem? Well, as a species, we humans have a lot to answer for, because it is of course human pressures, which are pushing these three magnificent species toward extinction. The whale shark, unfortunately, is popular in areas of Asia, where its meat and fins are sold at markets and used in popular dishes such as soups. The winghead shark, is thought to be at serious risk from unregulated fishing and, because of its size and shape, is very prone to being caught in fishing nets, which are intended to catch tuna. Although the IUCN has stated that is is very difficult to estimate the remaining populations of both of these shark species, there has been a sharp fall in the number of species being spotted over the past few years.
The Bornean orang-utan is a protected species, which lives in the rainforests of Borneo and is something of a notoriously slow breeder. Females tend to give birth at around 14-15 years of age and offspring are not weaned until 4 years of age, consequently, any pressures on their populations has a huge impact. Hunting and development is the greatest threat to this great ape and if something drastic is not done soon, they could be extinct in the wild within the next 5o years. Although the ape itself is protected, it’s rainforest habitats are not, with large expanses of forest constantly being lost to oil palm, rubber and paper plantations. In addition, their protection status does not stop them from being targeted by hunters, who are thought to be responsible for the loss of 2000-3000 orang-utans every year over the past 40 years. As a result of all of this, the population of this orang-utan is now around 100,000. Well, could be worse couldn’t it? Perhaps, but when we consider that this population was closer to 288,500 in 1973, it is clear there has been a dramatic drop in their numbers. The remaining population is already highly fragmented, which makes breeding more difficult and by 2025, it is thought their populations will drop even lower to around 47,000.
In September, the IUCN will be publishing a full, updated list of its Red List of endangered species at its annual world conservation congress. So far, the news does not look so good for some of our most iconic and beautiful species. Human pressures are a constant threat to our biodiversity and the health of our natural world. If real action is not taken to protect habitats and species, we may once again be waving goodbye to even more of our species. The list of species lost due to human interference gives a long and depressing read, let us hope that these three species are not added to that list anytime soon.
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