Talk of species extinction and quite naturally dinosaurs come to mind… sure proof that extinction is indeed an issue because as we can see, they no longer exist. However, not only dinosaurs have gone extinct over the years, others include the West African Black Rhinoceros, the Caribbean Monk Seal, the Sea Mink, Tasmanian Tigers, amongst a number of others. History, Geography, Archaeology and the movies act as our best bets of knowing about these creatures that are now unfortunately ‘past’.
So, what really is extinction? It is when there are no more individuals of a particular species alive anywhere in the world – the species has died out. Though a natural process, Scientists estimate we are now losing species at 1,000 to 10,000 times the background rate, with dozens going extinct every day. These are very scary rates!
In Nigeria today, there are adults who have never seen a Lion because even the zoos and Wildlife parks don’t have them. An even scarier thought is that in some thousands of years, someone out there may only know of a Lion from the History books or documentaries.
Major causes of species extinction today include:
- Deforestation: When the Earth’s forests which are major habitats for species are cleared out, then these animals are rendered homeless. They start to struggle to survive with only a few making it through.
- Growing human population: When human population expands, more resources are needed to sustain it. Hence, we begin to deplete the very resources on which human lives depend.
- Urbanization: This has led to habitat loss as development consumes land and degrades water quality.
- Global warming and Climate change create conditions in which both animals and plants find it difficult to thrive.
- Poaching and Hunting: This is a major one in Nigeria probably because of factors such as poverty, loose laws and poor levels of awareness. More and more frequently, stories pop up in the news in Nigeria of animals killed for meat, ivory or other purposes. For example:
- In Plateau State, a Lion that escaped from the Wildlife Park was hunted down and killed still within the park premises when it could have been shot with a tranquilizer and kept alive.
- In Ondo State, a giant whale was killed after it washed up on shore. Locals took pictures, butchered it and shared it amongst themselves; a sharp contrast to the baby humpback whale that was saved by the collaboration of hundreds of people after it washed up on a Rio de Janeiro beach.
- A Nigerian researcher also raised concerns after villagers from Sapele, Delta State caught and killed a Manatee, and shared the meat amongst themselves. Manatees being creatures that typically breed once every two years and deliver only one calf. In fact, all three species of the Manatee; the West Indian, West African and Amazonian, have been listed by the World Conservation Union as vulnerable to extinction, and yet we treat them so casually around here.
- An African civet, unknown by many so much that it was called a Leopard, was killed in Edo State for bushmeat as well when it could have been taken to the zoo.
From all of the above, one thing is obvious; Human activity is a leading cause of species extinction, whether directly or indirectly. We are destroying our biodiversity with our bare hands. We are making daily decisions that actively contribute to species extinction and this needs to be curbed now, with every sense of urgency.
This is extremely important for a number of reasons:
- Extinction is forever. There’s no turning back.
- The Ecological balance of having humans, animals, plants, and other micro-organisms co-existing is being destroyed.
- Animals are useful to humans and the environment for the purpose of medical studies and extinctions may rob humans of valuable medical advancements. Many different species have unique bodily processes that can offer insight into curing human disease.
- Some species serve as buffers between humans and pathogens that could prove extremely dangerous.
- Species yet to be discovered are lost before they were ever found.
Some actions Nigeria can take towards solving the problem include:
- Creating and enforcing laws that protect against poaching, hunting and wildlife trade.
- We need to restore our forests which serve as primary habitats for many creatures by tree planting.
- We must fight to reduce poverty levels because realistically, a man who does not have food will kill wildlife and whatever else he needs to kill to survive.
As individuals, we need to study and learn about endangered species around us so we can do more to protect them. We also need to work towards reducing our carbon footprints as our own contributions to fighting climate change.
Finally, we need to create awareness; bring people to the realisation of what human activity can mean to the environment and the existence of various species because if they do not know in the first place, then nothing can change.