A Brief History
On September 27, 1937, the smallest of all sub-species of tiger, the Bali Tiger, native only to the Indonesian island of Bali, went extinct. Approximately 40 years later, it was joined by fellow Indonesian tiger, the Java Tiger. Currently, the only Indonesian tiger still among the living is the highly endangered Sumatran Tiger. Unfortunately, no film was ever made of a Bali tiger, and none were ever displayed in zoos. The last one was an adult female that was shot.
The various tiger subspecies that have gone extinct or are endangered today are pretty much all victims of habitat loss (habitat taken up by people) and overhunting.
All animals will likely go extinct someday, and since humans are animals, we are probably not exempt. Perhaps it is only fitting as humans are responsible for so many of the extinctions in the past few tens of thousands of years, even of animals that once numbered in the billions such as the passenger pigeon. It is likely that humans also caused the mastodons and mammoths to go extinct.
People with the primitive and foolish belief that animal parts are some sort of aphrodisiac or cure for one malady or another buy those parts and create a market for them, causing poachers to wantonly murder select animals for those certain parts. Typical targets for the black market of animal parts include: rhinoceros horn (aphrodisiac): tiger spleen, gall bladder and penis; bear teeth, claws, spleen, gall bladder and penis; colorful bird feathers for decorations; elephants tusks for ivory; lions and other predators as trophies; gorillas for their skulls and hands; and a myriad of other poor critters for various parts.
Why are the great whales still hunted? Nobody needs to eat them anymore, and their oil is not needed for lamps. Sharks are caught just for their fins and then thrown back in the ocean to die. What a waste!
African game animals once roamed in the millions, but with humans fencing off land for roads and agriculture and slaughtering them for food, their numbers have decreased dramatically. Of the large mammals, the 5 species of rhinoceros are especially threatened. The African White Rhino and the Indian Rhino can both reach upwards of 7,000 pounds, but along with the African Black Rhino, the Sumatran Rhino and the Java Rhino, their numbers have plummeted. For example, the Black Rhino population has sunk from 70,000 in the 1960s to about 4,000 today. A subspecies, the Western Black Rhino, went extinct just recently, being declared as such in 2011.
Buffalo (Bison bison) once roamed America’s Great Plains by the millions. Then, after the Civil War, a concerted effort to drive them to extinction was made in order to starve Native Americans, and that plan almost succeeded.
In addition to the passenger pigeon, another 20th century animal that has been lost forever is the Tasmanian Wolf. In Lake Erie, the largest producer of fish of the Great Lakes, the Blue Pike (a subspecies of walleye) was once one of the most common and sought-after fish until the 1950s, but it is now gone.
Question for students (and subscribers): After mankind has killed off a few more species, will we then too die? Perhaps from plague? Perhaps from germs brought back from space? Will climate change, nuclear war, biological war, overpopulation, alien attack, asteroid strikes or the sun blowing up do us in? What do you think? Tell us how you think humanity will end, or if you think we will go on forever in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please see…
Fuller, Errol. Lost Animals: Extinction and the Photographic Record. Princeton University Press, 2014.