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The urgent mission to save vanishing animals from extinction

Posted in Animals, Birds, Conservation, Nature, Wildlife on Saturday, 31 December 2011

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This edited article about endangered species originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 888 published on 27 January 1979.

Ivory-billed woodpecker, picture, image, illustration

Ivory-billed woodpecker

An invitation to dinner in North America in the middle of the last century could have meant that on the table would be a much-liked delicacy – passenger pigeon. This bird lived in vast flocks and, at its nesting sites, every tree for many miles was laden with the nests.

This profusion of food on the wing was an invitation which could not be resisted by the hungry humans. In one year in Michigan and Pennsylvania, 15 million birds were killed for food. No bird could withstand slaughter at such a rate and, by 1888, the passenger pigeon had become almost extinct. The last known survivor died in Cincinnati zoo in 1914.

The passenger pigeon is but one of the many birds which have fallen foul of man. It is a sad fact that 100 species of animals and about 160 varieties of birds have been exterminated by man in recorded history. Most of these have become extinct since the time of Elizabeth I. Now there are over 1,000 animals and 20,000 plants which are in danger of dying out because they are being hunted or collected to extinction or perhaps because their habitats are being systematically destroyed.

Even though their numbers have become so reduced that they may never recover, whales are still being hunted by some countries. Even if whale-hunting were stopped now, whales would still be in danger.

Feared to be nearing extinction is the ivory-billed woodpecker, which was once common in the southern United States and Cuba. It is having a struggle to survive because the forests of great trees where it nests have been cut down.

A similar fate threatens the Borneo orang-utan and the jaguar of South America. Although giant pandas, too, are rare, they are now strictly protected in the bamboo forests of China. All rhinoceroses are still persecuted by poachers, who kill them for their valuable horns.

A victim of the Arabian sheikhs, who hunt them for sport, is the Arabian oryx. A small breeding herd has been established at the Phoenix zoo in Arizona in order to save them from complete extinction.

The Hawaiian ne-ne goose had nearly died out in its natural habitat, when it was saved by the British naturalist, Sir Peter Scott. He obtained a few of the remaining pairs and successfully built up a breeding colony at his wildfowl trust at Slimbridge.

For 50 years, the takahe was thought to be extinct in New Zealand. Then, in 1948, an expedition discovered a small colony on the shores of a remote lake on South Island. The birds are now protected by the government and the numbers have increased to about 250.

There are several candidates for the title of the rarest creature in Britain. The Scottish wildcat and the little Dartford warbler are both rare. But few would dispute the claims made for the 19 mm long black and red Eresus spider, which has only been seen three or four times in the past 60 years.

Many projects for the rescue of threatened species are due to the initiative of the World Wildlife Fund. Young people up to the age of 18 who wish to do something in this good cause can join the Fund’s Wildlife Youth Service.

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