I know this may be a controversial one, but mass extinctions change the world’s ecosystem drastically and sometimes take the Earth millions of years to recover. But these mass extinctions have always been because of natural disasters; meteors, volcanoes, sea level fall…until now. Every year, countless amounts of species are wiped out because of humans, so much so that some are now labelling our time ‘the 6th mass extinction’. Here are just a few of the organisms that have been wiped out due to the world’s most dangerous predator- us. (By the way I’m not writing about the Dodo. I feel that everyone knows about this animal and I wanted to write about something a bit different).
Steller’s sea cow
Sea cows, manatees and dugongs are a group of fully aquatic herbivorous mammals that are part of the order Sirenia, named because sailors thought they were mermaids, be it fat blubbery ones at that. Steller’s sea cow was the largest member of the order but within 27 years of discovery, in 1741, was hunted to extinction. This animal grew to at least 8m and could have either weighed 4 or 24.3 metric tons (the estimates contradict). According to Steller, who this animal was named after, this sea cow was completely tame and a slow swimmer, allowing it to be hunted so easily. Fossils indicate Steller’s sea cow was formerly widespread along the North Pacific coast, reaching south to Japan and California. It is thought that hunting was most likely done by aborigines living in these areas.
The Atlas bear is an extinct subspecies of brown bear, or may have even been a completely different species. It was Africa’s only native bear to live to modern times, and lived in the Atlas Mountains of Libya and Morocco. It was brownish black and lacked a white muzzle, which, with its claws, was a lot shorter than those of the American black bear. These bears were hunted for sport, Roman games or used to execute prisoners of the Roman Empire. The last known specimen was killed in 1890 by hunters in the Rif Mountains of northern Morocco.
The Moa was a flightless bird, similar to an emu or ostrich, native to New Zealand. The largest reached to 3.6m tall and weighed about 230kg. It is generally considered that most, if not all, species of moa died out by 1400 CE due to overhunting by the Māori, a Polynesian tribe, and habitat decline. Before this, the moa’s only predator was the Haast’s Eagle. By about A.D. 1400, almost all moa were thought to have become extinct, along with the Haast’s Eagle, which had relied on them for food and this extinction is suggested to have taken less that 100 years.
This wolf is one of two extinct subspecies of the Japanese wolf. The other is the Honshū wolf. The Honshū wolf occupied the islands of Honshū, Shikoku, and Kyūshū in Japan. The Hokkaidō wolf was native to the island of Hokkaidō. The Hokkaidō wolf was a lot more wolf-looking than its also extinct cousin, with body dimensions similar to that of a grey wolf. The Hokkaidō wolf became extinct during the Meiji restoration period (a chain of events that restored imperial rule to Japan in 1868 under the Meiji Emperor). It was proclaimed that this was a threat to ranching and a chemical extermination campaign was introduced.
The Honshu wolf was fine until rabies was introduced into its habitat. Rabies, deforestation of the wolf’s habitat, and conflict with humans that led to their extinction. The last specimen was officially killed in 1905.
This elk inhabited northern and eastern United States, and southern Canada. The last of its kind was shot in Pennsylvania on September 1, 1877. As people continued to settle into their habitat, elk populations decreased due to over-hunting and the loss of their dense woodland habitat. This extinct red deer subspecies has been gleaned from remains and historical references.
This owl was only found in 1840 in New Zealand but is now extinct. It was a plentiful owl at first, but many were sent to British museums to be scientifically identified and studied. The species was becoming rare in 1880 and the last specimen was found dead in 1914. The overall extinction of this animal was due to the want for specimens, land use changes, and the introduction of cats and stoats. Its length was 35.5–40 cm, wing length 26.4 cm. Males were smaller than females. They weighed around 600 grams.
Yangtze River dolphin
The baiji was found in the Yangtze River and was eventually killed off by overfishing in the river, transportation and the river’s use for hydroelectricity. Efforts were made to conserve the species, but a late 2006 expedition failed to find any baiji in the river. The last living Yangtze River dolphin was Qiqi (淇淇), who died in 2002. Males were about 2.3 metres long, females 2.5 metres, the longest specimen 2.7 metres. The animal weighed 135–230 kilograms, with a lifespan estimated at 24 years in the wild. Because of its poor vision, the baiji relied mainly on sonar for navigation. Its population was estimated about 6000 individuals in the 1950s but only a few hundred were left by 1970. By 1997 there were only 13 dolphins left and is now extinct, even though there was a possible sighting in 2007. A baiji conservation dolphinarium was established at the Institute of Hydrobiology (IHB) in Wuhan in 1992 in a hope to preserve these animals. However, it did not prove to be very successful, with one captive individual, Su Su, only living for 17 days.
Small Mauritian flying fox
This is an extinct species of megabat that lived on the islands of Réunion and Mauritius that was nocturnal and fed on small fruit. As it roosted in old trees and caves, it was vulnerable to forest clearance and hunting. It probably vanished in the 19th century. A description by La Nux from 1772 states: “They are hunted for their meat, for their fat, for young individuals, throughout all the summer, all the autumn and part of the winter, by whites with a gun, by Negros with nets. The species must continue to decline, and in a short time… It used to be easy, as far as one can judge, to prevent these animals leaving, than to take them out alive one by one, or to suffocate them with smoke, and in one way or another discover the number of males or females of which the association was composed; I do not know any more about this species.”
Western black rhinoceros
This extinct subspecies of the black rhino only went extinct in 2011. They once lived in sub-Saharan Africa but were killed off by poaching. It weighed 800–1,300 kg and had two horns, which were believed to contain medicinal properties, and this is where the heavy poaching began. Obviously, there is no scientific fact to back this notion up. The population of these rhinos rose in the 1930, when conservation was put in place. This was short lived; however, as protection efforts were neglected. Poaching continued and by the millennium, as little as 10 were left in the wild. Punishments for poaching were lacking; individuals caught poaching were never sentenced. The Western black rhinoceros was last seen in Cameroon 2006. It was declared officially extinct in 2011.
These are just a handful of animals that have become extinct due to mankind. Since the 1500s at least 358 species of plants and animals have become extinct, changing their ecosystem and causing other individuals in their food chain to also become extinct or endangered. If that doesn’t sound like a mass extinction, I don’t know what does.
Blackburn, A. (1982): A 1927 record of the Laughing Owl. Notornis 29(1): 79.
Brett L. Walker, “Meiji Modernization, Scientific: Agriculture, and the Destruction of Japan’s Hokkaidō Wolf,” Environmental History, Vol. 9, No. 2, 2004.
Bruin: The Grand Bear Hunt, Mayne Reid, Ticknor and Fields, 1865
Largot, Isabelle. “Probable extinction of the western black rhino, Diceros bicornis longipes: 2006 survey in northern Cameroon”. PACHYDERM
Chinese River Dolphin (Baiji) Feared Extinct, Hope Remains for Finless Porpoise”. WWF. December 15, 2006. Retrieved December 15, 2006
“Steller’s SeaCow”. Sirenian.org