Think extinction is a thing of the past? Think again. Today we are speaking about why Australia has such an atrocious track record, 33 mammal species lost forever – and the power of advocacy and passion for protecting what’s left of Australia’s cute and quirky critters.
Growing up in Australia, I’ve always found that most people (including myself until recently!) associate mammal extinction with something that took place several hundred years ago, when Europeans began to arrive on the continent.
But the truth is this: Extinction is still happening. It’s real. It’s current.
And if urgent conservation action isn’t taken, we will see a lot more of it.
There’s an incredible (but tragic) paper written by John Woinarski and colleagues which looks at the factors leading to the decline and disappearance of Australia’s 3 most recent extinctions (don’t worry, I will put a link to this research below):
- Bramble Cay Melomys (Melomys rubicola), the first Australian mammal extinction attributed to climate change (and neglect), disappeared by 2014.
- Christmas Island Pipistrelle (Pipistrellus murrayi) was declared extinct on 26 August 2009 when the last detected individual dropped off the detection radar forever.
- Christmas Island Forest Skink (Emoia nativsatiris) went extinct almost certainly on 31 May 2014 when the last of 3 captive-held individuals died.
And, spoiler alert, all 3 of these losses took place between 2009 and 2014 (and, no, you didn’t read that wrong!)
That is well within all of our life time. And yet, I don’t know about you, but I certainly didn’t hear about this at the time.
Why does Australia’s wildlife go extinct?
As you’d expect, there are absolutely physical drivers such as habitat loss, impacts of introduced species and changing conditions.
But, it’s also important to note that there is a “human-side” to every extinction – the advocacy, the policy, the responsibility – or lack-there-of – which allows these species to slip off the face of the earth and vanish without a trace.
With all the resources, knowledge and technology we have available to us today – it’s safe to say that if we as a society wanted to change the fate of our most endangered, it would certainly be possible.
It’s argued that if biodiversity was valued as a priority in society, the number of extinct species wouldn’t be nearly as high as it is.
And the proof is in the pudding: so many current threatened critters might not be here still were it not for the incredible efforts of dedicated people, recovery teams and funding that has facilitated necessary conservation action.
The Boodie (Bettongia leseur), the Gilbert’s Potoroo (Potorous gilberti), the Orange-bellied Parrot (Neophema chrysogaster) and SO MANY other cuties are all recipients of intensive (and expensive!) conservation intervention which has kept these critters alive and kicking.
And so often it is the sheer passion of individuals, not-for-profits, recovery teams, individuals, that have sustained these actions overtime.
The importance of advocacy
The extinction of the Melomys, the Pipistrelle and the Skink were all considered predictable AND most likely preventable.
Well, there is definitely a need for urgent reform in government policy, law and funding for threatened species, as well as habitat protection and active long-term monitoring for all wildlife (so we can track if and when declines start to occur).
But without public awareness and support for wildlife conservation, it will never become a priority for resources or actions.
So, what can WE do?
While the plight of global biodiversity loss and extinction often seems overwhelming and quite frankly depressing, it is important to remember that your voice is important.
In fact, your passion and advocacy could make the difference between the survival and extinction of some of our most vulnerable species.
Imagine how it would feel to do make THAT difference for the natural world.
The truth is that YOUR passion is enough. More than enough.
YOU can champion the conservation of threatened species.
Once you know this at your core, the only question left is “where do we start?”
Here are just 4 suggestions:
- Do your research.
Look into threatened and data deficient species – there are so many cute and quirky critters, many of which you might never have heard of. Getting the facts straight is a great place to start – after all, knowledge is power.
2. Reach out to a researchers and recovery teams
Tell them how interested and passionate you are – and ask how individuals like you can help their cause.
3. Share it around
If you’re interested, chances are that at least some of your friends, family or colleagues would be too. Use your social media and other tools in your belt to get the word out there and become a voice for the voiceless.
4. Start something
Never underestimate the power of you as an individual to create positive change. And if you have the passion for it, you can do anything you set your mind to!
Although these steps might sound small or insignificant, they have the power to create huge change by influencing and improving policy and resourcing for wildlife conservation. And these changes help to prevent further extinctions from happening on our watch
The bottom line
There is a real tragedy to extinction.
After all, it’s not just about losing a single species here or there.
No, it’s about the recognizing the role that each one of them plays within the environment – they are food for something, they eat other things, their bodies host parasites and are taken over by fungi and scavengers when they die. Some species also perform critical services within the ecosystem – filtering water, turning over soil, fertilizing plants, purifying air, the list goes on.
When we lose species from the planet – we also lose the niche they filled and the services they provide. This can lead to the decline of other species and the demise of ecosytems.
Although this topic is tragic and can feel upsetting, I honestly hope you read this blog post as a call to action – to make a stand and help to bridge the gap between survival and extinction for those teetering on the brink.
I hope you feel motivated to act and inspired that you can use your voice and your passion to make a positive difference today.
Knowing this helps me to feel empowered every day.
The humbling paper by Woinarski et al. 2017 is titled “the contribution of policy, law, management, research and advocacy failings to the recent extinctions of 3 Australian vertebrate species”, published in a leading journal, Conservation Biology (31:13-23). You can request a full copy of the text for free here.
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