Tigers in Cambodia, India, Russia, Thailand and Vietnam, the golden frog of Panama, the Sumatran elephant, the Amur leopard, the polar bear and the mountain gorilla are just a few among too many examples of animals we are losing globally.
Biodiversity is disappearing at epic rates. That there then is a day, May 22, proclaimed as International Day for Biological Diversity (IDB), to increase understanding and awareness of biodiversity issues is a good thing.
Of course how much this United Nations awareness-building exercise can change the course of the sixth extinction we’re experiencing now is highly debatable.
The mighty tiger has seen its numbers plummet since 1900 when there were an estimated 100,000. Today, there may be as few as 3,000 free tigers, with more tigers in captivity now than in the wild. Humankind has managed in just a few decades to wipe out 97 percent of these elegant and exotic creatures. We can hardly be surprised though by this carnage. As an example, look to India.
One of the homes to the tiger, as well as many other threatened and endangered creatures, India in the 1940s had a human population of 314 million — a few million under current U.S. population. By 2010, the population had exploded to 1.2 billion and, as has been widely reported, is expected to surpass China, and hit 1.65 billion by 2050.
With such a massive press of humanity, while both man and animal will suffer, without Herculean efforts, wildlife is the more likely loser. For the subsistence farmers protecting their meager plots of land, should a tiger come exploring, who is likely to win in that scenario? Multiply that scenario by large numbers and add to it hundreds of millions more needing space and resources in India.
The man versus nature battle has played out here in California too for decades, condors to cougars, San Joaquin kit fox to northern spotted owl. Now record drought, heat and wildfires in California are challenging our wisdom of uncontrolled growth. Yet again, when crisis hits, man is unlikely to take the hit, but will sacrifice the environment and wild things.
Earlier this year, Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency due to the drought and suspended adherence to the California Environmental Quality Act, stating that “strict compliance … will prevent, hinder, or delay the mitigation of the effects of the emergency.” Environmentalist and wildlife biologist Leon Kolankiewicz says that Brown’s declaration is likely to harm several fish species in the San Francisco Bay and the Sacramento Delta, including the federally threatened, state endangered delta smelt. Oh the outcry from some people about why we’re even bothering with a fish called smelt.
“We all know what happens when push comes to shove, and when politicians frame an issue like this: Who is more important, people or fish?” Kolankiewicz says.
Elsewhere in the world, a recent research expedition to the islands of Arctic Norway found few mother polar bears and cubs and a dramatic drop in the sea ice they need (a loss attributed to climate change). The bears hunt ringed seals on the ice, and the bears also need the ice to be near land so they can come ashore to den. The seals are in trouble, too. More limited ice, not the right kind of ice and not enough snow are impacting seal reproduction. It looks like — it smells like — a whole ecosystem on the verge of collapse.
While apex predators facing extinction may get most of the press (which nonetheless doesn’t seem to be enough to change human behaviors to change the trajectory of these animals), many types of flora also are threatened. The California Native Plant Society publishes an “Inventory of Rare & Endangered Plants in California,” and it grows larger all the time.
Sixth Extinction or the 11th Hour — however you want to phrase it — humankind to wildkind is out of balance, and that imbalance is playing out worldwide. As Dave Foreman, author of “Man Swarm and the Killing of Wildlife,” wrote in 2011, “At nearly 7 billion of us, we have overshot Earth’s carrying capacity. The man swarm yet swells … The crippling of Earth’s life support system by such a flood of upright apes is bad news for us.
“But it is much worse news for other Earthlings — animals and plants, wildeors and worts — who are taking a far worse beating than are we for our devil-may-care childishness and greed.”
World population has swelled to more than 7.23 billion in just the short time since Foreman wrote those words, and the numbers are only headed up. Concerns have been raised about the ability of humans to survive; maybe the concern should be if anything else can.
Maria Fotopoulos is a Senior Writing Fellow for Californians for Population Stabilization (capsweb.org). Contact her firstname.lastname@example.org. This column distributed by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.